New in 2016:Contributions of $250 or more to YVLT’s Ranchland Heritage Conservation Initiative are eligible to participate in the Enterprise Zone project tax credit program!
Receive Colorado tax credits for your contribution to Yampa Valley Land Trust’s “Ranchland Heritage Conservation Initiative”: an official Colorado Economic Development Commission Enterprise Zone Contribution Project. The Ranchland Heritage Conservation Initiative preserves agricultural economic opportunities in Northwest Colorado. For more information on how you can help, contact Susan Dorsey at the Yampa Valley Land Trust office in Steamboat Springs.
Anyone who knew the late Vernon Summer knew that he loved the Yampa Valley.
A lifelong resident of Routt County – Vernon was born, raised, and lived his entire life on a Centennial Ranch just south of Steamboat Springs – he appreciated the value that open space and working agricultural lands brought to our community, culturally as well as aesthetically. Vernon knew how different the Valley would be without its open hay meadows and rolling pastures.
This led Vernon – a rancher, local historian and veteran ski patroller during his storied lifetime – to conserve his family’s 152-acre home ranch with YVLT.
Further proving his dedication to preserving the unique composition of the Yampa Valley, he left YVLT an endowment to establish the “Vernon Summer Revolving Loan Fund.” The Fund was created to help Routt County ranchers who wish to conserve land by assisting with transactional costs.
Vernon’s legacy lives on – his Revolving Loan Fund has been a tremendous assistance in bringing more land conservation to Routt County, most recently with YVLT’s latest conservation project, “Glas Deffryn Ranch on the Yampa River” (read about it here).
Thank you, Vernon, for your dedication to preserving open space, working ranches, wildlife habitat and other slices of life throughout the Yampa Valley.
Vernon Summer practicing his roping skills at his family’s Centennial Ranch with the iconic Mt. Werner in the background.
YVLT is excited to announce the completion of our latest conservation easement: Glas Deffryn Ranch on the Yampa River!
If you have ever traveled along Routt County Road 14 – the “gateway” to Stagecoach Reservoir State Park and the surrounding residential community – then you know firsthand what an idyllic stretch of Routt County it is. YVLT’s new ranchland preservation project marks a significant step forward in keeping this landscape connected by connecting an unbroken5-mile “conservation corridor” along the Yampa River watercourse (bordering RCR 14) comprised of conserved properties and public lands.
Take a look at YVLT’s conservation corridor (click to enlarge):
Landowners Steve and Pam Williams have long wished to see their 207-acre ranch permanently preserved, and today their dream has finally become a reality. Glas Deffryn Ranch consists of two holdings; 86 acres on the Yampa River upstream from and bordering Stagecoach Reservoir State Park, as well as an additional 121 upland acres where the ranch and its agricultural operations are headquartered. The Williams’ purebred fold of Scottish Highland cattle can often be seen roaming the property’s open pastures.
“We truly appreciate the expertise and tremendous support we have received from Yampa Valley Land Trust, Routt County PDR, GOCO and the Gates Foundation to help us realize the dream of keeping this small ranch we have cobbled together over the last 18 years as one entity into the future for the benefit of agriculture, wildlife and the natural view shed long after we are gone,” Pam says.
Great Outdoors Colorado, Routt County (through its Purchase of Development Rights Program), and the Gates Family Foundation provided funding for the conservation easement on the 86-acre riverfront parcel. The 121-acre holding received funding from Gates Family Foundation, as well, allowing the Glas Deffryn Ranch conservation easement to move forward. Both transactions were complemented by a generous donation of value from the landowners, in addition to contributions from YVLT supporters. Further, the Vernon Summer Revolving Loan Fund assisted with transactional costs.
Approximately .75 channel miles of the Yampa River bisects Glas Deffryn Ranch. Adding to its conservation significance, the 86-acre riparian parcel borders both Stagecoach Reservoir State Park and Iron Springs Ranch, a 640-acre riverfront property also under conservation easement with YVLT (which is contiguous with the 99-acre, YVLT-conserved C-Cross-C Ranch on the Yampa River). Collectively, these lands form a conserved river corridor spanningfive consecutive channel miles along the Yampa’s watercourse, providing landscape-scale environmental protection and safeguarding the stunning rural vistas that characterize the Stagecoach area (see it on the map, above).
