Fetcher Ranch is finalist for prestigious Leopold Conservation Award

The Fetcher Ranch near Clark. (Photo courtesy of Jay Fetcher)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Fetcher Ranch in North Routt is among three finalists for the prestigious 2021 Colorado Leopold Conservation Award.

The award is given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold and recognizes ranchers, farmers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat management on private, working lands.

The Fetcher Ranch, which received letters of support from Colorado politicians Ken Salazar and Mark Udall, is a finalist along with LK Ranch near Meeker and the May Ranch near Lamar. The winner will be announced in April, and a formal awards presentation will take place June 21 as part of the Colorado Cattleman’s Association’s annual convention in Grand Junction.

“It’s a nice surprise,” Jay Fetcher said of being named a finalist. “You know, if we win, wonderful, but if we don’t, nothing changes. It’s good.”

The list of 18 previous winners includes the Stanko Ranch, just outside of Steamboat Springs, which won the Leopold Conservation Award in 2010, and the Visintainer Sheep Co. in Craig, which won the award in 2013.

The Fetcher Ranch was established by John and Stanton Fetcher shortly after the brothers arrived in the area in 1949, and it consists of two parcels about 10 miles apart. The Clark Ranch, which was originally about 700 acres and located just outside of Clark, was used to grow hay to feed cattle through the long winters. The Hahns Peak Ranch, which was originally 1,400 acres, was used to graze cattle in the summer and the fall.

In 1968, the family sold 900 acres of the Hahns Peak Ranch to the state, who used the land to develop Steamboat Lake, and then in 1970, the family purchased a neighboring ranch near the Clark Ranch to expand cattle operations there.

The Fetcher Ranch near Hahns Peak. (Photo courtesy of Jay Fetcher)

Jay Fetcher, who took over day-to-day operation of the ranch in 1968 while his dad was helping to develop the ski area on Mount Werner in Steamboat Springs, said the ranch thrives, in part, because of the early adoption of conservation as a core philosophy that was passed on to him by his father.

The ranch contains 4 miles of riparian habitat, most of which is lightly grazed or left undisturbed. In addition, there are approximately 20 acres of wetlands that are the result of water accumulation during irrigating. The Fetchers also have constructed four ponds, which serve as habitat for aquatic species and other wildlife.

The ranch has long used a rotational grazing system and wildlife-friendly fencing that allows beef cattle to share pastures with elk, deer and greater Sandhill cranes. Hay meadows are managed with flood irrigation, which creates a wetland ecosystem for a variety of waterfowl and insects.

“We work a lot with CSU (Colorado State University) in terms of measuring the production of the ranch,” Fetcher said. “We also do a lot of philanthropic stuff with organizations like BookTrails, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.”

Fetcher said all of those things are important to him and his family, but he also takes pride in knowing that by placing both the Clark and Hahns Peak ranches into conservation easements years ago to protect the much sought-after land from future development. He also promotes the ranching legacy by opening his ranch to small educational, cultural and recreational events.

For Fetcher, the importance of protecting the land he loves for future generations is at the top of his list of priorities.

“You know part of it was driven by what Steamboat is because of the pressure on landowners to sell out to the golf courses and condos,” Fetcher said of the conservation easements. “How can we forever protect this land and allow that rancher to basically get some financial return for not developing his land? The key was figuring out how can we put money in that rancher’s pocket not to develop, and it’s been an incredible success, not only for what we did in the Yampa Valley, but statewide.”

The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is supported through contributions from the American Farmland Trust, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Sand County Foundation, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Stanko Ranch, American AgCredit, The Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, The Nature Conservancy in Colorado and McDonald’s.

“Recipients of this award are real-life examples of conservation-minded agriculture,” said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation president and chief executive officer. “These hardworking families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy.”

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