Critical Grouse Habitat and Scenic Foreground of Flat Top Mountains Conserved at Stillwater Ranch

stillwater
Stillwater Ranch, looking West toward the majestic Flat Top Mountains.

 

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.

 

Greater Sage-grouse. (CPW Photo)

 

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 protected over 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 West is not the West Without Sagebrush!

Sagebrush habitat on YVLT-conserved lands in Rio Blanco County.
Rolling sagebrush hillsides on YVLT-conserved lands in Rio Blanco County.

To those who have witnessed it firsthand, the vast open expanses of the American West are simply unforgettable. The empty rolling landscapes which characterize this region are typically dominated by stands of sagebrush, dotting nearly every hillside as they bleed into the distant horizon. It seems incomprehensible that these ecosystems – so numerous and so expansive – could ever be in jeopardy. But the reality is that sagebrush ecosystems are dwindling rapidly, as well as the plants and animals which rely on them, and they may ultimately collapse unless proactive measures are taken to mitigate the damage.

Not long ago, sagebrush ecosystems blanketed over 150 million acres across the western United States.  To put that number in perspective, the State of Colorado spans about 66 million acres – approximately how many acres of sagebrush habitat have been lost over time.  Human development, wildfires and the introduction of invasive weeds and non-native grasses have decimated these high-desert environments over time, slowly but irreparably changing the character of the American West.  Many areas that were once sagebrush strongholds have become fragmented and unable to support healthy wildlife populations.  And as is always the case in nature, the decline of one species can have ripple effects throughout the food chain, potentially disrupting the delicate balance of the surrounding ecosystem.

With a Colorado-sized block of sagebrush ecosystem now gone, over 350 plant and animal species – including grouse, mule deer, elk, pronghorn, and many others – are at risk of displacement as their native habitat shrinks. Some sagebrush-dependent species even face extinction in the face of changing times.

NWCO_LandCover_Condensed-1NWCO_WildlifeHabitat_Condensed-1

Greater Sage-grouse, unique to this part of the world and found exclusively in these ecosystems, are reliant on large intact blocks of sagebrush to provide food, cover, and nesting grounds.  They are known to shy away from areas with noise pollution and human activity.  The Greater Sage-grouse population has diminished so rapidly that they have been designated as a “Species of Special Concern” by the state of Colorado and are currently a candidate species under the federal Endangered Species Act, which has major implications not only for the birds, but also for the way land is managed throughout the Western states.  Click the video below to learn more about Greater Sage-grouse and their fight for survival.

Video: Pew Charitable Trust

Despite the alarming decline in sagebrush habitat across the West, there is still hope for these imperiled ecosystems.  Disturbed sagebrush habitat can be reestablished after several decades of sound land management practices.  It typically takes between 30 and 50 years to restore the native grasses and forbs that underlie sagebrush environments and allow them to take hold.  But in order to successfully combat habitat loss, a proactive approach to sagebrush conservation needs to take place on both public and private lands.

Yampa Valley Land Trust has long recognized the value in safeguarding these delicate environments. Under the banner of the “Rio Blanco Sage Grouse Conservation Initiative,” YVLT worked with landowners in Rio Blanco County to permanently conserve over 15,000 acres of grouse habitat. Meanwhile, in South Routt County, YVLT is currently finalizing two new conservation projects which will preserve another 1,500 acres of land providing habitat for grouse, elk, mule deer, and other iconic species of Northwest Colorado.  Additional conservation efforts in Jackson County have secured more than 1,700 acres of sagebrush ecosystems and wetlands which are utilized by many of this region’s resident wildlife species.

Many thanks to conservation-minded landowners, YVLT supporters and YVLT’s funding partners which allowed these projects to come to fruition: Great Outdoors Colorado, Routt County through its voter-approved Purchase of Development Rights Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service through the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

It is a long road ahead for Greater Sage-grouse and their shrinking sagebrush worlds.  Conservation projects at the local, state, and federal level will help to stabilize the alarming rate of sagebrush degradation, but reversing the trend will require time, resources, and dedication.  The fate of Greater Sage-grouse and other sage-dependent species hangs in the balance; if we fail to act meaningfully in bringing tangible changes to this landscape, they may be relegated to a distant memory.

Support YVLT and support land conservation in Northwest Colorado – for the Grouse, other species and for us!  Together we have made a huge difference across this region, but there is still so much work to be done:

NWCO_LandUse_Condensed-1

Routt County approves new conservation easement on Deep Creek

Deep Creek
Deep Creek
Deep Creek Meadows Ranch, in addition to productive hay meadows, is home to a nesting pair of sandhill cranes and is in close proximity to Columbian sharp-tailed and sage grouse breeding leks.
 
Deep Creek Meadows Ranch Conserved, Safeguarding the Natural Character and Scenic Vistas of the South Elk River Valley

Yampa Valley Land Trust recently finalized a new conservation project on a rustic agricultural property nestled in the scenic Elk River Valley, adding to a steadily-growing conservation corridor just north of Steamboat Springs.