Glas Deffryn Ranch is notable not only for its scenic qualities, but also for the quality wildlife habitat that exists there. Nearly 70 percent of all species in Routt County rely on riparian environments at some stage in their life cycles, and over 200 migratory and resident bird species have been documented in the Stagecoach area. The 207-acre property provides important habitat for grouse, great blue herons, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, mule deer, elk, moose, bears, mountain lions, and more.
The Yampa River is truly the lifeblood of Northwest Colorado. Its protection is critical not only for today, but for the future of this great region. YVLT will continue to look for opportunities to safeguard this vitally important resource, along with working ranches, open lands, and critical wildlife habitat throughout Northwest Colorado. To date, YVLT has conserved over 55,290 acres across 75 conservation easements in Northwest Colorado, with a focus on the Upper Yampa River Valley in Routt County.
YVLT would like to thank the people and organizations that made the Glas Deffryn Ranch conservation easement possible: Great Outdoors Colorado, Routt County, Gates Family Foundation, YVLT supporters, and Steve and Pam Williams.
Join us in protecting the very best of the Yampa Valley and Northwest Colorado!
Thanks to funding from Great Outdoors Colorado, Routt County’s voter-approved Purchase of Development Rights Program and the Vernon Summer Revolving Loan Fund, and made possible by the landowners and Yampa Valley Land Trust supporters, a 724-acre conservation easement on Stillwater Ranch in South Routt County has been finalized!
YVLT’s latest conservation project preserves a working ranch and an important fixture of the area’s scenic open space landscape, in addition to safeguarding the property’s rich wildlife habitat; most notably, its irrigated meadows which provide critical Greater Sage-grouse habitat.
Adding to the growing corridor of conserved properties in South Routt County, Stillwater Ranch is situated near the Town of Yampa just east of the Flat Top Mountains within a Colorado Conservation Partnership “Priority Landscape.” The ranch is visible from Routt County Road 3 and the well-traveled Colorado Highway 131 (looking West: the scenic foreground of the Flat Top Mountains). YVLT has long focused on preserving this ecologically-important stretch of the Yampa Valley and its irreplaceable scenic qualities.
The rolling hills at Stillwater Ranch are dotted with mountain shrubs and sagebrush, while its upland areas are distinguished by stands of aspen and conifers. Its irrigated hay meadows and sagebrush stands provide high-quality habitat for Greater Sage-grouse, a species designated as “State Threatened” due to its dwindling supply of natural habitat – much of which is located on private land. Conservation easement projects such as this are critical in slowing the decline of Greater Sage-grouse populations, along with many other iconic species throughout Northwest Colorado.
Conservation of Stillwater Ranch preserves the property’s open space character as well as its important habitat for elk, mule deer, bald eagles, and many other creatures, while still allowing the landowners to continue sustainable agricultural operations there. Additionally, this project complements surrounding land conservation efforts in South Routt County – the property borders the 1,400-acre Brinker Creek Ranch, also under conservation easement held by YVLT, along with other such conserved properties in the area – strengthening ecosystem connectivity in this stretch of the Yampa Valley.
Stillwater Ranch is a conservation project of Yampa Valley Land Trust’s Ranchland Heritage Conservation Initiative. To date, YVLT has permanently protectedover 55,000 acres of working ranchland, open space, and wildlife habitat across Northwest Colorado. Every conservation project preserves a sliver our heritage, from our storied agricultural economy and culture to our outdoor-centric way of life. Land conservation benefits everyone who sets foot in this magnificent region!
This important project was made possible by funding from Routt County through its Purchase of Development Rights program, Great Outdoors Colorado, and the Vernon Summer Revolving Loan Fund, which assisted with transaction costs (read more about Vernon Summer and his endowment to YVLT here). Most importantly, the generosity of the landowners – YVLT supporters – allowed this project come to fruition.
