Photo: Bullock's Oriole
"A bird of open woodlands in the American West, the Bullock's Oriole is especially fond of tall trees along rivers and streams." Learn more about this and other birds at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds website. Photo courtesy of Tom Grey.
In The News
Young Ranching Family Finds Home on the Prairie
Young ranching families are growing scarce on Colorado’s eastern plains, where the average rancher is 60. Many young people who grew up in struggling rural communities just don’t see a future for themselves here. But Louis Martin and his family got the opportunity they’d been looking for when they were selected to steward the nearly 50,000-acre Brett Gray Ranch (formerly the Smith Ranch) in Lincoln County, Colorado, about 75 minutes east of Colorado Springs.
In September 2007, more than 100 cattlemen from seven states showed up to tour the Smith Ranch in the hopes of one day running the property. The tour was organized by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of Colorado in an effort to find a suitable rancher to manage the property for cattle and conservation.
TNC made history by being the first to protect a major playa complex in one fell swoop when it purchased the 23,000-acre Smith Ranch. The property adjoins another 26,000 acres of conserved ranchlands, which together contain more than 200 playas.
“This is a unique property in that there are so many playas, and so many large playas, none of which have been substantially altered,” said TNC’s Peak to Prairie Project Manager Frogard Ryan. “That’s quite unusual. Most of the time we are looking at properties with just one playa, and in many cases it’s been pitted. This property certainly got our attention.”
The Smith Ranch purchase marks the first, major on-the-ground accomplishment of the newly formed Shortgrass Prairie Partnership — a coalition of wildlife agencies, conservation organizations and landowner groups working to protect native grasslands, rivers and wetlands of the Central Shortgrass Prairie in harmony with working landscapes and local economies. The partnership includes representation from the Colorado State Land Board, The Nature Conservancy, Playa Lakes Joint Venture, Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, among others.
The Smith property’s uniqueness extends beyond playas, and includes the headwaters of Steel’s Fork, a groundwater-fed stream, and is home to a multitude of species of conservation concern, including Mountain Plover, Burrowing Owl, Cassin’s Sparrow, Swift Fox, Plains Leopard Toad and Arkansas Darter. The property and adjacent ranch make up nearly 50,000 acres of native grassland, and is one of the largest contiguous expanses of native prairie in the area.
The property is owned by the Colorado State Land Board. Partners involved in the acquisition submitted a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant to assist with the purchase. TNC holds the lease on the land and subleased it to the Martin family to run the property according to a wildlife-friendly management plan
Read more about the Martin's story on the TNC website.