Conservation group ropes in a working ranch

  • Jamie Williams

    Florence Williams
 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, Saving the ranch.

For years The Nature Conservancy has taken a direct route in its quest to protect native plants and animals: buying land and prohibiting most human activities on it. That strategy has paid big dividends in the West. In the 10 Western states outside California, the Washington, D.C.-based group has protected 3.4 million acres of private lands, much of it through direct acquisition.

But as the Conservancy has reached the limits of both its pocketbook and its ability to manage the land, it has shifted strategy. Witness the group's pending purchase of the 950-acre Carpenter Ranch, 19 miles west of Steamboat Springs, along the Yampa River. The ranch will not be a biological refuge, says Steamboat staffer Jamie Williams, but a testing ground for ranching techniques compatible with habitat preservation.

"We can't achieve our mission through land acquisition, and it wouldn't be desirable anyway," says Williams. "It's really driven the Conservancy to expand from a purely land-acquisition focus to one of building partnerships with private landowners and other people."

From an ecological standpoint, the Carpenter Ranch has something rare in the West - a relatively undisturbed cottonwood/box elder/dogwood forest along the Yampa River.

The 240-mile-long Yampa is one of the longest, most intact rivers in the West, with only two impoundments on its main stem. Eighty percent of the riverbank is privately owned. The purchase of Carpenter Ranch will give Williams "a seat at the table" with traditional ranching interests.

It will be quite a seat: The ranch once was owned by Farrington Carpenter, a Routt County rancher and attorney who in 1934 set up the Federal Grazing Service to implement the Taylor Grazing Act. That agency metamorphosed into the Bureau of Land Management, which still oversees much of the public grazing land in the West.

Williams' first year in Routt County was difficult. "There was a tremendous amount of skepticism and suspicion and misunderstanding about what we might do here," he recalls. "I think the biggest concern was we would buy up the river and give it to the feds."

He spent a lot of time drinking coffee in ranchers' kitchens, building bridges. Williams has an Ivy League degree, but grew up in rural Oklahoma and drives a pickup. "It was pretty intimidating (for me)," he says of those early discussions. "(But) just being able to spend time individually has made a huge difference in building relationships of trust."

To bolster the Conservancy's local presence, Williams formed the 14-member Yampa River Advisory Committee - half of whose members are ranchers - to direct the Conservancy's work. The committee has won the support of locals, says Williams, because its members are locals working to develop a local vision.

After the Conservancy closes on the Carpenter Ranch in December, Williams will hire a ranch manager and start a trial-and-error program for managing cattle in the river's bottomlands, fiddling with the timing and intensity of grazing in various ecosystems.

"We've got to be in the game trying things ourselves," Williams says, "or we don't have a lot of credibility with others. Our ultimate goal on the Yampa is to support other stewards of the land on the land."

With some minor changes, Williams believes, "ranching and conservation on the Yampa can go hand in hand."

High Country News Classifieds
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING MANAGER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • CARPENTER RANCH MANAGER
    Hiring a part-time ranch manager to live on The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch property in Hayden, CO. Responsibilities include: facility maintenance of historic ranch house,...
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    to lead an organization that funds projects in National Parks. Major gift fundraising and public lands experience critical. PD and app details @ peopleinparks.org.