The 459-acre conservation easement was made possible by the voter-approved Routt County Purchase of Development Rights program, which provided funding for this important project, as well as a donation by conservation-minded landowners Fred and Flora Wolf. With a conservation easement in place, YVLT has ensured that the pristine ranchland and scenic viewshed will remain shielded from future development – forever.

Deep Creek Meadows Ranch has deep roots in Routt County. Fred and Flora Wolf have owned the working ranch for more than 30 years, which has been in agricultural production since the 1930s.

The property is situated along the meandering banks of Deep Creek, a tributary of the Elk River, in a fertile basin surrounded by meadows and rolling hills. The rugged, rolling terrain found on Deep Creek Meadows Ranch provides important natural habitat for wildlife. The ranch is home to a pair of nesting sandhill cranes, a once-threatened migratory species that is now on the road to recovery. In addition, the ranch is situated near a critical breeding habitat for Greater Sage-grouse, a species that has been in rapid decline across the West in recent years.

Ranchland offers more than just a sanctuary for animals. By protecting working farms and ranches from future development, Yampa Valley Land Trust is safeguarding open space values and scenic vistas that are of a high priority to the local community, in addition to our cultural identity and rural way of life.

Funding for this important project was provided by the Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights Program, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and of course, YVLT’s generous supporters which enable the organization to protect key landscapes across Northwest Colorado.

With Fred and Flora Wolf as stewards on the land and under YVLT’s oversight, Deep Creek Meadows Ranch will retain its unique character and conservation values for generations to come.

By YVLT Staff


 

YVLT in the News

“Routt County Approves New Conservation Easement on Deep Creek,” Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs — Routt County commissioners agreed this week to fund the conservation of the 459-acre Deep Creek Meadows Ranch in the South Elk River Valley with the help of $330,000 of voter-approved tax dollars devoted to protecting the landscape of Routt County from future development.

The ranch, which straddles Deep Creek, a major tributary of the Elk River, has been in agricultural production since the 1930s. Fred and Flora Wolf have owned and operated the ranch with productive irrigated hay meadows for 30 years.

The easement is being funded in part by the owners, who have donated 53.6 percent, or $[omitted], of the ranch’s appraised value of $[omitted], along with $[omitted] from the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service and $[omitted] from the county’s Purchase of Development Rights fund.

The Yampa Valley Land Trust, which has conserved 52,000 acres through 72 conservation easements and has been especially effective in conserving large, contiguous parcels in the Elk River Valley, will hold and manage the easement.

Fred Wolf said Wednesday that he underwent a change of careers when he moved to Routt County.

“You don’t go from being a financial person to being a rancher overnight,” Wolf said.

And the ranch has turned out to be a good place to raise children, and now grandchildren, Wolf added.

Two decades ago, Wolf was the co-chair of a citizens panel, Vision 2020, that attempted to anticipate how the Yampa and Elk river valleys would change in the 21st century and what attributes the community most prized.

“I was on Vision 2020 in 1994, and I’ve watched all this over the years and think it’s a good thing,” Wolf said. “PDR has been around for a long time and served the community pretty well.”

PDR has been in place since 1997 after voters here agreed in November 2006 to tax themselves to create a fund to stimulate land conservation. After originally approving a property tax to fund PDR in November 1996, Routt County voters renewed the tax in 2005 for another 20 years.

Deep Creek Meadows Ranch, in addition to productive hay meadows, is home to a nesting pair of sandhill cranes and is in close proximity to both Columbian sharp-tailed and sage grouse breeding leks.

The pockets of mountain shrubs on the low hills of the ranch serve as elk-calving grounds.

“I’m sure the elk can easily walk from our ranch to neighboring conserved ranches,” Wolf said.

By Tom Ross

Richard (Bergquist) Ranch: A Colorado Centennial Ranch

Richard Ranch

YVLT Conserves Historic Ranch and Important Sage Grouse Habitat in Jackson County

YVLT is expanding its presence in Jackson County, securing a conservation easement on the 1,715-acre Richard Ranch and bolstering conservation efforts in the area.  Located 11 miles west of Walden, the working ranch and its rolling sagebrush shrublands supply critical habitat for Greater Sage-grouse.

The North Park basin where the ranch is situated is home to the second largest Greater Sage-grouse population in the state of Colorado. Sage-grouse populations have been steadily declining throughout the American West in recent years, but these birds can be found on Richard Ranch year-round, thanks to the property’s close proximity to several active breeding or “lek” sites.

Additionally, the ranch also provides moose habitat and some of the best waterfowl habitat found in the entire region. Richard Ranch borders a 41,000-acre BLM parcel and neighbors the Lake John State Wildlife Area, providing a critical buffer to the wealth of public lands found in Jackson County – in addition to protecting a large block of the scenic landscape.

The Richard Ranch has been in Jeff Richard’s family for over 120 years, homesteaded by his great-grandfather in 1892.  This Colorado Centennial Ranch is also known by his mother’s maiden name as the Bergquist Ranch or the Historic Bergquist Homestead.  The property is notable for several attributes, including: Continue reading “Richard (Bergquist) Ranch: A Colorado Centennial Ranch”