Hear an electric buzzing alien shriek on the summer prairie? That’s the mating call of a Colorado cicada, the cactus dodger.
Weaving among the shrubs and cacti, I came upon a very strange structure, something I had not seen before. I wondered: what animal built this curious house?
Over the last few years, Chico Basin Ranch has partnered with the Mile High Bug Club (Pikes Peak Region chapter) to make a casual assessment of the diversity of insects, arachnids, and other invertebrates that live on the 87,000 acre property. The ongoing results point to a healthy, stable prairie ecosystem which is due in large part to the size of the ranch.
What does it take to conserve a species whose original range once stretched uninterrupted across an entire continent?
Nick Baefsky started an apprenticeship on Chico Basin Ranch six years ago, in the fall of 2012. Today he and his wife Amy, another Ranchlands apprenticeship graduate, manage a ranch in New Mexico with the help of three young interns and apprentices. They fix old generators, prop up fences, uncover and splice lines of ancient poly pipe. They gather big brushy pastures by waiting until late in the day when the cows come into water. They keep lists of the vehicles, generators and equipment that needs to be repaired, the pastures that need to be prepared for cattle, the pipeline leaks that need to be fixed. They keep precipitation records and grazing charts that they use to estimate how they’ll move the cattle herds across the ranch through the year.
Duke Phillips could have been a “normal” rancher. Raised in northern Mexico in a second-generation ranching family, he came of age in a world where cowboys shot coyotes to protect their calves, ranches were grazed in their entirety year-round, and cattlemen were just that–men who raised cattle. The rancher-conservationist had yet to emerge. While the tide has been changing in recent years, with more and more farmers and ranchers embracing their role as land stewards, perhaps Phillips’ most radical act has been not just to join this growing group of agricultural conservationists, but, since the very beginning, to throw the doors open and invite others to observe and participate in the project for sustainable ranching.
There is another, hidden side of the Chico Basin Ranch that you have to get down on your knees to see.
My favourite photographs are the ones that manage to get the Chico as it really is: a huge, rolling expanse of yellow-brown prairie, freckled with cholla, and ringed by a faraway line of mountains.
Pronghorn are one of the most iconic species of the American plains, yet biologists know very little about their movements in southeastern Colorado.
Even during winter, when the rest of the prairie falls dormant, days grow shorter, and animals retreat into their winter dens, the ranchers’ work doesn’t slow.