Ecosystem Conservation Keeps Crane Festival Anchored in Steamboat

This Labor Day weekend, the Yampa Valley Crane Festival returns to Steamboat Springs for the sixth time to celebrate Greater Sandhill Cranes, a captivating and iconic sight in the Yampa River Valley.

The annual event draws birdwatchers from around the country who flock to Northwest Colorado every September, when the cranes begin to gather in “staging areas” before heading south for their winter migration.

Greater Sandhill Cranes, standing four feet tall with wingspans exceeding six feet, are the only crane species found in Colorado.  Their habitat consists largely of agricultural fields, riparian corridors, and wetlands, all of which YVLT works to conserve.

According to the Colorado Crane Conservation Coalition (presenters of the YVCF), the primary nesting areas for the Rocky Mountain Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes include Grand, Jackson, Moffat, Routt, and Rio Blanco Counties”.  YVLT has conservation projects in four of those five counties; preserving valuable crane habitat, including critical nesting areas along the Yampa, Elk, and White Rivers that the birds depend on to raise their young.  The YVLT-conserved Carpenter Ranch in Hayden, owned by the Nature Conservancy, is one of the venues where guided crane tours are being offered in conjunction with the Yampa Valley Crane Festival.

Although crane populations have remained relatively stable in recent years, cranes – like many species – are losing large blocks of their traditional grounds to ecosystem fragmentation and conversion.  Willow-lined creeks, riparian areas, wetlands, irrigated hay meadows, and other water-based environments are critical for the cranes’ long-term survival, but these resources are limited in supply and quality crane habitat in Northwest Colorado is declining every year.

Support the organization dedicated to protecting these captivating creatures and their habitats across Northwest Colorado, and help us make sure Greater Sandhill Cranes will always have a home here in the Yampa Valley.

Donate today!

Researchers Return to RRNP for Bats & Brats [Photo Tour]

A team of biologists with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program of Colorado State University recently returned to YVLT’s Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve for the third consecutive year to study the large maternal bat colony residing in the historic Main House.

Led by Rob Schorr and Jeremy Siemers, the researchers joined YVLT at the Rehder compound to enjoy some grilled bratwurst before night set in, when the bats begin to stir from their mid-day lull.


Locating a suitable research facility to study bats was one of the team’s biggest challenges, explained Jeremy.  “Abandoned buildings like [the RRNP Main House] are ideal for us; the hard part is finding a place where people don’t mind the bats living there,” he said.  

Rob concurred.  “We didn’t want to invest time and money in a project where the test group gets kicked out shortly thereafter, so this was a great opportunity for us,” he explained.

During their visit to Routt County, the team will also conduct bat research at the Carpenter Ranch, a Hayden-area property under conservation easement with YVLT.  The multi-year study is documenting mortality rates among “little brown bats,” a population that has been decimated in recent years by the spread of White Nose Syndome (read more about the disease here).  Researchers are also examining the bats’ activity levels at various times of year and how often they enter and exit the roost.

Harp Trap

Pika inspecting the harp trap alongside Jeremy.

Members of the team spent the afternoon getting the Rehder facility ready for the evening’s research, including setting up the “harp trap” pictured above.  The basic premise is this: researchers temporarily seal off the porch with netting, so when the bats emerge from their roost inside the Main House at dusk, they get funneled into the harp trap, depositing the bats into a bag situated below.

The biologists then “process” the bats by taking their weight and forearm measurements, photographing their wings (fun fact: the veins on their wings are unique to every individual, like fingerprints are to humans), and affixing a “PIT tag” – Passive Integrated Transponder.  A PIT tag is similar to RFID tags for cats and dogs, assigning a particular frequency to each bat which allows researchers to determine when bats are coming in and out of the roost, as well as documenting their seasonal activity.


Jeremy and Rob prep the house before the bats ramp up their evening activity.

“There are probably a few hundred bats inside,” Jeremy estimated.  “This is predominantly a female roost; they give birth and raise their young here.  They actually love hot attics like this with the metal roof insulation.”

“We think the bats love this facility because they can get any temperature range they want,” Rob explained.  “They can move around from hot to cool areas.  Some were even discovered happily roosting at 113 degrees Fahrenheit.”

As the evening crept in, bats began to emerge from the roost and the researchers got back to work.

At Work

The process involves weighing the bats, taking forearm measurements, determining their age and sex, and tagging them with Passive Innovative Transponders.  PIT tags allow researchers to track the bats from day-to-day and year-to-year.

At Work-2

“The Rehder Ranch has become a study site for a wide range of groups – biologists from across the county have come here,” said Rob.

We think the Rehder Ranch is pretty special, too.  YVLT always enjoys hosting the CNHP team – thanks for visiting us at RRNP!

The Steamboat Stinger: A Punishing Ride Through YVLT Conservation on Emerald Mountain

Emerald Mountain – much of which is under conservation easement with YVLT – provides a massive community venue for hosting a wide range of summer events and activities in Steamboat Springs.


A stone’s throw from downtown Steamboat Springs, Emerald Mountain is the crown jewel of the local community and the launching pad for countless summertime happenings in Northwest Colorado (and year-round, for that matter!).  Returning this August 13th and 14th, the annual Steamboat Stinger is among the most celebrated and also perhaps the most challenging of these events – a 50-mile mountain bike race that has quickly gained notoriety among endurance athletes in the Intermountain West for its extreme difficulty.

