Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): colorado

What we've learned from 50 years of wildlife conservation

Wildlife conservation practices are helping protect our nation's treasured emblem: the bald eagle

Photo: © Holger Ehlers

When the first endangered species list was created 50 years ago, it started out with 78 animals. The grizzly bear and bald eagle were among American icons that made that first list.

Today, it counts 1,400 animals and 900 plants – an expansion that reflects more petitions for listings over time, but also the fact that threats to habitats and ecosystems have become more widespread and complex.

In the early days of the Endangered Species Act, we could more easily identify the threat and go straight to the source. When DDT was thinning egg shells, killing embryos and endangering multiple bird species, we worked to curb applications of the harmful pesticide. After a federal ban against DDT, the problem was solved.

Today, threats are more likely to come from broad landscape changes that occur when growing populations push housing and commercial developments outward, energy development and large-scale farming fragment and encroach on habitats, and climate change-related droughts and wildfires degrade entire ecosystems. Read More »

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Leasing water – a novel idea to combat “buy and dry” in Colorado

ColoradoAs populations in Colorado and the West continue to grow, water is moving from farms to cities. The current practice of “buy and dry” in Colorado – buying farmland only for its water – is bad for farmers, bad for rural communities and bad for critical ecosystems across the state.

That’s why EDF and WestWater Research have been studying alternative methods for managing water in Colorado. In a new report released this past week, we analyzed Alternative Transfer Methods (ATMs) and developed recommendations that will allow for their implementation on a broader scale. Read More »

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Got grasslands? How to get paid for keeping them intact.

Heartland Ranch in Colorado.

Heartland Ranch in Colorado. Credit: Nicole Rosmarino

One year ago this month the Climate Action Reserve, the premier carbon offset registry for the North American carbon market, approved the voluntary grasslands protocol: a landmark opportunity for ranchers to get paid for keeping their land as grazing lands, versus converting it to crops.

And now, the protocol is underway. Today, the Reserve officially listed the first two grassland conservation carbon projects– the first step in the process towards generating carbon credits for landowners.

The Southern Plains Land Trust, directed by Nicole Rosmarino, enrolled more than 15,000 acres in Southeastern Colorado in the first two projects. She plans to enroll 7,600 more acres in an additional project in 2017.

Even though ranchers lose the opportunity to convert land for crop production, the protocol provides landowners with a guaranteed revenue source in addition to what they earn ranching on the land. Nicole will work with a project developer to monitor and report on the status of the Southern Plains Land Trust’s grasslands. We expect they’ll start earning credits in early 2017 that can later be sold on the North American carbon market.

Here’s why you can get paid for protecting grasslands, too. Read More »

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What do western ranchers and a southern environmentalist have in common?

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

Sagebrush in Carson Valley, Nevada. Photo credit: Flickr user loren chipman.

I trace my love of the outdoors to two memories: the first, sitting with my grandmother watching the goldfinches, chickadees and wrens that visited her feeder, and the second, camping in Pisgah National Forest with my parents and sister.

Days spent with my grandmother in our small South Carolina town left an indelible mark on my life. She taught me a conservation ethic that led me to Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Camping taught me a love of the land and a respect for those that manage it.

As director of habitat markets, I’m focused on building conservation solutions for wildlife like the greater sage-grouse, a bird that lives more than 2,000 miles from my home in a landscape unlike any of the forests or farms I grew up exploring.

The sage-grouse is an indicator species of a vast declining ecosystem spanning more than 150 million acres across 11 states. The grouse relies on the cover of sagebrush – one of the most iconic symbols of the western landscape.

Because EDF puts a premium on policy, science and collaboration with diverse stakeholders, we’ve been working with landowners, industry, and state and federal agencies to create a habitat exchange program to better ensure the bird’s survival. Common values make this collaboration possible. Read More »

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First-ever habitat exchange opens for business

Nevada rancher works to conserve sage-grouse

Nearly two dozen Nevada landowners have already submitted letters of interest to generate conservation credits for sage-grouse through the exchange. Read more >>

For the first time ever, ranchers are able to enroll in a habitat credit exchange program to earn revenue for activities that protect and enhance habitat for the greater sage-grouse.

The state of Nevada and federal agencies today announced the approved use of the Nevada Conservation Credit System to protect the grouse’s sagebrush habitat on public lands.

This program will create a robust mitigation market that will bring greater certainty and transparency to the state’s agriculture and energy industries, ultimately allowing both sage-grouse and the economy to flourish.

