Researchers from Colorado State University’s Colorado Natural Heritage Program, or CNHP, will be working with nearly 40 private landowners from southeastern Colorado to complete a biological inventory on ranch land in the region. A $200,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, or CCALT, brings together this new partnership aimed at conservation.
Researchers will survey high-quality habitats across 1.25 million acres of Bent, Otero and Las Animas counties in southeastern Colorado beginning in March 2007. This region of the state has the most extensive areas of shortgrass prairie remaining in eastern Colorado and is home to several species dependent on the intact nature of the landscape.
CNHP conducts many biological inventories across the state, but this particular inventory is unique because ranchers and scientists are working in close collaboration for conservation efforts.
"This part of the state represents one of the largest intact working landscapes in Colorado," said Joe Stevens, CNHP ecology team leader. "Historically, there has not been much opportunity for us to work this closely with local ranchers to inventory an area and to document the species these ranchlands and its management supports. This study will produce mutual benefits for ranchers and conservationists alike and will serve as an example for others trying to establish similar partnerships throughout the West."
Ranchers in the area are allowing CNHP researchers on their private land to find and document areas containing species and ecological communities of biological interest. Scientists will look for occurrences of more than 100 different rare species potentially residing on the land as well as high-quality examples of unique plant communities. Among the many species that researchers will look for is the elusive mountain plover and the imperiled Arkansas Valley evening primrose.
Researchers will document locations where rare species are found and will assign a quality rank to areas with high biological significance. The quality rank is a combination of a biological community’s condition, size and landscape context. From this information, CNHP researchers will propose a minimum area needed to conserve the species and its habitat. These areas proposed by CNHP are called Potential Conservation Areas. They have no legal basis but are well recognized by the conservation community as useful planning area boundaries.
"Biological inventories such as this one being promoted by the local ranching community and the CCALT provide the foundation for making wise land-use decisions. As good stewards of their lands, most ranchers are interested in understanding the full range of values their lands and management practices support and to protect those values into the future. The inventory just provides an additional tool among many that a landowner needs to manage their lands for the long term," Stevens said.
Researchers will work directly with Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to establish a local advisory group to provide recommendations and to assist in identifying and obtaining permission from landowners to conduct the inventory on their private property.