Ducks Unlimited has completed an 800-acre conservation easement on the DT Ranch along the South Platte River in Morgan County, Colorado. The ranch has nearly five miles of the South Platte running through it, of which more than two contiguous miles will now be protected forever through this easement. Acquisition of this conservation easement was partially funded through a North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant, and the remainder was donated by the Ranch.
The river corridor through the ranch contains numerous warm water sloughs and a reclaimed gravel pond that provides considerable habitat for a wide variety of waterfowl and other wildlife. The ranch also provides natural habitats for fish, wildlife, and plants along a diverse riparian ecosystem of the South Platte River.
"Our conservation easement is a great example of how private landowners can work with federal agencies and non-government conservation organizations to leverage conservation dollars and accomplish on-the-ground habitat conservation," said Clay Boelz, president of the DT Ranch. "The easement allows the DT Ranch an opportunity to preserve its legacy in agriculture and wildlife."
Due to its proximity to the front-range, DU considers the wetlands of the South Platte the most threatened in the state, and so the region is a priority for Ducks Unlimited's land protection program in Colorado. The South Platte wetland corridor encompasses more than 425,000 acres including 71,000 acres of wetlands. Ninety-four percent of the corridor is still unprotected and thus, is at risk of being lost or degraded.
The DT Ranch was originally owned by the D-T Land and Cattle Company that was established in 1881. In the late 1800s, the ranch was one of the largest ranches in the region comprising most of northeastern Colorado. The ranch was acquired from its long-time owner in 1985 for use as a private hunting club. Today, the entire ranch contains more that 2,000 acres of river-bottom riparian habitat, flood irrigated cropland, wetlands, and pastures. In addition to private hunting, agricultural operations including grazing and corn production and a wide variety of "food plots" continue on the ranch today.
"This project is yet another prime example of why private landowners are key partners in our efforts to protect Colorado's critical wetland habitats," said Greg Kernohan, Regional Biologist for Ducks Unlimited. "From a continental perspective, the South Platte plays a critical roll in spring migration by providing an important link between wintering areas and the prairie breeding grounds. Such cooperative efforts are essential if we are to succeed in our ambitious habitat protection goals."
Over the next ten years, Ducks Unlimited's goal is to protect more than 16,000 acres of wetlands and associated uplands along the river.