Project works to manage local wildlife habitat

County Commissioner Joe Collins pointed to an area of Lost Park during a tour July 9. Collins is manager of Wakara Ranches, which has been a partner in a coordinated resource management plan, which includes Lost Park, since the project began 20 years ago. See related story on Page 6A.
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County Commissioner Joe Collins pointed to an area of Lost Park during a tour July 9. Collins is manager of Wakara Ranches, which has been a partner in a coordinated resource management plan, which includes Lost Park, since the project began 20 years ago. See related story on Page 6A.
MEEKER I Its official name is the Oak Ridge/Lost Park Coordinated Resource Management Plan.
But that’s a long title.
In short, the project is about being a good neighbor.
“It’s been a great model to use,” said Meeker rancher and County Commissioner Joe Collins, who has been involved with the cooperative effort since the project’s inception 20 years ago. “It’s about being neighbors. That’s what it’s about.”
The partners involved in the Oak Ridge/Lost Park Coordinated Resource Management Plan have been recognized for their cooperation. The project has been the recipient of two national awards this year.
“It is the longest-running CRMP (Coordinated Resource Management Plan) in the state and has incorporated many partners over the years to improve wildlife habitat and resource conditions on both USFS and DOW lands,” said Mary Cunningham, a biological scientist with the U.S. Forest Service in Meeker.
“I don’t know of any other cooperative effort that has received this national recognition,” Collins said. “It works well. It’s a partnership kind of thing.”
The partners in the project include the Forest Service, Colorado Division of Wildlife, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and private landowners.
“For the last 20 years, partnerships established in this plan lead to habitat improvements for native trout, elk calving and winter range, in addition to increased public fishing access on the White River,” said Ken Coffin, a district ranger for the Forest Service, who wrote a letter nominating the Oak Ridge/Lost Park CRMP for a conservation project award.
Some of the past and present participants in the project were honored at a barbecue July 8 at Coffin’s Meeker home.
“This is very unique,” Coffin said of the Oak Ridge/Lost Park CRMP. “There aren’t too many of these types of arrangements.”
“Sometimes government isn’t the best business partner,” Collins said. “But, in this instance, it has been.”
The day after the get-together at Coffin’s house, several of the project partners rode on horseback upriver to tour Lost Park, which is a key component in the resource management plan and serves as a critical grazing area for both elk and cattle.
The impact of the coordinated management effort of the land has resulted in improved range conditions at Lost Park.
“We worked out a deal where we could use that area to turn out our cattle, but the land is grazed by the elk first. There will be about 500 to 600 cow elk having calves in here. It’s something to see,” said Collins, who is the manager for Wakara Ranches. “The elk then move (from Lost Park) to higher ground at Sand Peak and other areas. The cows then come in from Oak Ridge, which is DOW property, in September. We take ’em out in October. They spend the winter at the ranch. We run about 500 cows.”
“The Oak Ridge/Lost Park Coordinated Resource Management Plan is an excellent model of interagency coordination,” Coffin wrote in the nomination letter. “For 20 years, state, federal and private managers have realized how coordinated management of different ownerships can enhance our ability to benefit fish and wildlife, while meeting the needs of livestock producers. Interagency coordination has been strengthened through this partnership, because each member understands and is respectful of what each member is trying to accomplish.”
And, the end result is it’s good for the land.
“Utilizing different grazing strategies … has benefitted wintering elk and deer by stimulating plant vigor and improving static range conditions,” Coffin wrote. “Incorporating the (Oak Ridge) state wildlife area into this plan has added more acreage available for grazing, thereby reducing grazing pressure on Lost Park and increasing forage availability for Wakara Ranch.”
As part of the cooperative effort, in 1998 Wakara Ranch and the Forest Service entered into a cooperative weed management plan with the CDOW for the purpose of locating and treating noxious weed infestations.
“Because of the frequent presence in back-country locations by Wakara personnel moving cattle, many weed infestations that may have otherwise gone unnoticed have been located and treated,” Coffin wrote in the nomination letter.
About 10 years earlier, in 1989, one mile of public fishing access along the White River on the Wakara Ranch was negotiated as part of the plan.
“This access is especially important in a valley where most access to the river is through private land and very limited,” Coffin wrote.
The partnership extends to the cooperation between sheep and cattle ranchers.
“We use their country; they use ours,” cattle rancher Collins said of the agreement with sheep ranchers Nick Theos and his daughter Connie. “It used to be the sheep men and the cow men didn’t get along. We don’t think like that. The sheep come in here (the forest area) first and eat the larkspur. That’ll kill a cow. Our biggest problem is the larkspur. We’ll typically lose 2 to 3 percent.”
Collins, who has been a county commissioner for 16 years but is retiring in January, has been involved in the upriver land project since the beginning and is credited with helping to make it all happen.
“It was a whole lot of his idea, his thinking,” Coffin said.
That’s the goal of the project — that everybody wins.
“It’s benefitted him, (the rancher), it’s benefitted the elk, it’s benefitted the fishermen, and the ground is in great shape,” Coffin said.
“I’m so proud of this project,” Collins said, pointing to an enclosure that seals off a small patch of ground in Lost Park to demonstrate how the plan’s grazing practices benefit the regeneration of the land. The grass inside the enclosure, which hasn’t been grazed, is decaying. “That’s what you’d have if we didn’t do this. That’s what would happen if we didn’t take care of this country.”
“That tells the story,” Charlie Richmond, Forest Service supervisor from Delta, who was one of the original participants in the plan when he worked in the Meeker office, said of the benefits of grazing. He was part of the group that toured Lost Park on July 9.
“When you graze it each year, you take off that decadent grass,” Forest Service biological scientist Cunningham said.
“I like to look at that and say we’re not doing so bad,” Collins added.
For Collins, 72, who grew up in the White River Valley and is passionate about perpetuating the area for future generations, he takes the greatest satisfaction from demonstrating how the cooperative management plan has benefitted the sustainability of the land.
“This is my life’s work,” he said.