Landowners of the Year go to Owens, Walkers

Colorado is known for its public land resources, but with 40 percent of the state in private hands, the role of those private landowners in fostering the state’s wildlife heritage should not be forgotten.

Each year, Colorado Parks and Wildlife honors landowners who recognize the value of integrating their agricultural operations with wildlife-friendly management.

The 2013 Landowners of the Year are Ray Owens, manager of the 15,000-acre Bord Gulch Ranch northwest of Moffat County, and Gary and Georgia Walker, owners of Turkey Creek Ranch west of Pueblo.

The Bord Gulch Ranch is prime habitat for greater sage-grouse and mule deer, winters thousands of elk, and is a year-round home to dozens of other species.

Owens works closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and wildlife conservation groups to manage the traditional ranching property in a way that benefits the area’s native wildlife, Parks and Wildlife said in a news release.

The Walkers have managed their Turkey Creek Ranch, a 65,000-acre property in the short grass prairie and agricultural riparian lands west of Pueblo, for more than 50 years.

Late last year, they became the first private landowners in the state to release black-footed ferrets onto their private property under a safe-harbor agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Black-footed ferrets, once considered “the most endangered animal in North America,” remain incredibly rare in the wild.

Owens and the Walkers were recognized for the wildlife-friendly operations during a ceremony Jan. 23 at the National Western Stock Show.

“Ray Owens and the Walkers are proof that private landowners can do amazing things for wildlife in ways that government cannot,” said Bob Broscheid, director of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We are pleased to honor their efforts and the efforts of all the private landowners in the state.”

Broscheid noted private lands are critical to maintaining populations of mule deer, pronghorn, elk, sage-grouse, prairie falcons and a host of grassland species.

Also, privately held water rights, stored in reservoirs and released into streams, support warm- and cold-water sport fishing across the state.

“Farming and ranching families have a connection to the land,” said Ken Morgan, private lands program manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “They know that sound soil-, water- and vegetation-management practices benefit their agricultural operations and also benefit wildlife. The health of the land is not an abstract concept to them, and that’s worth celebrating.”


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