Ray Owens: Sage grouse efforts in place

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To the editor:

On Jan. 22, I had the good fortune to give a tour of the Bord Gulch Ranch, which I manage, to the most influential people out there when it comes to the future of sage grouse. I was honored to have the chance to share my “on-the-ground” conservation efforts.

Since that historic day, when Gov. John Hickenlooper, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, and BLM Acting Director Neil Kornze all came to our part of the world to see sage grouse conservation on private land first hand, which was pretty amazing. Really the only news stories have been about the news people being shut out of the meeting. I would like to give my unique perspective on this event, because those who weren’t on the tour deserve to know what it was actually about.

This event took place about 20 miles northwest of Craig. A group of 35 to 40 dignitaries, partners and press stood outside on a cold winter afternoon on Bord Gulch Ranch, owned by the Gilliland family, in the core area of the sage grouse habitat.

The first thing I did was point out to them how far you can see across the sagebrush and grass landscape, all the way into Wyoming and Utah. The wintering elk they got to see travel 50 miles or so to find the great habitat we provide. That vast connected country is exactly what the sage grouse need. Besides size, it all comes down to range quality. It was time to take everyone’s attention from the big picture to the sagebrush at their feet. I then shared some practices that benefit sage grouse, wildlife and livestock since we believe that single species management doesn’t work.

The owners and I have a goal. We want to improve this land for multiple species and provide good grazing for livestock. We’ve worked closely with biologists to do some innovative things. For example, we are putting in artificial seeps to help sage grouse chicks survive. The grouse families seek out those little wet areas to eat leafy plants, wildflowers and insects.

We’re also concerned about elk, deer and pronghorn getting hung up in fences and sage grouse flying into them. That’s why I am replacing old sheep and tall barbed fencing with miles of high visibility, wildlife-friendly fencing. We’re also protecting more than two miles of critical riparian areas with fencing too.

We have implemented a water system with wells, pipelines and tanks for a more uniform distribution of both wildlife and livestock. This allows for a rest-rotation grazing system that keeps the range in great shape with plenty of tall grass and shrub nesting cover for grouse.

The sage grouse initiative has given a real boost to the success out here, and I couldn’t thank the local NRCS people more for their help in the field as well as for the cost-share funding from the Farm Bill. The credit goes much farther however, I would also like to thank the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Partners for Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Finally, I’d like to give a huge thanks to Gov. Hickenlooper for taking me up on my offer last December to show people around. He made it happen in a big way.

Ray Owens, ranch manager

Bord Gulch Ranch, Craig

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