OUT: Sunday Column January 25, 2009

There’s still time to file a few comments about prairie dogs and the state’s proposed “Colorado Gunnison’s and White-tailed Prairie Dog Conservation Plan.”

Whatever you think about these ‘dogs,’ the plan is aimed at keeping the furry critters off the Endangered Species list, which would be good for prairie dogs and bad for people.

The native range of these two speces together includes most of western Colorado.

If you want to see the plan in its current form, visit the Division of Wildlife Web site at
http://wildlife.state.co.us/, then look under the “Things to Know” on the home page.

Comment will be accepted through Feb. 15. E-mail them to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Prairie dogs and people are affected by urban development, which swallows thousands of Colorado’s rural acres each year, much of that coming along the Front Range.

If you have the opportunity to spend a few days on the lee side of the Continental Divide, head out to the Chico Basin Ranch, which stretches across parts of El Paso and Pueblo counties south of Colorado Springs.

This is high-elevation short-grass prairie, where water and trees seem equally distant and infrequent. There’s also a haunting beauty to this part of Colorado, where the wind blows unheeded across the buttes and rolling grasslands.

Thanks to the conscientious management of Duke and Janet Phillips, the 87,000-acre working cattle ranch also is a haven for wildlife and wildlife lovers.

In recognition of their efforts fostering conservation and innovative management, the Phillipses were named co-recipients of the Division of Wildlife’s 2008 Landowner of the Year award.

“The Phillips family and the staff at the Chico Basin Ranch exemplify the highest degree of land stewardship,” said Ken Morgan, DOW private lands coordinator.  “Their regard for the ecosystem, their appreciation and respect for wildlife and their desire to share these values with others makes them the perfect recipient for this award.”

The Phillipses began managing ranch in 1999 under a 25-year lease agreement with the Colorado State Land Board.

Since then, they’ve not only continued the ranch’s traditional uses but also offer various educational and public outreach programs that attract up to 2,500 visitors annually.

Those guest can participate in such recreational activities as fishing, hunting, canoeing, hiking and horseback riding.

Also, the  ranch has become a popular bird-watching site and as home to more than 300 bird species is a featured destination on the Colorado Birding Trail.

The Phllipses will receive their award Jan. 22 at the National Western Stock Show.

According to a DOW release, the Landowner of the Year award is given each year to a private landowner “who has made outstanding contributions in providing beneficial habitat to Colorado’s wildlife and/or providing public hunting and fishing access on private lands.”

I would like to think there is no sportsperson, whether he or she is an angler, hunter, birder or simply someone who enjoys watching wildlife, who isn’t aware of the contributions private land provides to our wildlife resource.

I mention this in light of Sen. Bill 24, which would make the sportsmen of Colorado more liable for game damage payments to private landowners, up to $3.2 million more per year, according to one estimate. Disappointingly, Rep.  Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison, signed on to sponsor this bill, siding with perennial DOW-baiters Sen. Al White, R-Steamboat Springs, and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

Curry’s home range last year suffered through one of the worst winters on record, one that might have been worse for wildlife if not for the DOW and the many volunteers who spent months feeding deer and elk.

She should know and understand the difficulties the DOW had meeting all its demands while trying to handle a wildlife crisis, and yet she’s pushing for a punishment for crimes not committed.

We understand ranching is a tough life, made even more so by the irresponsible financial management provided by a former White House resident.

But everything is tough, nowadays. Picking the pocket of sportsmen who equally are feeling the economic crunch isn’t the way to foster understanding or support for the problems facing private land ownership.

The Senate Agriculture Committee tabled the bill after a hearing Thursday.


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