Pankey Ranch receives Colorado Leopold Conservation Award
Pankey Ranch has been selected as the recipient of the 2022 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award.
Keith and Shelley Pankey and their children raise beef cattle and hay in Moffat and Routt counties. The conservation practices that the Pankeys have implemented are improving wildlife habitat, water quality, and soil health.
The award, given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, recognizes ranchers, farmers, and forestland owners who inspire others with their voluntary conservation efforts on private, working lands.
The Pankeys will be presented with the award on June 13 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in Colorado Springs.
In Colorado the award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, Gates Family Foundation, American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, and Premier Farm Credit.
“CCALT is proud to announce the Pankey Ranch and Pankey family as the 2022 Leopold Conservation Award recipients. The Pankey family are tremendous land stewards and fully embody Aldo Leopold’s land ethic,” said Erik Glenn, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust executive director. “This year’s nominees showcased the true diversity of agriculture in Colorado and the immense dedication farming and ranching families have to the lands they steward, their communities, and their families.”
“Colorado farming and ranching families provide invaluable benefits to their communities and the environment, while feeding a growing society. These contributions, in addition to commitments to conservation and stewardship on working lands, are exemplified by all the Leopold Conservation Award applicants,” said Steve Wooten, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association president. “CCA warmly extends its congratulations to the Pankey family on their well-deserved recognition, and being leaders in Colorado’s conservation and ranching industry.”
“The recipients of this award are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation president and CEO.
“As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Colorado recipient,” said John Piotti, AFT president and CEO. “At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”
Among the many outstanding landowners nominated for the award was finalist: Round River Resource Management LLC of Rush, Colo.
The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is made possible by generous contributions from the American Farmland Trust, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Sand County Foundation, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit of Southern Colorado, Premier Farm Credit, Gates Family Foundation, Stanko Ranch, Colorado Department of Agriculture, The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado, and McDonald’s.
Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to landowners in 24 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation.
For more information on the award, visit http://www.leopoldconservationaward.org.
ABOUT PANKEY RANCH
The Pankey family’s resilience was put to a test when a wildfire burned nearly half of their ranch in 2018. Among the devastating impacts of the fire was livestock and wildlife could no longer drink from ponds because they were covered in ashes.
Keith and Shelley Pankey raise beef cattle with their sons, Kevin and Justin and their families, in Moffat and Routt counties. They have a history of doing right by their land. Following the fire, they cleaned the ponds and aerially reseeded native grasses on 900 acres in the fire’s path. It’s not the first time investing in conservation practices has paid off for this family and the landscape they share with livestock and wildlife.
Keith’s great grandfather homesteaded an area of high desert known as Great Divide. The Pankeys are still able to graze cattle in the drought-prone region from spring through fall thanks to improved water distribution and rotational grazing systems.
They replaced windmill-powered wells with solar pumps. New water storage tanks and nearly three miles of natural flow pipelines were also added. By expanding the number of watering stations (from six to 12) the Pankeys increased their ability to properly graze cattle while creating wildlife habitat across the ranch.
Precipitation, range conditions, and animal performance all impact how the Pankeys plan pasture rotations and stocking rates. They analyze pasture rotations to determine which areas benefit from early, middle or late season grazing. They’ve also found that some areas benefit from longer or shorter periods of grazing, while others benefit from being grazed twice in the same season.
When cattle widely disburse themselves, the Pankeys find that grass recovers at a faster rate, and taller grass is left behind when the cattle are rotated to another pasture. The ranch’s wildlife populations have greatly increased thanks to rotational grazing and the improved water system. By working with neighbors to control noxious weeds, desirable grasses have become dominant across the ranch.
Pankey Ranch borders Colorado’s largest Greater sage-grouse lek, a breeding ground for this declining species. The Pankeys hosted Colorado State University students to study grasses, insects, and Greater sage-grouse habitat in the Great Divide range. Their study was helpful in determining which conservation practices to adopt. The Pankeys fenced off a large area around a natural spring to provide cover. They also equipped water storage tanks with overflows that provide water and prolonged green vegetation to encourage production of insects that grouse chicks consume.
The Pankeys are involved with a large-scale conservation effort led by Trout Unlimited to stabilize Elk Head Creek’s riparian corridor. They have installed rock toe and erosion control mats, and reseeded stream banks to prevent erosion. Hundreds of willow trees have been planted in corridors to preserve wetlands and fish habitat. Less erosion in the creek means cleaner water downstream in the Elk Head Reservoir and Yampa River. This family’s leadership in raising awareness of the creek’s impaired health, and commitment to on-the-ground conservation practices, is inspiring other landowners to follow suit.
The Pankeys also provide public hunting opportunities on their land. In 2011, they obtained a conservation easement on their Routt County property through the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to ensure future agricultural uses on the land. As a longtime volunteer with the Moffat County Fair, Keith shares his land ethic and conservation practices with youth, neighbors and the general public.
The year kicked off with a cattle inventory estimated to be down 2%, thanks to a 2021 calf crop down 2.3% from the previous year, due largely to the pressures brought on by drought and…
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