New ranch owners Conscience Bay Co. taking hands-on approach

A September 2017 cattle drive photo at Harts Bason Ranch, including Jimmy McNamara, Lexi Hill, Mark Hill, and Averill Feldman. Photo special to the Sentinel

An investment company whose plans for a newly acquired Delta County ranch have drawn the attention of the Colorado River District say they are running the property as it has been run for 140 years.

"We're invested in the agriculture and are actually operating that ranch. We're not leasing it out to another rancher. We own the cows, we own the equipment," said Eli Feldman, president of Boulder-based Conscience Bay Co., which invests in and manages commercial and agricultural real estate.

The company last year bought the 1,450-acre Harts Basin Ranch south of Cedaredge, prompting the river district to wonder whether the purchase's purpose was speculative, with the possible motive of looking to later profit on the ranch's water rights in a manner that could mean drying up of agricultural land.

Feldman says the district need not be concerned (see main story) and that the principal reason for the investment is ranching.

Conscience Bay also bought additional adjacent acreage, resulting in a combined ranch size of 3,200 acres. Feldman said the ranch includes about 1,000 cows, and the company also has federal grazing permits in Colorado and Utah. Some six to 10 people run the ranch, which also includes a haying operation. Mark and Poly Hill, who have a ranching background in Grand County, are in charge of the ranch.

Conscience Bay is interested in joining in the discussion with the river district and others about concepts such as temporary fallowing to make water available for other needs in times such as droughts while keeping agricultural land from being permanently dried up. Feldman said his company has a strong conservation ethic. He now serves on the board of directors of the Western Resource Advocates conservation group, where he once worked, and he also enjoys outdoor activities like fishing and backcountry skiing.

Mike Higuera, who oversees the company's investments in agricultural lands and its conservation work, previously was involved in land acquisition and conservation easement transactions for the Nature Conservancy.

The company is a Certified B Corporation, a certification that Higuera said is for companies that work to do good things for society beyond making a profit. The certification focuses on things such as how companies treat employees and give back to the community in ways such as charitable contributions.

The company is inviting the public to a meet-and-greet lunch at its recently acquired ranchland on March 17 in conjunction with Eckert Crane Days at Fruit Growers Reservoir, which is adjacent to the ranch. Directions to the ranch will be provided at the Black Canyon Audubon Society table at the festival.

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