Lauren and Gary Ranz have spent much of their lives experiencing nature and encouraging others to join them. They were both avid backpackers, and even met each other while working at REI. They raised their two children surrounded by nature in Sierra Valley. Looking at birds – sandhill cranes, ibis, avocets, cinnamon teals, ruddy ducks, bitterns, snow geese, white pelicans – was what they did as a family.
They see birds as a way for people to get enthused and concerned about our environment. “Audubon knows you have to save places in order to save birds. A lot of people aren’t going to get excited about saving a place, but they might get excited about saving a species they see, or maybe aren’t seeing anymore.”
The Ranzs obtained the very first conservation easement in Sierra County for their Sierra Valley property. This places a lot of restrictions on the land’s use. “Our neighbors ask us, ‘If you’re not logging or ranching, what is your land doing?’ We call ourselves carbon farmers.” Their forested property is protected in perpetuity – an individual action they took to help combat global warming and support the surrounding ecosystem for generations to come.
After moving back to the San Francisco East Bay, Lauren taught environmental education for the Orinda school district. Gary worked for Lindsay Wildlife Museum, where he still volunteers at the wildlife hospital. Before Lauren’s mother passed on, they asked her if they could start a foundation in her memory, and thus the George and Audrey Rasmussen Family Foundation was established.
The whole family is involved in the foundation’s grant making. Lauren and Gary focus their giving on environment causes. “Western water, everyone and everything needs it, and there is so little to go around.” They are as passionate as they are practical and support Audubon California’s Working Lands program. “So much water goes to agriculture. If agriculture can be encouraged to support sustainable habitats, we all win.”