YVLT has exciting new conservation projects in the works. Stay tuned!
Donate today and we will put your conservation dollars to work in keeping Northwest Colorado landscapes healthy, connected, and filled with wildlife.
The hay meadow at Summer Ranch, a YVLT conservation project preserving wildlife habitat and open space views.
Why hay meadows need our care and stewardship
Northwest Colorado is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife; a staple of this region and a core component of its cultural identity. We owe our almost daily encounters with animals to the wealth of prime habitat within and on the outskirts of our communities. Your support allows us to preserve the important attributes which make this place special.
Quality wildlife habitat comes in many forms in Northwest Colorado, from the aspen-dotted hillsides to its lush irrigated hay meadows. Hay meadows are scattered throughout this vast open landscape and are a familiar sight to many, but their environmental functions are not widely understood.
In actuality, the wet, marshy environments that irrigated hay fields foster supplies among the most species-rich habitat in Northwest Colorado. Nutrient-rich plants found in the meadows attract insects and invertebrates, important food sources for many animals. Irrigated meadows are particularly beneficial for migratory birds, whose populations have plummeted in recent years due to habitat loss, conversion and fragmentation. With your help, YVLT has conserved tens of thousands of acres of this important habitat throughout the region.
An estimated 341 Neotropical migratory bird species exist in North America. Nearly 130 of those are known to be in decline, and 60 are considered to be in severe decline (i.e. populations roughly cut in half over 40 years). Many birds return from the spring migration only to find that their preferred nesting grounds have succumbed to human development. Over time, this cumulative habitat loss has been devastating to certain species. Open space preservation and smart growth are among the key ways to help stabilize declining avian populations, which rely on diverse ecosystems like the hay meadow during many stages of their development.
The benefits of hay fields are not limited to wildlife, but are realized by humans on a daily basis as well. In addition to performing vial ecosystem functions and promoting diversity, these environments offer both social and economic value. Hay meadows preserve Northwest Colorado’s iconic open landscape and help sustain local agriculture, which has long been a backbone of the regional economy – proving that habitat conservation and agriculture are not mutually exclusive aims.
These dynamic ecosystems undergo dramatic changes from season-to-season and as such, they serve a wide range of wildlife. Colorado wildlife representing nearly all branches of the animal kingdom utilize hay meadows at some point in their lives, be it for food, water, shelter, nesting grounds, or movement corridors. Perhaps the best way to understand these complex environments is to explore the seasonal change that occurs in a hay field over the course of a year.
Join us as we go behind the scenes at an irrigated hay meadow in the fertile Yampa Valley, inspired by one of YVLT’s conservation projects at a historic ranch in Routt County:
It’s April in the Yampa Valley.
A wet spring inundates the Yampa Valley. Photo: Wyoming Aero Photo LLC
The lingering blanket of sun-baked snow is receding and the ground has thawed, leaving behind a series of boggy seasonal ponds across the valley floor. Many refer to the shoulder season in Northwest Colorado as the “mud season,” a period distinguished by stormy weather, saturated soil and gushing rivers fueled by rapid snowmelt. Over the course of a few days, the influx of water will transform the landscape from varying shades of tan to a vibrant chameleon-green.
Meanwhile in the Valley, the hay meadow on a YVLT-conserved ranch is thriving amid the spring runoff. Sedges, clovers and grasses are growing taller by the day, providing much-needed food and shelter for resident wildlife who have endured a long, hard winter. Warmer temperatures wake the animals from a lethargic state and suddenly, the meadow – which lay dormant just a week or two ago – is bustling with activity. Some of these guests may stay for just a few moments, some will stay for a season, and others will visit periodically for the next several years.
Legacy Ranch, owned by the City of Steamboat Springs and conserved by YVLT. Photo: N. McCormish
This is an exciting time of year on the ranch. Migratory birds have returned from their southern exodus and are taking refuge in the meadow or along the nearby banks of the meandering Yampa River. Now that the snow has shed from their traditional nesting grounds, a pair of Greater Sandhill Cranes can be seen strutting about the wet marshes and Oxbows at the meadow’s edge. The willow thickets and tall grass fields provide plenty of cover for this pair to raise their newborns, and they will happily reside here until the fall migration. These captivating birds are keen on family values – Cranes generally remain faithful to the same partners for life!
