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Cowboy Conservation at Fox Ranch

"If you're using the food or wool produced on those properties, you can have confidence that it was sustainably produced."

- Chris Pague, The Nature Conservancy

There's more than meets the eye at The Nature Conservancy's Fox Ranch Preserve in Eastern Colorado. Here, among thousands of acres of native grassland, herds of cattle are active conservationists.

Our scientists closely monitor when and where the cattle are allowed to graze as part of an innovative conservation project. Using a sustainable grazing strategy that the Conservancy is also developing and testing in Patagonia, we are working with partners to protect grasslands and biodiversity, while at the same time boosting business for ranchers who rely on the land.

It's the kind of win-win collaboration the Conservancy is known for. "It's imperative to work with landowners and other likeminded people to protect our planet," said Chris Pague, lead scientist for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado. "We've all got to work together."

The Conservancy acquired the 14,070-acre Fox Ranch in 2000. Among the many things that make this area special is the wildlife. Here you'll find box turtles (they can live more than 50 years!), greater prairie chickens and lark buntings, which are in decline across North America.

High quality stream habitat flows through tallgrass prairie. If this type of land is mismanaged, it could see drastic changes. Colorado's grasslands have declined due to development, suburban sprawl, and agriculture, but the promise of the Fox Ranch is that we can find ways to build more vibrancy into our remaining grasslands and improve outcomes for farmers and ranchers.

The Conservancy leases grazing rights at Fox Ranch to a private rancher, Nathan Andrews. Working with Nathan and partner The Savory Institute, the preserve is being used as a testing ground for Holistic Planning with expectations that it will become a learning center where land managers from across the globe can learn how to grow thriving businesses and wildlife.

Cattle are moved among different areas based on what is known as Holistic Planning and Management. The Conservancy and partners are also testing Holistic Planning by working with sheep ranchers in Argentina to improve business outcomes and restore some 20 million acres that have been degraded by poor management and other factors.

Herders in Patagonia have an incentive for their work. For the first time, the clothing company Patagonia Inc. is sourcing its wool from its namesake region.

Back in Colorado, rancher Nathan Andrews is proud that he can protect biodiversity at the Fox Ranch while producing a high quality product.

It's work customers can feel good about too. "If you're using the food or wool produced on those properties, you can have confidence that it was sustainably produced," Pague said. "This is work we can all feel good about."

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