Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A visit to Chico Basin Ranch, Colorado

My wife Karen and I spent a pleasant four days in Colorado Springs area last week. Mike Siddoway, Associate Dean of Faculty at Colorado College, had invited me to come for a visit, read from the new book, The Road is How, and speak to a class in literature and science at the college.

The visit was wonderful in many ways--the class, getting to know birders and environmentalists, book lovers, and bright young students at the reading at the faculty club and afterward at a dinner hosted by Mike and his wife Chris, who teaches Geology at the college.

On the last day we arranged to have the education director at Chico Basin Ranch, Kathryn Baker, show us around this unique project east of Colorado Springs in the cholla cactus/shortgrass prairie. (See slideshow above.) Kathryn was a delightful host and answered my one hundred questions about how the ranch works. It seems to be a partnership between the State of Colorado and a private ranch family, based on a 25 year lease on the 87,000 acres.

The deal seems to be that the ranch operator, "Ranchlands", grazes the land under a cost scheme that commits them to follow certain conservation measures and to work with a range of conservation NGOs and government agencies to enhance and protect the ecological value of the grassland and its riparian zones. On the ranch's website, which is quite sophisticated, they say under conservation that they
"are fortunate to enjoy collaborative, working partnerships with respected organizations including the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Colorado Natural Heritage Program, the Colorado Native Plant Society, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, The Nature Conservancy, Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado State University Extension, Land EKG, and Holistic Management International."
It would be good to hear from some of these agencies and NGOs to see if they feel that the management of the ranch is returning the benefits that the State of Colorado wants to see from this public land, but it certainly looked impressive while we were there.

A bird banding station from the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (who endorsed the PPPI principles!), managers who seem genuinely concerned about conservation, a vacation ranch operation, apprenticeship programs, and open access for the public. I met two birders who were there for the day including the cheerful and very sharp Bill Maynard who writes a birding blog for the ranch.

As I traveled and spoke to staff and visiting birders, I had to wonder whether this kind of public partnership with private ranchers might work in Saskatchewan on public lands.

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