Sustainable grazing to stretch water supplies | SteamboatToday.com

Sustainable grazing to stretch water supplies

The Nature Conservancy’s Carpenter Ranch facilities manager Betsy Blakeslee and Yampa River Project Director Geoff Blakeslee (they’re a married couple) have had a profound influence on the Conservancy’s 20-year stewardship at the ranch, overseeing the balance between honoring agricultural practices and conserving the riparian zone along the Yampa River at the ranch. They have taken on conservation roles outside their employment, fostered youth education programs and embraced the arts at the ranch.





The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch facilities manager Betsy Blakeslee and Yampa River Project Director Geoff Blakeslee (they're a married couple) have had a profound influence on the Conservancy's 20-year stewardship at the ranch, overseeing the balance between honoring agricultural practices and conserving the riparian zone along the Yampa River at the ranch. They have taken on conservation roles outside their employment, fostered youth education programs and embraced the arts at the ranch.
John F. Russell

Carpenter Ranch as a laboratory for conserving water

— Beginning in 2015, the Nature Conservancy committed four hay fields comprising 197 acres at the Carpenter Ranch to a multi-state pilot project conceived to determine how irrigated hay fields in the region would respond to being temporarily left fallow in order to leave more water flowing in the Yampa River. The stronger summer flows would support habitat and help to replenish the vast reservoirs of the Southwest that supply water to cities in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California.

The ranch is among five pilot sites in Colorado and five in Wyoming to make up the Colorado River System Conservation Program.

The Conservancy's Yampa River Project Director Geoff Blakeslee told Steamboat Today in August 2015 that the water project essentially involves a water transfer plan that could someday allow ag water users to be compensated for temporarily taking water off their land to be used elsewhere.

"It's very much an exploratory project," Blakeslee said last year. "We're doing what we call a split-season fallowing of four fields on Carpenter Ranch just to help with information gathering — what are the impacts to the ranch? What are the impacts to the river?"

It's understood that the short-term consequences may be a smaller hay harvest that could support fewer cattle. But there are also benefits in the program that flow to the ranchers.

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The $11 million program to conserve water is funded by water providers in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.

The Year 2015: The Nature Conservancy’s 50 years in Colorado

One of the standout initiatives in 2015 for the Boulder-based Colorado Nature Conservancy was the acquisition of shortgrass prairies and canyons comprising the 50,000-acre JE Canyon Ranch on the southeast plains.

The ranch spans more than 70 square miles, includes almost nine miles of the Purgatoire River, which flows through an area where the prairie transitions to pinon-juniper covered hills that drop off steeply at the red rock cliffs above the river.

The Conservancy and its partners intend to test management practices to restore the ranch's forests and streams. Changing streams, fire suppression and the ongoing encroachment of pinon and juniper into the prairies have undermined the native habitat, raising the risk of unmanageable wildfire while presenting economic challenges to local ranchers.

As the one-year anniversary of his tenure as the Conservancy's new Colorado Director passed, Carlos Fernandez said that sustainable grazing will continue to be an emphasis while conservation within cities also gains prominence.

"Our population is expected to nearly double by 2050. Increased needs for food, water and energy will further strain Colorado's natural systems," Fernandez said in a news release. "These challenges require far-sighted solutions, solutions that build on our track record of results and push us to incorporate new thinking, such as focusing on urban conservation, expanding our sustainable grazing work and leveraging natural solutions to reduce the impacts of climate change."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1