The grueling but visually stunning course begins at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs and showcases some of Colorado’s premier recreational trails, weaving through dense aspen groves, rolling open meadows, sagebrush stands, rock gardens, and conifer-speckled hillsides on Emerald Mountain.  Riders may not realize it while pedaling on local favorites like Blair Witch, MGM, and the Orton Trail (to name a few), but many of the amazing singletrack trails featured in the Steamboat Stinger are on YVLT-conserved lands open to the public!

Race director Sara Tlamka recently praised the Emerald Mountain trail system in the Steamboat Pilot & Today.  “I think the success of this race is a tribute to Emerald Mountain and what a fun venue it is, not only for mountain biking, but for running as well,” Tlamka said.

Hosted by Honey Stinger, a locally-based sports nutrition company, the Steamboat Stinger has quickly elevated itself to “legendary” status among endurance mountain bike races in the Intermountain West.  The annual event in August is open to 500 mountain bikers and 400 runners, with most slots filled just hours after registration begins.

For those brave, masochistic souls who dare, participants have the option to compete in both the 50-mile bike race and a marathon trail run – which take place on back-to-back days – to vie for the prestigious crowns of “King Sting” and “Queen Bee.”  Roughly 90 percent of the Steamboat Stinger takes place on world-class singletrack trails, consisting of two 25-mile laps around Emerald Mountain and featuring more than 6,600 feet of vertical climb.

Fortunately, for mere mortals like the rest of us, there are many shorter loops on Emerald Mountain that allow us to experience this amazing public resource without risking a heart attack!

Land conservation quietly contributes to virtually all of the signature Northwest Colorado events in many tangible and intangible ways. 

YVLT worked with community leaders to expand access to 4,000 acres on the backside of Emerald Mountain (BLM-owned) as well as nearly 600 acres owned by the City of Steamboat Springs and conserved by YVLT – the dedicated public access that makes events like this weekend’s Steamboat Stinger possible!  Read more about YVLT conservation on Emerald Mountain here.

Emerald Mountain and its miles of winding multi-use trails showcase just a fraction of the innumerable and lasting benefits that land conservation can bring to this awe-inspiring corner of Colorado.

On a larger scale, Northwest Colorado is a renowned “destination venue” because of its stunning landscapes, abundance of wildlife and vibrant outdoor culture, which are often featured prominently in marketing tools for community events.  Would these beloved events still thrive if our region’s natural and scenic qualities were degraded or lost over time?

Donate today and we will continue to preserve the very best of our spectacular region – for today and for the future.

Youth Group Connects with Nature While Volunteering at YVLT’s Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve

Under a Colorado-blue sky on an idyllic day in June, 15 enthusiastic members of a youth group and their chaperones broke out shovels, rakes, and work gloves to give the Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve a well-deserved makeover for upcoming summer programming.

“The Rehder Ranch is so fun – I could definitely live out here!” exclaims 13-year old Aiden (below, right).  “Nature and electricity; what more could you need?  Here we have clean air and we get to run around and play with shovels!”

IMG_1355Christian and Aiden spreading fresh dirt in the flower bed.

The youth group – representing churches from all across the state – came to Steamboat on a week-long service trip which led them throughout much of Colorado.  The Rehder Ranch was a particularly special stop for these hard-working volunteers, who enjoyed the fresh air and beautiful setting as they planted flowers, pulled weeds, and prepped hiking trails for a scheduled bird walk at the Nature Preserve that weekend.


IMG_1358“It’s nice and pretty out at the Rehder Ranch,” says 11-year old Devyn.  “Nature seems limitless here.”

The group bonded while developing their gardening skills.  Aiden and rest of the Orange Team spent the morning picking grass seeds out of flower beds in the garden, pouring and raking new dirt, and planting Jonquil bulbs as Harrison Creek gushed in the background.

“This place is really cool!” says Christian, who was working alongside Aiden that day.  “I’ve been hanging out working, making new friends.  I like to move around and get exercise – it’s better working outside than inside.”


IMG_1362Jessie tending to the garden with a refreshing breeze flowing off of Harrison Creek.

The children also enjoyed seeing signs of wildlife at the Nature Preserve.  Some even spotted a sandhill crane that morning, as well as bear paw prints embedded in a patch of mud near the creek.

Experiences such as this are so important in cultivating a lifelong connection with the natural world.  A special thank you to the group for your help at the Rehder Ranch Nature Preserve!

Yampa River Festival: Celebrating One of the Last Relatively Free-flowing Rivers in the American West

kayak YampaCrowds flock to Charlie’s Hole in downtown Steamboat Springs to watch brave souls tackle the Yampa’s surging whitewater.

This weekend (June 3rd), the Yampa River Festival returns to Steamboat Springs to celebrate its 36th season of raising awareness for and protecting the Yampa River – the lifeblood of Northwest Colorado.  The Yampa River is a relic of the way waterbodies once were in the American West: it is among the last relatively free-flowing rivers remaining in this arid region.  The water that runs through the Yampa supports globally rare attributes further downstream, including unique plant communities and four endangered fish species.

The Yampa River is under intense pressure to meet ever-increasing demands for water, underscoring the urgency to protect this critically important resource today.  With more than 20+ years of energy poured into conserving the Upper Yampa River watershed, YVLT has permanently preserved thousands of acres along its 250-mile watercourse.  In addition, YVLT has worked to expand public access opportunities along the river corridor, allowing more people to enjoy this treasured community asset.

We have so much more to do in order to safeguard the health and integrity of the Yampa River.  Your support is critical in preserving this precious natural resource!

Support the Yampa River by supporting YVLT.