ALAMOSA — The Mosca-Hooper Conservation District (MHCD) in Alamosa County is proud to announce that Zapata Ranch has won Conservationist of the Year, Ranching Division, from the Colorado Association of Conservation Districts (CACD). The purpose of the award is to recognize an outstanding individual that implements innovative conservation and agricultural practices that have proven successful. This rancher-conservationist reaches out to a variety of audiences, engages new partnerships, and spreads the conservation message. The organization honored will serve as a model of excellence for other neighbors and fellow practicing conservationists.
Located a stone’s throw from the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zapata Ranch is a 23,761 acre property owned by The Nature Conservancy and run by Ranchlands, a ranch management company. Ranchlands, headed by Duke Phillips, has as its stated mission at Zapata Ranch “sustaining the landscape’s biodiversity while supporting the West’s ranching heritage.” In the Mosca-Hooper Conservation District and Rio Grande Watershed of Southern Colorado, Ranchlands raises beef in continuation of the Western tradition, utilizing modern pasture management techniques to advance soil health. The Zapata Ranch is located upwind of the tallest sand dunes in North America, and an ethic of maintaining soil cover to limit erosion and evaporation has been a guiding principle for Ranchlands as it manages this brittle, broad and diverse landscape.
Each year Ranchlands does intensive planning of their pasture management, taking inventories of Zapata Ranch’s grasses, forbs, and monitoring the condition and function of their 27 permanent-fenced pasture enclosures. Through this planning process, Ranchlands works to anticipate how best to utilize their cattle herd to positively impact the landscape while also sustaining profits from the sale of the gain on the animals under their care. This planning process is holistic in scope, taking into account perspectives of seasoned ranch staff, biologists, soil scientists, range ecologists, and novice trainees learning to become ranchers themselves. Wildlife conservation is a high priority for Ranchlands, with a portion of their ranching business also including a Guest Ranch enterprise. People from all around the world come each season to experience this well-managed working landscape, to view a diversity of wildlife, and to see the beneficial impact on the land that is possible when ranching is done well.
Conservation practices which the farm uses include: Temporary fence deployment to assure adequate rest and regrowth of vegetation; regular monitoring and adaptation of grazing plan to suit changes in weather and pasture productivity; stock water-point development to better distribute animal impact; irrigation water conveyance via unlined ditches and surface flood irrigation of pastures to allow for aquifer recharge; utilization of stored forages in spot-feeding application to cover erosion-sensitive areas.
Along with hosting hundreds of guests, each year Ranchlands invites groups keen to learn more about soil health, animal husbandry and water conservation to Zapata Ranch to dig deeper into these topics. One such event held at Zapata Ranch occurred in 2016, when the Colorado Section of the Society of Range Management convened for their annual field day and meeting at the ranch, and had the opportunity to interact with Ranchlands staff to learn of the resource concerns of their landscape, and of the production opportunities and challenges faced when striving to do well for the land, and for the business of producing healthy animal proteins. Mosca-Hooper Conservation District and the Rio Grande Watershed Association of Conservation Districts are proud of the work Ranchlands has done to care well for this extensive, fragile environment, and for their efforts at outreach to a broader audience of voters and consumers keen on knowing more about how ranching can conserve and improve lands and landscapes for generations to come. I
Mosca-Hooper Conservation District (MHCD) is a county-wide district in Alamosa County established on June 7, 1943. Total acreage within the District is 462,000 acres. The mission of MHCD is to provide leadership in natural resource management for the betterment of all present and future residents of the district through education and example.