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!

Rossi Ranch: “Devil’s Grave” Conserved – 840 Newly Protected Acres Along Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway!


YVLT is thrilled to announce that its latest conservation project has been finalized: 840 acres of open rangeland along the picturesque Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway.

Rossi Ranch: Devil’s Grave is a working ranch parcel owned by brothers Dean Rossi and Jim Rossi that sits in an agricultural corridor of South Routt County.  Its ominous name is derived from a tombstone-like monolith at the tip of “Devil’s Grave Mesa,” a sandstone tabletop overlooking the property.

The 840-acre “Devil’s Grave” is distinguished by its stunning views of the Flat Top Mountains and sagebrush steppe expanses.  Sagebrush is a critical ecosystem for many of Northwest Colorado’s resident wildlife.  These environments are particularly important for Greater Sage-grouse and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse (both state-designated “Species of Special Concern”), which rely on them for food, shelter, and breeding grounds.  The property’s mountain-shrub ecosystems also harbor key habitat for elk, moose, mountain lions, bald eagles, hawks, and other wildlife, including “Critical Winter Range” for mule deer when the Yampa Valley is blanketed in deep snow.

The owners primarily use this parcel for livestock grazing.  With a limited human footprint on the property, wildlife enjoy an 840-acre sanctuary where they remain undisturbed for much of the year – just the way they like it!  The conservation easement removed this parcel’s subdivision and development potential, allowing these lands to remain open and available for ranching and wildlife for many years to come.

Devil’s Grave Mesa overlooks the property’s sagebrush expanses. Photo:  K. McCarty

The parcel contributes to the open landscape along Colorado Highway 131 and the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, which feature striking vistas with unobstructed views leading into the Flat Tops Wilderness (third largest Wilderness Area in the state) and its prominent 11,000-foot peaks.  For those who are unfamiliar with this Scenic Byway, it’s a secluded 82-mile scenic route connecting the towns of Yampa and Meeker providing access points to remote pockets of the Flat Tops.

In addition to its rugged open scenery, the Devil’s Grave conservation project also preserves Northwest Colorado’s rich agricultural heritage dating back to late 1800s, when settlers first arrived in the Yampa Valley.

Dean and Jim have deep roots in the Yampa Valley: four generations of the Rossi family have owned and operated a Routt County ranch for nearly a century.  This historic ranching family has also been instrumental in pioneering and championing the use of conservation easements in Northwest Colorado.  In fact, the Devil’s Grave parcel shares a border with and is in close proximity to the 600-acre “Rossi Ranch on the Yampa River” – the first conservation easement funded by GOCO in the State of Colorado (finalized with YVLT in 1996).  Together, these easements along with a neighboring 333-acre conserved parcel form a 1,773 acre block of conserved land in this area. 

Rossi Ranch on the Yampa River is among YVLT’s most recognizable projects, preserving the iconic Laughlin Buttes – unique volcanic spires that loom above Colorado Highway 131 between the towns of Yampa and Phippsburg.  Famed Colorado landscape photographer John Fielder captured the Laughlin Buttes for his 2009 book, “Ranches of Colorado” (click here to read about Fielder’s visit to Northwest Colorado and see his photograph of the Buttes, courtesy of the Steamboat Pilot & Today).

With this 840-acre property conserved, YVLT has permanently protected over 56,130 acres across four counties in Northwest Colorado. 

YVLT would like to thank Great Outdoors Colorado, Routt County (through its Purchase of Development Rights program), the Rossi family, and of course YVLT supporters, all of which provided the funding that allowed this important ranchland preservation project to move forward.

Global Wildlife Populations Plummeting, New Study Warns

Wildlife enthusiasts received discouraging news when a recent study concluded that our planet has lost more than half of its wildlife population since 1970, and it’s on course to lose 67 percent by 2020.

Repeat:  Earth has lost 58% of its wildlife in the last 46 years.

The jaw-dropping report, published by the World Wildlife Fund and Zoological Society of London, determined that habitat fragmentation and climate change were displacing wildlife at an unprecedented rate in the modern era.  It’s a shocking decrease in a short 50-year window within the grand timeframe of our planet, adding to growing concern that Earth is experiencing its sixth major extinction period.

