Ensuring Their Home on the Range
Updated: Dec 19, 2019
A herd of elk filtered through the ponderosa pines and into view before silently disappearing through the tall yellow autumn grass. K.L., our guide for the day, seemed hardly surprised at their appearance.
While we all took a moment of appreciation of being in the presence of these elusive animals, this encounter was not uncommon for K.L. As the owner and steward of this 1,300 acre ranch, it was a sight he had worked to maintain. Located on the Uncompaghre Plateau, his ranch hosts prime elk habitat with picturesque meadows, abundant forage, and thousands of acres of national forest along its borders…and he’s looking to keep it that way.
The property was slated for subdivision before K.L. acquired it, and in order to prevent the property from again facing the threat of development, he reached out to Montezuma Land Conservancy to look into protecting the property, forever, with a conservation easement. The easement would permanently protect the mixed ponderosa, aspen and mountain meadows that provide habitat for hundreds of elk, as well as other wildlife species. With increasing numbers of people both in the backcountry and in the front country, combined with rapid loss of habit and migration corridors, it is becoming increasingly important to preserve the spaces that foster healthy elk populations.
This ranch’s abundant habitat, combined with K.L.’s passion and commitment, has made it a prime research site in a study with Colorado State University and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation that is focusing on elk movements, health, and the factors that affect them. Using camera traps and other methods, researchers are monitoring cow-calf ratios from spring through winter to determine what habitats are the most effective at encouraging a healthy and thriving elk population. This information will be used to assist in creating informed management plans for wildlife and recreation statewide.
Across western Colorado, land trusts have protected 120,037 acres of elk habitat, and with this ranch, Montezuma Land Conservancy hopes to add another 1,300 to that number. In a period of rapidly changing times, and loss of habitat, conservation projects like this provide hope that we all can continue to glimpse elk, and if we’re lucky, maybe even experience the eerily magical sound of an elk bugle.