2014 Southern Colorado Conservation Award Recipients

Palmer Land Trust is pleased to announce the winners of the 5th Annual Southern Colorado Conservation Awards. A big thanks to all who submitted nominations this year – a record-breaking year – and to our Blue Ribbon Panel for making this difficult decision. Please mark your calendars for Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 5:00 PM at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort. Drum roll please…

The Stuart P. Dodge Award honoring lifetime achievement in conservation.
Winner:  Steve Wooten

A fourth-generation member of a southeastern Colorado ranching family, Steve Wooten placed a conservation easement over much of the Beatty Canyon Ranch with Colorado Open Lands, one of the earliest and largest in southeastern Colorado. He recognized that a conservation easement was only one part of securing his family’s connection to the land. The economic realities of ranching required innovative approaches to making a sustainable future not only for his family, but equally important, for the southeastern Colorado community as a whole. Steve has been a leader in developing and promoting economic opportunities based on the wealth of natural, historic, and cultural resources throughout the southeastern Colorado region, building a ranching and nature tourism enterprise. This leadership includes introducing the arts and birding communities to Southeast Colorado, and forging one of the largest and most effective landowner partnerships under Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Ranching for Wildlife hunting program.

The Friends of Open Space Award honoring efforts that lead to the protection of a significant landscape in southern Colorado.
Winner: Nancy Butler

Nancy has served as Executive Director of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) since 2002. Under her leadership, the local land trust has grown to serve six counties of the San Luis Valley, and inspired the convergence of land and water protection across the broader region. RiGHT and partners are close to achieving their initial goal of protecting 25,000 acres of the Rio Grande and tributaries, with over $40 million in conservation achieved. The demand for conservation along the Rio Grande, and increasingly along the Conejos River, the largest tributary, continues to be strong. Nancy, along with the RiGHT staff and Board, continue to address that interest one ranch at a time.

The Stewardship Award (Conservation) honoring an organization that has positively impacted the land and the way members of our communities understand and respect their relationship to the land.
Winner: The Coalition for the Upper South Platte (CUSP)

CUSP has served Colorado’s Front Range with projects and programs that implement innovative, state-of-the-art, post-fire recovery and flood mitigation strategies. CUSP is recognized for their commitment to land and water resources stewardship, specifically in the Upper South Platte watershed. It is an invaluable organization within Colorado that can quickly advance pre-fire mitigation projects as well as provide communities with immediate assistance for post-fire recovery efforts, as demonstrated following the Waldo Canyon Fire. They were among the first groups to warn the cities of Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs about the danger of post-fire flooding during last year’s high-rainfall season. Not only were they ready to assist post-floods, but they were on the ground assisting these communities before it even happened.

The Stewardship Award (Education) honoring an organization that has positively impacted the land and the way members of our communities understand and respect their relationship to the land.
Winner: Mile High Youth Corps – Colorado Springs

For the past 21 years, Mile High Youth Corps – Colorado Springs (MHYC) has had immeasurable impact not only on the land, but on local youth by providing opportunities for Southern Colorado youths to work alongside conservation managers in crew-based environmental rehabilitation, habitat restoration, and fire mitigation and restoration projects throughout the Pikes Peak Region. This past year, the MHYC crews spent over 23 weeks in wildfire restoration and mitigation projects that directly benefited our local communities, especially those hit by the wildfires in Colorado Springs and Cañon City, as well as in vulnerable open spaces that we all hold dear to our hearts – Section 16 and Red Rock Canyon. But they don’t just tackle wildfires. Last year they removed invasive species in riparian areas in the plains, built over seven miles of sustainable trails in the Pike National Forest, and removed miles of fence to improve wildlife habitat in Pueblo County.

The Innovation in Conservation Award honoring the development of new conservation models, the creation of new conservation funding mechanisms, and implementation of unique conservation partnerships that protect our natural heritage.
Winner: Gary and Georgia Walker – Owners of Turkey Creek Ranch

The Turkey Creek Ranch is 65,000 acres located between U.S. Army’s Fort Carson and the growing urban community of Pueblo West. The Ranch is an area of intact natural systems, native species, and quiet, open spaces. The Walkers have spent more than 50 years protecting the biodiversity of this working ranch by building partnerships with nationwide conservation groups and governmental entities. Years of perseverance and hard work have resulted in over 21,888 acres of permanent conservation easements, safeguarding shortgrass prairie, juniper woodland, riparian area, and populations of rare plants for future generations. Additionally, the Walkers became the first private landowners in the nation to reintroduce black-footed ferrets on their lands (55 in total) under a cooperative Safe Harbor Agreement with the Fish and Wildlife Service. This reintroduction represented the return of the species to eastern Colorado for the first time in more than 80 years.

We look forward to honoring these worthy conservation champions of Southern Colorado at this year's event. We hope you will join us! Mark your calendars for Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 5:00 at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort and Country Club in Colorado Springs.