The Great Revival of Old Stemple Creek

May 4, 2022

Stemple Creek Ranch is known all over Marin – and the United States – for its grass-fed and finished, award-winning, meat. Nestled in Tomales in West Marin, the 920-acres of certified organic pasture is home to a thriving, working landscape of cattle, sheep, and native grassland species.

The care that distinguishes Stemple Creek’s quality was a founding vision for the ranch and brand when Loren and Lisa Poncia took over management of the family’s pastures and started a business with a dream of bridging heritage practices with modern sustainability and marketing.

It’s only fitting, then, that the sustainable practices that define Stemple Creek quality started in the heart of the land: old Stemple Creek, itself.

Stemple Creek’s home ranch in Tomales is about 1,000 acres. In addition, they lease approximately 2,000 acres in Marin County, all of which are MALT-protected properties. Video courtesy of Sonoma County Farm Bureau and the California Cattle Council

A Brief History of Stemple Creek

When Loren and Lisa took over the ranch in 2005, this nearby section of Stemple Creek was a different landscape from the one visitors see today, with fewer protections in place to help keep cattle out of the creek, protecting the sensitive habitat along the water’s edge.

A lot of ranches and farms have very slim margins. You have to prioritize, and all too often, the larger projects get put on hold due to budgetary constraints.” said Loren Poncia Co-Founder of Stemple Creek Ranch.

For decades, long before the Poncias, the creek had been left open to grazing alongside grassland. With grazing animals attracted to the water and higher vegetation on the creek, the watershed became a focal point for herds – and eventually had become overgrazed. Plants receded, banks weakened, and trees slowly disappeared. The Poncias knew things could be improved, and took action.

“My dad and my sister brought a bunch of school kids out 25 years ago with a STRAW project (Point Blue Conservation Science’s Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed). It inspired us to keep working on it because we liked what we saw in the results of the project.” said Loren.

Loren Poncia with the ranch’s most important asset. Photo by Paige Green

A Foundation for Growth

MALT’s agricultural easement on the property was foundational in making that vision of stewardship a reality, providing protection for the land in perpetuity and ongoing support for its stewardship.

“Knowing that this area is secure to be farmland forever is amazing because then these riparian areas can be protected by us under our management,” explained Loren. “It also puts these projects into a wider perspective. We are caretakers of this land – not just for our ranch here today, but for generations.”

Opportunities Ahead

The first order of business was protecting the creek area from overgrazing. With the support of MALT’s Stewardship Assistance Program, Stemple Creek Ranch took on fencing off the entirety of the creek. 

The creek flora quickly began to recover, and the stabilized banks allowed a succession of larger, slower growing species to take root. Each successive season gave way to another layer native flora — the resilience of the creek was finding its roots. And this growing kaleidoscope of native plant diversity provided habitat for an equally diverse array of native fauna. “It took about 3-4 years to notice improvement in the landscape, and today it’s incredible to see so much life in and around the creek,” notes Loren.

Today, visiting Stemple Creek’s home ranch, the creek is a concert of local wildlife with over 50 bird species calling the watershed home. Song sparrows, western meadowlark, and red-winged blackbird can be heard in the distance, flitting from tree to tree.

Coopers hawks near Stemple Creek - MALT
A red-shouldered hawk seeks refuge in the protected creek habitat of Stemple Creek.

Trending Tweets From Stemple Creek

In December 2021, Stemple Creek’s stewardship work was recognized by the Audubon Society, becoming one of the first ranches in California to become Audubon Certified bird-friendly in the United States.

“Stemple Creek Ranch’s work to improve soil health, maximize forage, and provide wildlife habitat, has been exceptional,” said Matt Allshouse, Conservation Ranching Program Manager for California Audubon. “When we think about the future of stewardship on ranchlands, and practices that benefit climate adaptation, biodiversity, and economic resiliency, these are the projects we talk about.”

We’re proud here at MALT to play a small role in this work, supporting farms and ranches like Stemple Creek with the support they need to do what they do best: steward Marin’s working landscapes and put food on our tables.

Try it for yourself.

Find this Audubon Certified bird-friendly product online:

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