About the Nevada Conservation Credit System

The Nevada Conservation Credit System is an advanced approach to protecting habitat for the greater sage-grouse that ensures impacts are fully offset in a way that helps create net benefit. It does so by creating new incentives for industries to avoid and minimize impacts, and for private landowners and public land managers to preserve, enhance, and restore habitat. Read More »

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Ranchers and conservationists step up to avert listing of sage-grouse

Stakeholders conduct field tests for the Colorado Habitat Exchange on a ranch in Colorado.

Stakeholders conduct field tests for the Colorado Habitat Exchange on a ranch in Colorado.

The decision whether or not to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act was one of the biggest listing decisions of our time.

Thanks to unprecedented public-private partnerships among ranchers, energy developers, conservationists and states, we now have the groundwork to guide future management of our nation’s wildlife and working landscapes.

The “not warranted” decision sends a strong signal that investments in conservation are making a difference, providing the catalyst for a new approaches and a different kind of politics.

Read More »

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Feds call for cooperative conservation on sage grouse, states deliver

"An unprecedented, collaborative effort" was a blog published last week by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, BLM Director Neil Kornze, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell and NRCS Chief Jason Weller

"An unprecedented, collaborative effort" was a blog published last week in The Hill by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, BLM Director Neil Kornze, USFS Chief Tom Tidwell and NRCS Chief Jason Weller.

Last week, leaders of the four federal agencies dealing most closely with issues surrounding the greater sage-grouse delivered a strong public message: As long as stakeholders continue to work together, we can save this bird and preclude the need for listing.

The message was powerful – not just because it was endorsed by four of our nation’s top thinkers on conservation, but because it was optimistic.

“We have seen what’s possible when we all pull our oars in the same direction,” they wrote.

This is a fundamental turning of the tides in the conversation around sage grouse. Previously, the dialogue has been pointed, with industry interests, agriculture interests and wildlife interests caught in crosshairs. But the discourse has changed, and it’s because the situation on the ground has changed. Read More »

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Colorado farmers have a lot to say about the state’s first-ever water plan

colorado landscapeThis post was co-written by Mark Harris, general manager for the Grand Valley Water Users' Association.

In a recent op-ed, the Colorado Forum – a nonpartisan organization of CEOs and civic leaders – delivered a powerful message to Governor Hickenlooper, who is drafting a first-ever Colorado Water Plan to confront the state’s growing water demands.

The forum’s message: we must all work together to secure a water future that keeps Colorado a world class place to live, visit, work and play.

The forum made a handful of recommendations in the article, but one stood out to us as particularly relevant as we attempt to balance many competing interests in a single water plan: agriculture must be given the freedom and opportunity to thrive in Colorado’s water future. Read More »

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A sixth-generation farmer with a fresh and optimistic perspective on conservation

O'Toole Family

Pat O'Toole (second from left) and his family at Ladder Ranch.

Pat O’Toole is a rancher and farmer at Ladder Livestock, a sixth-generation family operation on the Little Snake River along the Wyoming-Colorado border. A leader in collaborative conservation, Pat is engaged in a number of innovative land and water conservation efforts in his capacity as president of the Family Farm Alliance and a member of the AGree advisory board.

This past September, Pat co-authored an AGree paper with Dan Keppen, Executive Director of Family Farm Alliance. The paper – Securing the Future of Western Agriculture: A Perspective of Western Producers – addresses some broad challenges facing the global food and agriculture system. Namely, the need to meet future demands for food while simultaneously enhancing water, soil and other natural resources.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Pat’s ranch to get a sense of these challenges that he and other Western producers face, and to learn more about what Pat is doing to overcome these challenges on his ranch. I asked him to give us a recap of our discussion and to tell us more about his vision for the future.
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A new perspective on the risks to western lands and water

Photo credit: David Owen with support from Lighthawk.

EDF's Jennifer Pitt prepares for her flight. EDF partnered with LightHawk to increase understanding of the impacts of water imports to population centers in Colorado's Front Range. Photo credit: David Owen with support from LightHawk.

I've been a student of water use, storage and transportation for decades, but never before have I seen the collection and diversion systems from the air, other than a glimpse of a big reservoir from a commercial jet. That is, not until a few weeks ago, when I had the extraordinary opportunity to fly with a LightHawk volunteer pilot to see Colorado’s waterworks from the air.

Seeing the landscape from above gave me a completely new perspective.

The point of my trip was to see the effects that Colorado’s urban growth – with its increasing urban water demands – is having on the state’s working lands and rivers. One view painted a very clear picture: a footprint of idled farmland in Rocky Ford, Colorado.

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