“The conclusion is stark: the planetary stability our species has enjoyed for 11,700 years, that has allowed civilization to flourish, can no longer be relied upon,” said one of the contributors.

The Living Planet Index provided the data necessary to prepare the comprehensive report, evaluating biodiversity levels across over 14,000 distinct wildlife populations.  The LPI’s findings seem to echo some of the trends we have observed locally in Colorado.  In just 10 years, the statewide population of mule deer fell from 613,450 to 435,660, according to CPW estimates from 2005 and 2015 (wildlife managers suggest that Colorado’s optimal mule deer population is around 560,000).  Perhaps it’s just a coincidence – elk populations have remained relatively stable in Colorado during that time – but the broader trends suggest that more open land protection is urgently needed for our resident wildlife.  YVLT is currently evaluating new projects that provide substantial protection of diverse wildlife habitats.  But this report suggests that we have a lot more work to do, together.

What does this mean for the future?

Thanks to significant conservation efforts around the globe, it’s not all bad news presented in the WWF study.  Certain wildlife populations have actually grown in recent years, including tigers and pandas.  “Unprecedented” conservation efforts – including YVLT’s efforts to conserve over 15,000 acres of Greater Sage-Grouse-specific habitat in Northwest Colorado – helped the American West’s iconic Sage-Grouse avoid listing under the Endangered Species Act, as announced earlier this year.

This suggests that fast, collaborative action can make a meaningful difference for wildlife in just a short time.  The message is clear: we cannot sit idly by if we hope to maintain stable, sustainable wildlife populations around the globe.  We need to protect our open land resources now.

The intensity of our global conservation efforts in coming years – starting at the local level – may well determine the scope of the concerning decline in wildlife that we are witnessing today.  We will continue to do our part here in Northwest Colorado through strategic land conservation, but we need your help to do it!  The precarious future of wildlife populations throughout this incredible region may hinge on our dedication today to protecting the open landscapes and ecosystems they depend on.

Land conservation is critically important to the following species that call NWCO home:

  • Leopard Frog
  • Boreal Toad
  • Bobolink
  • Greater Sage-Grouse
  • Columbian Sharp-Tailed Grouse
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Northern Goshawk
  • Bald Eagle
  • River Otter
  • Canada Lynx
  • Mule Deer
  • Elk
  • Moose

And many, many other species we share the Yampa Valley with…

Think globally, act locally.  Make a difference in your own backyard.
Click here to support YVLT’s wildlife habitat conservation efforts!


Conservation in Loving Memory of Cola: for All Critters, Tame and Wild!

YVLT’s land conservation does more than just enrich our lives …

it’s also for critters, tame and wild!



This was the subject line of a donation given in memory of Cola, an adventurous Chocolate Lab who loved roaming Northwest Colorado’s open expanses.

Land conservation preserves the sights, smells and sounds of the great outdoors; the many things that made Cola pause along every walk through this region’s beautiful, diverse landscapes.  As an independent “conservation canine,” Cola loved being in the wild.  [To find out more about conservation canines, follow this link.]

Conservation also opens new areas for ourselves and our canine companions to explore.  With your support, YVLT has worked to bring an additional 5,500 acres to our community featuring public access and open for a wide range of recreational pursuits.  Now, with certain new trails and open spaces for dogs to wander, it’s no wonder why Steamboat Springs has been dubbed “Dog Town USA” (as well as “Bike Town USA” and “Ski Town USA,” of course)!

Conservation is for wild critters, too.  Habitat fragmentation is among the biggest threats to wildlife in the American West.  Land conservation keeps core blocks of wildlife habitat intact, maintaining the health and integrity of entire ecosystems that they rely on.  Further, many privately-owned lands harbor some of the most important, species-rich wildlife habitat in Northwest Colorado, whether it is strutting grounds for Greater Sage-grouse or open hay meadows for elk to use during the rut.  Conservation is critical in ensuring wild critters always remain a fixture in the wonderful place that Cola called home.

Support YVLT today and we will continue preserving the very best of the Yampa Valley and Northwest Colorado for critters, tame and wild – and for the rest of us!