Moffat County awarded more than $1.6 million in GOCO grants for conservation projects
The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) board awarded two grants totaling $1,626,300 for two projects in Moffat County June 11, giving the northwestern Colorado community a big financial boost.
The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) received a $1,576,300 grant to conserve 12,684 acres of Buffalo Horn Ranch, located northwest of Meeker in Moffat and Rio Blanco Counties. Additionally, Colorado Open Lands (COL) received a $50,000 transaction costs grant to conserve 4,961 acres of Battle Mountain Ranch in northeast Moffat County.
The first grant is part of GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program.
The projects will help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds, and sustain local agriculture.
Buffalo Horn Ranch spans 23,966 acres surrounded by thousands of acres of conserved private and public properties. The funding will support the first phase of conserving the property, permanently protecting 12,684 acres, according to a press release from GOCO. After the first phase is completed, RMEF expects to begin a second phase, which will conserve remaining acreage and protect the property in its entirety.
Conserving the ranch will protect vital habitat and migration corridors for Colorado’s largest elk herd, the White River elk herd, and for some of the state’s largest herds of mule deer and bighorn sheep. Inter-Mountain Basins Big Sagebrush Shrubland, a habitat type listed as high priority by the Colorado Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, covers 6,753 acres, or more than half, of the property, according to the press release.
Additionally, the ranch supports habitat for various species of concern, including the greater sage-grouse, white-tailed prairie dog, bald eagle, and more.
The 12,684-acre parcel features 69 miles of intermittent and perennial streams, including Deep Channel Creek, Price Creek, Strawberry Creek, and Twin Wash. The property also boasts 49 acres of open water habitat, which is home to a wide variety of waterfowl, birds, fish, amphibians, and mammals.
In addition to its ecological features, the property doubles as a working cattle ranch, which will continue operations after it is conserved. Portions of the ranch are also open for restricted hunting access through Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW’s) Ranching for Wildlife program and through surrounding lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
With its $50,000 transaction costs grant, COL will help conserve the 4,691-acre Putt Creek parcel in northwestern Colorado.
GOCO’s Conservation Easement Transaction Costs program aims to remove financial barriers to conservation and increase the amount of land conserved statewide, especially through projects that further landscape-scale conservation efforts and protect Colorado’s waterways and water resources.
The Putt Creek parcel, which is part of the larger Battle Mountain Ranch, lies in the rolling plains of the Little Snake River Valley, an area characterized by wetlands, grasslands, and mixed brush. The property is also home to one of the largest greater sage-grouse “leks,” or mating grounds, and is an important winter habitat for the Bears Ears elk herd, the second largest migratory elk herd in the world.
“By conserving Putt Creek, we protect the Fan Rock greater sage-grouse lek, which is among the largest in the state,” said CPW wildlife biologist Brian Holmes. “Protecting mating grounds and habitat is critical to the future success of this species that has declined steeply and steadily in population over the last 100 years.”
The property supports Battle Mountain Ranch’s multi-generational cattle grazing operation. Home to the largest mule deer and pronghorn herd units in the state, Putt Creek is also a part of CPW’s Ranching for Wildlife program.
Conserving Putt Creek is part of a larger, landscape-scale effort that will help protect the area from further development and wildlife habitat fragmentation.
To date, GOCO has invested more than $8.7 million in projects in Moffat County and conserved more than 47,000 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported Breeze Park in Craig, Loudy Simpson Soccer Field, and the conservation of Pothook Ranch, among other projects.
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Questions about campaign funding that were raised Wednesday by opponents to the ballot measures 6A and 6B have been addressed with word and action by the campaign to pass those same measures.