Penn Valley ranch applies for easement program

The Union Newspaper – May 22, 2017

Matthew Pera
Staff Writer

Sue Hoek maintains a 150-year legacy of cattle ranching on her family’s land in Penn Valley. Her property, called Robinson Ranch, is over 3,000 acres, and over half of that area may soon be preserved as an agricultural easement through Bear Yuba Land Trust.

The easement would ensure that the land will be protected from any future development, and will remain designated for ranching or other agriculture practices. It would also be the first easement that Bear Yuba Land Trust purchases through the California Department of Conservation.

The department reinstated its Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program in 2017 for the third year in a row. The program provides funding for projects that protect agricultural land and reduce greenhouse gases.

So far, Robinson Ranch is the first to apply for the program in Nevada County.


Ensuring that Robinson Ranch is maintained as agricultural land prevents further suburban sprawl, said Erin Tarr, director of land stewardship for Bear Yuba Land Trust.

“Through easements, we’re offsetting carbon emissions based on how much development could have occurred if the land was separated into parcels, and the increase in transportation that would bring,” said Tarr.

Hoek raises about 200 calves and cows at a time, which graze the sprawling grasslands that make up Robinson Ranch. Hoek watches over the herd and maintains the land, a job she said is never-ending.

Last month, Hoek and her husband toured Europe while her children watched over the ranch. Hoek said it was the first real vacation she’s ever taken.

For Hoek, raising cattle is largely about caring for the land. She works hard to maintain a habitat that supports diverse wildlife species and native grasses.

“If you don’t care for the land, the water, and the vegetation, you don’t have habitat,” she said.

Agriculture, said Hoek, sometimes gets a bad reputation amongst environmentalists. But Hoek works hard to defy that stereotype. Her operation strives for sustainability, and preserving it as an easement means that she can pass that legacy along to future generations.


The application process for Robinson Ranch becoming an easement could take up to a year, said Tarr. She hopes other ranchers might follow in Hoek’s footsteps and apply for the program.

“Through easements,” she said, “we are trying to sustain agriculture in our local community. It allows us to keep the land open, and ensures that ranchers are able to make income. It also protects the associated wildlife habitats.”

The Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program was launched by the Strategic Growth Council in 2015. It allocated $4.6 million to agricultural conservation easements in its first year, and in 2016 it awarded $37.4 million in grants to preserve 20 properties, totaling 19,000 acres of agricultural land across the state.