Historical site makes diverse biological preserve


Opportunities for nature education and exploration abound at The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch this summer. From bird watching and insect collecting to monitoring the natural habitats and movements of native species, the ranch, located outside of Hayden, is an outdoorsman's paradise.

The Carpenter Ranch is a working ranch that was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1996 as part of the Conservancy's goal to preserve natural diversity.

"That natural diversity is important to us, but so are human communities, that's how we do our work," said Audrey Walker, director of marketing and research with the Conservancy.

The Carpenter Ranch is located in what is one of eight eco-regions in Colorado -- areas identified as being worth and needing special protection.

According to Mike Taetro, Northwest Colorado Program manager with The Nature Conservancy, the goal is saving the last great places on earth using a science-based approach. The Yampa River is considered the last "functional" river in the state, making The Carpenter Ranch, which borders the river, an ideal place to stage preservation activities.

"This is a special place in the West -- in the world -- for sandhill cranes," said Ann Oliver, Yampa Valley Project Director for The Nature Conservancy. "This is really a productive place for nesting."

The Carpenter Ranch serves as the centerpiece of the Conservancy's efforts to conserve the natural, historical and agricultural heritage of the Yampa Valley. With many ranches but few small private holdings, the Valley is a great place for the Conservancy to pursue landscape-scale conservation efforts, Oliver said.

Today, the 906-acre Carpenter Ranch is a working cattle ranch, a research and education facility, and a center for cooperation and dialogue. A walk through the rare cottonwood riparian forest offers a chance to see many species of birds that reside here.

The education facility features interactive exhibits, historical background and information about the many species that live there.

Northwest Colorado boasts the only population of Columbian sharp tail grouse in Colorado and one of the healthiest, most robust populations in the world.

"This is a special place for wildlife and functional systems," Oliver said. "We try to work in Routt and Moffat counties to protect functionality and a continuous landscape. We want to support natural processes."

J.B. Dawson, the former Texas Ranger quoted above, founded the Carpenter Ranch starting in 1903. He managed a cattle operation until one of his ranch hands, Farrington "Ferry" Carpenter, took over in 1926.

Carpenter, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, became one of the Valley's most prominent and influential citizens. He established two local schools and became the town of Hayden's first attorney. Remembered for his judiciousness and diplomatic skill, he managed the ranch until his death in 1980.

The historical and biologically significant Carpenter Ranch harbors some of the highest-quality riparian habitat in the western United States.

The ranch has become a birders' paradise. It has been designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Audubon Society. Some of the species that can be seen there are American kestrels, bald eagles, bobolinks, Cooper's hawks, finches, flycatchers, great horned owls, grosbeaks, mergansers, orioles, red-tailed hawks, sandhill cranes, vireos, warblers and woodpeckers.

The Yampa River supports one of the world's largest remaining examples of a rare riparian forest dominated by narrowleaf cottonwood, box elder and red-osier dogwood. A few places in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado are the only places where this plant community occurs.

In March, Carpenter Ranch employees and volunteers searched the river for signs of river otters and in April, groups sought sage grouse breeding grounds. Three were discovered.

The Carpenter Ranch is perfectly suited as a collaboration and education facility because of it's ecological value, its location in the midst of an agricultural community and close to Steamboat Springs and Craig and it's use meeting place, Oliver said.

The Conservancy acquired the ranch as the centerpiece of its broader effort to conserve the natural and agricultural heritage of the Yampa River Valley. Today, the Conservancy manages this historic, biologically significant property as a working cattle ranch to explore ways to simultaneously pursue agricultural production and the conservation of riparian (streamside) and wetland habitats.

Carpenter Ranch hosts school group visits, researchers, volunteer projects ranging from invasive weed management to stream bank restoration and drop-in visitors during open hours.

The Visitor Center at the ranch is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon. Thursday through Saturday. The Nature Conservancy's Yampa River Preserve, located just east of the ranch, is open from dawn until dusk, seven days a week.

The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has been using the Carpenter Ranch as a "headquarters" for their Northern Pike removal project. Under direction of the Department of Wildlife, the USFWS has been trapping and removing the invasive Northern Pike from the sloughs behind the Ranch, and other quiet waters in the Upper Colorado River Basin where the Northern Pike are known to spawn. After spawning, the Northern Pike travel downstream, where they prey on native populations. This species has had damaging effects on the populations of four native endangered fish species. The endangered species, found only in sections of the Colorado River Basin, are the Humpback Chub, the Bonytail, the Colorado Pikeminnow, and the Razorback Sucker. Over 300 Northern Pike have already been removed, and the USFWS will be making two more passes in this area. The Northern Pike are being translocated to area ponds, where anglers can still enjoy fishing for them.

To contact the Carpenter Ranch: 970-276-4626 or P.O. Box 955, Hayden, CO 81639

To contact the Steamboat Office of The Nature Conservancy: 970-879-1546

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