Sandhill cranes are commonly seen poking around hay meadows near waterbodies. Photo: CPW
Local birdwatchers regularly line the banks of the Yampa River during this time to marvel at the Cranes, scanning intently for their long necks and the distinctive crimson patches adorning their foreheads. These large native birds (a State Threatened Species) are widely regarded as among the most graceful dancers in the animal kingdom. If the onlookers are lucky, they will be treated to a truly unique and animated display:
Many other species are similarly drawn to the prime conditions in the hay field. Early-season growth in the meadow is ideal for foraging, attracting Wilson’s Snipes, Great Blue Herons, Red-winged Blackbirds and even the occasional moose. At the fringe of the meadow near the riverbanks, a well-camouflaged Snipe combs the muddy ground with its long beak. The short, stocky sandpiper bobs up and down, curiously scouring the earth for earthworms and protein-rich insects. Success! Triumphantly raising its head, the Snipe showcases its wriggling, hard-earned trophy and zig-zags into the distance.
Countless other creatures – elk, butterflies, toads, hawks, snakes, bees, dragonflies – depend on patch environments like hay fields at various times of the year. The meadow is a revolving door: with spring runoff slowing to a trickle and valley temperatures on the rise, some of the meadow’s temporary visitors will return to higher ground while new guests begin to filter in.
The dog days of summer are fast approaching.
It is mid-June in the Yampa Valley and temperatures have crept into the upper 70’s. The heat occasionally conjures an afternoon thunderstorm amid the otherwise hot and sunny days, showering the thirsty ground with a brief burst of precipitation.
Looking across YVLT-conserved Legacy Ranch on the outskirts of Steamboat Springs. Photo: N. McCormish
Hay and pasture grasses are now waist-deep throughout the irrigated meadow, which benefitted from a particularly wet spring. While most opt to remain in high mountain elevations among the cool, thick patches of dark timber during the summer months, a few remaining deer and elk occasionally pause in the meadow to browse on the bountiful supply of food. The open field provides an important movement corridor for these large creatures at all times of year, allowing them to bypass surrounding clusters of human development as they wander down to the Yampa River to quench their thirst.
New faces arrive in the meadow daily as the hot summer sun soaks up the moisture elsewhere in the valley. A Greater Sage-grouse hen and her brood recently traveled here from the neighboring sagebrush shrublands, taking shelter in the wet meadows now that her preferred sagebrush habitat has dried out. In this damp environment, her chicks will have little trouble finding the tender forbs and juicy bugs that they need to flourish.
Greater Sage-grouse often visit hay meadows near sagebrush country to raise their young. Photo: CPW
Western Chorus Frogs are small enough to fit on a fingernail, but their raspy trill (“cree-ee-ek!”) rings through the meadow and is audible nearly a half mile away. This gravely call sounds in sharp contrast to the bubbling chorus chiming from a Bobolink nest tucked away deep in the hay field. Wet meadows like this are Bobolinks’ preferred breeding grounds, and the dense, flowing stands of grass found here provides sufficient cover to shield their young, which should hatch any day now. The melodies echoing through the hay field serve as a reminder that many animals – large and small – rely on these diverse ecosystems for survival.
For a brief time, the meadow experiences an explosion of color as a sea of seasonal wildflowers are in full bloom. Diminutive Bobolinks with their skunk-like plumes can often be seen perching on flower stalks, preparing for their fall migration to the southern hemisphere. Despite their small size, these birds are world travelers: some will fly over 10,000 miles this year going to and from South America. They are using this time to rest and to conserve energy for the long journey ahead.
Hay meadows are great places to host YVLT summer picnics for supporters once the crop is cut and baled!
