The Chico Basin: A model for conservation | TheFencePost.com

The Chico Basin: A model for conservation

by Becky Talley

Fence Post Staff Reporter

According to The Nature Conservancy, Colorado is one of the five fastest growing states in the U.S. In fact, the state is losing roughly 270,000 acres a year to growth and development. It is because of these startling statistics that the Nature Conservancy has jumped into action to preserve what is left of Colorado’s open space.

At the recent Chico Basin Symposium held in Colorado Springs, The Nature Conservancy outlined its efforts to preserve many sections of the over a half of a million acres of shortgrass prairie between Colorado Springs and Pueblo. The symposium showed how the history of conservation and the history of ranching could combine to save the future of our open lands.

The Nature Conservancy works with local landowners, farmers and ranchers to implement land and water management plans. Each group learns from the other how to keep lands in use while still positively impacting the environment.

The Chico Basin area is one of these success stories. The Nature Conservancy leased the Bohart Ranch area of the Basin from the Colorado State Land Board, an entity that buys land in order to show that long-term leases on large land areas can be beneficial to conservation. The land was then subleased to the Tanner family (a several generation farm/ranch family) to run as a ranch and conserve.

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The area was chosen because it is one of the few shortgrass prairies left and supports over 200 plant species and around 43 native species of mammals.

According to Julie Farrell (The Nature Conservancy program manager for Chico Basin), the Chico Basin has been used to educate school children, communities and several groups on how conservation and ranching can work together. Visitors to the Bohart Ranch and surrounding area have included public schools; students from Colorado College, Colorado State University, Colorado University and Adams College; hunting clubs; painters; photographers; and boy scouts to name a few.

The symposium was a chance to further broaden the topic to a wider audience. Members from all sides of the environment and agriculture issue came to listen to speakers on topics of the history, ecological importance and conservation success of the Chico Basin. Many also came to listen to the keynote speaker, Colorado’s Attorney General Ken Salazar, a longtime advocate of conservation of the state’s land and water.

Salazar grew up in the San Luis Valley. “For me, our farm and our ranch are part of the reason that I am so passionate about protecting farms and ranches in Colorado,” he said.

Like The Nature Conservancy, Salazar believes that the sustainability of agriculture is dependent upon creating partnerships and continuing to use incentives to encourage ranchers to conserve their land instead of selling out ” which at the moment provides a quick solution to many producer’s economic problems.

He also spoke on what he believed is one of the most important issues facing conservation: the tremendous need to conserve our water.

“We need to continue to push our thinking in terms of how we can protect out water,” said Salazar. “Without water, agriculture has a difficult time surviving.”

Salazar agrees that the best way to continue to promote conservation is through education and “getting kids out to farms and ranches to see what it is all about.”

Overall, The Nature Conservancy and the Chico Basin Symposium were aimed at a common goal: to open a dialogue and get people to think about our state’s future.

“It’s about taking the opportunity to say, ‘What we can do for the land?’,” said Bruce Runnels of The Nature Conservancy.

About The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy was founded in Colorado (it is a national organization) in 1965 and continues to run as a non-profit organization that relies entirely on private donations for all funding. The organization has so far protected 426,000 acres with 13 preserves under conservancy management in the state.

The Conservancy is mission driven to identify areas of the state that are important for ecosystems for plants, animals and people.

“The Conservancy does planning for areas that are irreplaceable for natural values,” said Julie Farrell, Nature Conservancy program manager for Chico Basin.