Ducks Unlimited recently completed the first of two conservation easements on the Higel family ranch along the Rio Grand River in San Luis Valley, Colorado. Father and son, James and Greg Higel, own the 854-acre “Centennial Ranch” that shares its entire northern property boundary with the 1,100-acre Higel State Wildlife Area. The working ranch hosts a number of waterfowl species including Canada geese, Mallard, Northern Pintail, Redhead, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck and American Widgeon.
Thanks to a $137,000 lottery grant from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Trust, Ducks Unlimited completed the first phase of the Higel Ranch protection in December 2005 with a 299-acre easement. This grant was leveraged using funds from a $50,000 North American Waterfowl Conservation (NAWCA) grant. Additional funding for both phases was generously provided by the El Pomar Foundation of Colorado. Protection of the entire Ranch will be complete in 2006 with a second 555-acre easement.
DU works with ranchers and other private landowners along the 16-mile stretch of the Rio Grande River between Monte Vista and Alamosa to protect this critical stretch of property that is under imminent threat of subdivision and development. To date, Ducks Unlimited has permanently protected 2,273 acres of wetlands and associated uplands in the Rio Grande River Corridor and plans to finalize the protection of another 1,000 acres in 2006.
For the family’s continued conservation efforts, the Higels were recently announced as a recipient of one of six 2006 National Wetlands Awards. On May 10, 2006, in Washington, DC, they will be honored as the Landowner Stewardship Award winner. This award is presented to a private landowner, who, while utilizing his or her private land for farming, forestry activities, ranching, or development, voluntarily helps restore, protect, or minimize impacts to wetlands.