Finger Rock Preserve maintains wetlands that would otherwise be lost |

Finger Rock Preserve maintains wetlands that would otherwise be lost

Brinker Creek runs through Finger Rock Preserve wetland mitigation bank south of Yampa.
Ren Martyn/Courtesy photo

For more than 20 years, Ren Martyn has been ranching in a unique way in south Routt County. Martyn is ranching wetlands.

As the manager and owner of Finger Rock Preserve south of Yampa, Martyn operates one of 13 approved and active wetland mitigation banks in Colorado, according to a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers database.

“Like any rancher, you have to be on the land to understand how to manage it. If this was a business that I could do all the time, I would,” said Martyn, who also works as a local real estate agent.

A wetland mitigation bank is a property created or improved to provide a healthy wetlands ecosystem. The banks offer locations for developers and public entities to purchase wetland acres off-site in a managed location in exchange for the destruction of small parcels of wetlands in other developed parts of the watershed. Finger Rock Preserve is used to mitigate for wetlands in the Yampa River and Eagle River watersheds.

Martyn said a larger, managed wetland provides a less expensive option for developers while benefiting the natural environment. Small pieces of wetlands in high-traffic, urbanized areas may not function well for wildlife and can be contaminated with street runoff, pollution or weeds.

Colorado Parks & Wildlife Biologist Libbie Miller in Steamboat Springs visits the preserve annually as part of wildlife surveys. Miller said wildlife are drawn to the preserve for water and vegetation, and it’s also an important stopover for migrating birds to rest and refuel.

“Wetland mitigation banks, if done well, provide larger, continuous areas, which are better for wildlife compared to small fragmented areas that aren’t maintained well,” Miller said. “One of the real benefits to his (Finger Rock) project is it has allowed water on a semi-arid landscape to exist during the durations of the seasons, which I think is especially important when we are in drought cycles.”

Clients at Finger Rock Preserve range from the Colorado Department of Transportation to ski areas, towns, schools, energy companies and businesses. Most recently, the preserve provided wetlands mitigation for Yampa Valley Housing Authority in exchange for about one-fourth acre of wetlands destroyed at the low-income housing Anglers 400 project underway east of McDonald’s in Steamboat.

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Finger Rock Preserve is a 255-credit wetland mitigation bank on the overall 620-acre preserve with about half of the wetland credits sold so far.

The original approval process to create the preserve was lengthy. Martyn found a parcel with water rights and rehabbed what was once overgrazed pastureland full of weeds. The mitigation bank was permitted in late 2003 by the Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

As a youngster, Martyn worked on a cattle ranch and a citrus farm in Florida, later earning a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. He spends many hours each week during the warmer months in his wader boots working at the preserve.

Other locals have helped through the years from consultants to Future Farmers of America members at Soroco High School. Work at the site included creating multiple dam structures and water retention ponds and planting some 12,000 wetland grasses and willows.

The fruits of years of labor now include ponds with rainbow trout and habitat for many types of birds and waterfowl. Martyn said his favorite experience is watching bald eagles dive for trout. He marvels at baby geese that dive quickly and stay underwater when attacked by bald eagles and at goose parents that circle and honk to try to protect their young.

Wetlands rancher and mitigation bank manager Ren Martyn and his dog, Routty, at work in south Routt County.
Courtesy photo

Other birds and animals at the preserve include cinnamon teal and mallard ducks, sandhill cranes, osprey, white pelicans, sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse and pronghorn antelope.

The preserve is utilized by Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports (STARS) in the summers for outings for veterans, children and people in wheelchairs.

“It just gives access to more outdoor activities for people with disabilities, and fishing helps children with patience,” said Cassie Mendoza, STARS camps and groups manager.

Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports clients Ashley Bristol, front, and Jessica Jarrell, along with family member Chad Jarrell, rear, fish at Finger Rock Preserve.
STARS/Courtesy photo

Martyn selected the site due to the rolling topography, soils, senior water rights portfolio and natural hydrology of Brinker and Chimney creeks flowing through the bank acreage. In 2011, the 620-acre site was placed under a conservation easement held in perpetuity by The Nature Conservancy.

“When you see a piece of land transition the way it has, it’s been a fulfilling project because of how the property has evolved,” Martyn said.

While the low-lying lands are thriving wetlands, higher elevations on the property are used for a hay operation, and 100 acres are leased for cattle. When the mitigation bank is sold out of wetland credits, likely in a few decades, ownership will transfer to an agency such as The Nature Conservancy, Martyn said.

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