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A Pilot Project of the Colorado Conservation Exchange

 By David Jessup

Can ranches and farms in the Poudre-Big Thompson watershed improve the quality of water used by Front Range urban dwellers?  That question is being addressed by a pilot project at Sylvan Dale Ranch, a 3,200-acre working guest ranch located at the mouth of the Big Thompson Canyon west of Loveland, Colorado.

Owned and operated by the Jessup family since 1946, Sylvan Dale hosts family dude ranch vacations in the summer and everything from weddings to corporate events during the rest of the year.  The ranch also runs a cow-calf operation that raises 60 calves per year to grow and sell as grass-fed and grass-finished natural beef directly to local consumers.

The Jessups have been concerned about runoff from manure in their cattle pens and horse pastures next to the river.  Although small in amount compared to feedlot operations, the nutrient runoff reduces water quality in the river and may even contribute to recent duckweed blooms in the ranch’s trout ponds below the pastures.

In 2010 the ranch invited the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to analyze the problem and suggest solutions.  Three options were suggested, all of which required considerable cash outlays.  As with many close-to-the-margin family ranches, such expenditures sometimes fall to the bottom of the list as equipment repairs, leaky roofs, broken water pumps and other urgent projects rise to the top.

Several organizations came forward to help.  CSU’s Institute for Livestock and the Environment (ILE) provided an implementation grant with a community outreach component to share lessons learned with a larger public.  A group in formation at CSU’s Center for Collaborative Conservation, preliminarily called the Colorado Conservation Exchange (CCEx), saw an opportunity to demonstrate how a marketplace might be created for community members to support land stewards who seek to conserve and enhance natural resources.  The Big Thompson Watershed Forum (BTWF) provided technical expertise to measure nutrient runoff before and after any changes are made.  Northern Water (NW) agreed to provide a Parshall flume and rain gauge for these measurements, and the City of Loveland Water Department agreed to do lab tests.

All sought an answer to this question:  How many pounds of nitrogen, phosphorus and organic matter can be kept out of the river by implementing a solution, and what is the most cost-effective way of doing so?  All were interested creating a pilot project to serve as a model for other water quality efforts.

Wider Implications for the Watershed

By itself, the Sylvan Dale effort will have a negligible effect on overall nutrient loads in the Big Thompson River.  But there are hundreds of small livestock and horse properties in the watershed that collectively have a considerable impact.  Large-scale animal feeding operations are required by law to mitigate their runoff and environmental effects.  Similar rules for small family operations would likely put them out of business.  The CCEx hopes to implement a voluntary marketplace whereby communities, organizations, and individuals who benefit from cleaner water will provide resources for land stewards who seek to provide it.  If this is done on a wide scale, the improvement in water quality could be significant.  All would benefit:  water users, city dwellers and family farms and ranches.

(Note:  This article was originally published in CSU’s Center for Collaborative Conservation Newsletter, Spring, 2012.)

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By David Jessup

The Yearling Cattle are the troubled ones

There’s no such thing as a routine cattle drive.  Just ask the group of Sylvan Dale Ranch “adventure riders” who helped move sixty yearlings from their winter pasture back to the main ranch on Saturday, April 14, 2012.

Seven of us saddled up at 9 am, the spring sun warming our faces, the deep blue Colorado sky and crisp air thrilling our senses.   We figured we’d be back by noon.  We figured wrong.

As we rode toward the winter pasture, we took note of the problem areas we’d encounter on the way back:  several driveways, a home with an inviting lawn, a stretch of county road with occasional cars, a highway crossing, and a steep, red-rock ridge to cross.  The yearlings had made this trek in the opposite direction six months ago with their mamas.  Now they would be on their own. Read more on Troubled Teen Cattle Drive…

One of our favorite local authors, Laura Pritchett, will be appearing at Loveland’s Anthology Book Store to discuss her new book, Great Colorado Bear Stories, on Thursday, May 17 at 6:30 PM.  We hope to see you there.  Anthology Book Store is located at 422 East 4th Street  Loveland, CO 80537 (970) 667-0118.  We’re big fans of Laura’s writing, especially Hell’s Bottom, Colorado, reviewed elsewhere in this blog.

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Peace Like a River, a novel by Leif Enger

Eleven-year-old Reuben Land narrates this harrowing cross-country journey prompted by his older brother’s murder of a bully. Davy, the brother, becomes a fugitive. The rest of the family—father Jeremiah and Reuben’s younger sister Swede–set out from Minnesota to find him. We chewed our knuckles listening to this book-on-tape during our own drive back to Maryland, as Reuben’s family tracks Davy down, one step ahead of the law.

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The Work of Wolves, a novel by Kurt Meyers

Dakota rancher Carson Fielding is hired to train horses by land baron Magnus Yarborough and becomes entangled with Yarborough’s much younger wife. In revenge, the wealthy rancher sets out to slowly starve his wife’s horses to death. Fielding teams up with Lakota math whiz Earl Walks Alone and German exchange student Willi Schubert to try to rescue the animals. Meyers weaves Lakota mysticism with tension between ranchers who love their land and those who seek to develop it.

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The Hearts of Horses, a novel by Molly Gloss

This is a quiet story of Eastern Oregon ranch life at the time of World War I. Nineteen-year-old loner Martha Lessen goes to work training horses for rancher George Bliss and his neighbors. She gets crossways with a hired hand who abuses horses, helps a German family after a wagon accident, and is courted by a persistent Irish cowboy who tests her determination to lead a solitary life.

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The Diary of Mattie Spencer, a novel by Sandra Dallas

LOCAL AUTHOR.

No one gets the lingo and the culture of the westward wagon trek like Denver’s Sandra Dallas. Mattie leaves her Midwest home with new husband Luke to create a life homesteading in Colorado. As recorded in her “diary,” she copes with the hardships of frontier life and tries to learn more about her stranger of a husband. One of Linda’s favorite books, this one transports you back in time.

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The Meadow, by James Galvin

LOCAL AUTHOR. An American Library Association Notable Book.

Raised in northern Colorado and owner of a ranch in Tie Siding, Wyoming, James Galvin has crafted one of the most authentic (and poetically beautiful) descriptions of ranch life we’ve ever read. You’ll meet Lyle, Ray, Clara, and App, the quirky characters that live along the Colorado/Wyoming border. They try to tame the landscape, but it tames them.

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A Dog For All Seasons, a memoir by Patti Sherlock

We heard Patti Sherlock read an excerpt from her new book at the Jackon Hole Writers’ Conference, and we’re pleased to host her during her stay in Loveland. People who love dogs and people will be captivated by her book. Author and Animal Behaviorialist Temple Grandin calls it “A moving memoir of a loving relationship with a dog and the trials and tribulations of living on a western sheep farm.  All people who love dogs and yearn to return to the land will love this book.”

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Hell’s Bottom, Colorado, a novel by Laura Pritchett

LOCAL AUTHOR. Winner of the Milkweed and PEN Center West Awards.

Wonderful interconnected short stories that knit together the lives of Renny and Ben, estranged grandparents trying to preserve their family cattle ranch while daughter Rachel struggles to protect her children from an abusive husband. The family perseveres through a forest fire, a harrowing rescue of an orphaned calf, and a shocking act of violence. Laura is a neighbor of ours, and we vouch for the authenticity of her beautiful descriptions of ranch life.

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