On Thursday we spent the day at Trinchera Ranch, which is the fourth ranch I have visited this year with CC, but it is quite different from all the other ranches. Trinchera Ranch is the largest ranch in Colorado and consists of 173,000 acres privately owned. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which includes Mount Blanca–the third highest peak in the state, are located on the ranch. The mission statement for the ranch is to, “Practice sound stewardship to sustain and enhance the diverse natural resources of the Trinchera Ranch for recreational use and enjoyment, the overall health of the ecosystem, and economic benefit, while preserving the natural beauty of the ranch for future generations.” This mission statement encompasses a mutualistic relationship between humans and the land. Humans can benefit from the land economically and recreationally, and at the same time can benefit the land by managing it correctly.
As the ranch is so large, it holds a range of diverse programs. Aside from the conservation work on the ranch–primarily with the forests and streams, the ranch also holds opportunities for recreational activities such as hunting, fishing, mountain biking, and climbing. Some of the land is also used for scientific research, agriculture and occasional educational programs.
The workers (and dogs!) from the ranch welcomed us with much hospitality and generously shared their knowledge and expertise. They prepared an informative power point presentation about the ranch and the different conservation projects they are currently working on. After the presentation, we loaded into four pick-up trucks and they drove us to some of the conservation project sites. During the ranch tour we were lucky enough to see some elk and a coyote! It was an amazing opportunity to hear such a unique perspective on land conservation and to be able to ask the ranchers many questions about their views, the land and their lives.
Visiting such a strong conservationist ranch was a new experience that prompted a lot of thought. Among environmentalists, many people have different points of view about the meaning of conservation and preservation. Conservationists often believe that humans must control the environment in order for the ecosystems to thrive, while preservationists believe that humans should stop disrupting and interfering with what is “natural.”
Conservationists rationalized their view by acknowledging that nothing exists on it’s own. A person does not exist on his or her own; neither does a squirrel nor a pond nor a forest. The way humans exist and use natural resources has already changed the components and balance of existing ecosystems. Humans have inserted themselves into many ecological communities, breaking tight networks and influencing other species. As a species, we humans have already changed the environment by changing the composition of the atmosphere. In some places we have introduced foreign species and diseases. In other places we have extracted natural resources or contaminated them. The role we play in almost every ecosystem is difficult to undo. We have changed both biotic and abiotic factors all around earth. Because of our impact and disruption of what is natural, some conservationists believe that nature will destroy itself if humans do not manage the ecosystem. Since the ecosystem is already off balance, humans must manage the land to offset the human impacts. In addition, since humans must coexist with nature and benefit from the some of the resources it provides, natural occurrences such as large forest fires can no longer occur without major consequences. Since we are limiting the natural growth of nature, we must manage it in a way that is sustainable for human communities and the ecological communities to coexist.
However, preservationists ask the question, Is it ethical for humans to manage an entire ecosystem? Even with good intentions, a management decision may work to solve one issue while creating another one. Even managing the forest for the forest, and not for selfish reasons, can be detrimental to the ecosystem. Extreme views on conservation may be attempting to control the uncontrollable.
After the visit we continued on our journey to the Baca Campus. When we finally arrived, we claimed our rooms, made our beds and headed to the Desert Sage Restaurant, where a delicious meal of beef stir-fry, salad, rice and (local) potatoes, was waiting for us. The next day we would be visiting a potato farm and factory in the area and learning about water rights.