Irrigation season is coming to an end and now the time has come to harvest the annual crop: over the course of a few weeks, the hay will be cut, raked, shaped into bales, and carted off the meadow. For birds that nest in hayfields, timing is everything: if the hay is cut too soon, the baby birds may not survive. Cutting hay after the first or second week of August helps to ensure that another generation of songbirds has fledged – and also ensures 100 percent “bird-free hay!” After the hay is cut and baled, it is moved to storage and will provide food for livestock during the winter until grazing season resumes in the spring.
Summer is waning as the days are getting shorter and the nights grow colder. Fall is in the air.
A bull’s breath lingers in the crisp fall air. Photo: CPW
The sound of bugling elk echoes throughout the Yampa Valley.
It is early October and Northwest Colorado is bursting with vivid displays of fall color. A shimmering sea of golden aspen leaves in the hills signals that winter is near, and the hay meadow’s guests are busy preparing for leaner times to come.
Colorful Colorado: YVLT’s conservation project at Mystic Hill.
The overnight frosts and occasional snow dustings are pushing deer and elk down from the high country into a mid-elevation “transition range” and occasionally down into the valley. Elk mating season (the “rut”) is underway and the animals have formed small groups or “harems” led by dominant male bulls. At dawn, a harem comprised of a bull and about a dozen cows roams through the meadow, the condensation from their breaths hanging in the chilly fall air. The leader of the group emits a roaring bugle that pierces the morning silence of the valley, drowning out the chirps and grunts coming from the cows. This is the bull’s way of showing off for the cows and asserting its dominance over the group. Minutes later, the sun crests over the towering mountain peaks to the east, illuminating the valley and inciting a flurry of activity in the meadow. The bull leads the harem down to the river for a quick drink before disappearing into the nearby sea of trees and vegetation.
During the “rut,” elk utilize willowed areas and irrigated meadows on YVLT-conserved YZ Ranch, a 5,280-acre property situated along the South Fork of the White River. Photo: Dorsey/YVLT
By mid-September, resident Greater Sage-grouse begin to retreat back to the thick sagebrush canopy, which will provide shelter and sustenance during the dark, cold winter months. The Sandhill Cranes are preparing for a journey to the San Luis Valley in Southern Colorado (and then ultimately even further south), fattening up in the wet meadows and grain fields. For weeks the young cranes or “colts” have been learning to fly, sharpening their take-offs and landings. While the adult cranes can travel as far as 400 miles a day, this family will need to slow down to make sure their young can keep pace.
The mass exodus continues as the thin deposit of snow covering the valley floor gradually starts to accumulate. Aside from a few lingering Magpies, the meadow is temporarily vacant. The wind is all that is audible across the empty hay field.
Volcanic dikes on YVLT-conserved Rossi Ranch make for a stunning backdrop as the seasons change. Photo: Dorsey/YVLT
It is late January in Routt County.
The meadow is buried under three feet of Colorado’s famous “Champagne Powder®” (trademarked by Steamboat Ski Resort!). Snow sports enthusiasts may be thrilled with this weather, but the winter months mark an annual struggle for survival for many of the animals in this region.
Overlooking YVLT-conserved open space across Legacy Ranch. Photo: N. McCormish
While some of Northwest Colorado’s wildlife hibernates during the winter, deer and elk generally remain semi-active and relocate to lower, more temperate elevations to escape the deep snow; often at south-facing slopes that retain winter forage. Their goal for the winter is to burn as few calories as possible, conserving energy and living off of fat reserves when food is scarce. The meadow is important at this time because it provides them with an unimpeded movement corridor, allowing them to more easily browse on shrubs, grass, twigs, bark, and seed-rich patches of uncut hay that still line the irrigation ditches under the deep snowdrifts. It is a dark and difficult time for these animals, but perseverance will see them through the winter.
The hay field lays dormant under the rosy pink hue of the mountains, illuminated by the evening’s stunning alpenglow. In a few short weeks it will be spring, and the cycle begins once again as the powerful sun sheds the layers of compacted snow and breathes life back into the meadow.
The next time you pass by a hay meadow, pause for a minute – you might catch a glimpse of the vibrant wildlife community that lives there!
Support YVLT in its wildlife habitat conservation efforts, which has permanently protected over 55,290 acres across Northwest Colorado to date (2016 update).