Ranchers, Environmentalists of the Wild West

ZAPATA RANCH – Sunlight shines through dusty air as ranchers gather hundreds of bison for weighing and sorting. The Zapata Ranch, a Ranchlands property located in the heart of the San Luis Valley, is merging conservation and ranching.

The Nature Conservancy owns the 110,000-acre ranch and has partnered with Ranchlands to manage the land. The San Luis Valley is an area facing dynamic environmental problems that are threatening agriculture industries of the valley and wildlife.

Ranchers of Ranchland are embracing their role as environmental stewards.

“One of the things that makes Ranchlands unique is that we look at land as a multidimensional resource,” said Duke Phillips, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Ranchlands. The Zapata Ranch is a bison ranch. Bison meat has a growing demand in America. Bison are also adapted to live on Colorado’s plains.

“Trying to create an animal that’s adaptive to its natural environment instead of taking a hands-on approach to that environment,” said Duke Phillips IIII, son of Duke Phillips III and Chief Operating Officer at Ranchlands. Herds at Ranchlands are not sprayed, nor does predator control occur, in an effort to replicate a natural ecosystem, said Phillips.

Bison ranching is a win-win for conservation and economics, said Phillips. Zapata is a free-grazing ranch. Grazing lands are kept natural for bison to graze, which benefit valley conservation efforts by protecting the San Luis Valley’s natural ecosystem and environment. Demand for bison meat, due to public perception as an exotic meat, has been increasing in recent years, said Phillips. The ranch is able to continue protecting the valley’s environment thanks to bison, one of America’s most iconic species.

“As there’s more pressure coming from the environmental community as all these things are happening, it’s going to force us to look at conservation as a product of what we produce. It always has been, but we never really thought of ourselves as environmentalists and naturalists and that’s the change that has to happen,” said Phillips. Ranchers, as managers of so much land in the west, may play a vital role in environmental conservation and restoration of the future

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