by Denis Hall
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association held its 132nd Annual Convention in Mt. Crested Butte last June. Founded in 1867, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) is the oldest cattlemen’s association in the country. CCA speaks for Colorado’s beef producers and landowners and is committed to enhancing the investment of grassroots beef producers.
Attendees received information on a variety of forward-thinking issues. Gunnison County rancher Bill Trampe and biologist Susan Lohr presented “The Cowboy and the Bird Watcher,” the tale of how the two worked together to form the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Project. Livestock producers are concerned with the loss of agricultural and ranch lands to development. Due to low cattle prices, livestock producers are increasingly forced to abandon their families’ way of life. According to the Colorado Agricultural Statistics Service, Colorado has lost 270,000 acres per year since 1992.
Lohr and Trampe explained their efforts to preserve family-owned ranchland in the Gunnison Basin. At the request of individual ranch families, the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Project places permanent conservation easements on ranch lands. The project purchases development rights from those acres, permanently placing the rights in a trust that guarantees the property can never be developed. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Association itself has become involved in the land preservation business. In 1995 the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust was created to serve needs of Colorado’s ranchers and farmers. Such forward-reaching ideas are percolating throughout the cattlemen’s association.
Another presenter at the convention was Amos Eno, Executive Director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Congress created the NFWF in 1984 to stimulate private sector investment in conservation. NFWF matches private contributions with federal funds, and has awarded more than $120 million to 2,902 projects. According to San Luis Valley rancher, CCA (and CRA) member member, Skip Crowe, the philosophy of Colorado cattlemen is evolving.
“Our philosophy is moving away from reacting to things like we have in the past. Instead we are moving toward where we want to be twenty years in the future. In the past it was easy to know what we were against. But now we are getting some idea of what we want to do.”
Skip Crowe and other ranchers are working to protect more than 33,000 acres of agricultural ranch land in upper Saguache Creek and, on the Gunnison Basin side, along Cochetopa Creek. The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust could be instrumental in this precedent-setting effort.
The convention included training sessions on methods of grazing streamside riparian areas. Riparian areas represent only 3% of western Colorado’s arid landscape, yet over 90% of wildlife species use them. Problems arise because cattle like riparian areas too. Ranchers visited Crested Butte Land Trust property to learn about riparian conditions on Slate River, and on Brush Creek in the East River Valley, to see that grazing can take place in riparian areas without damaging them.