Permanent protection of this property will provide habitat for wildlife and a boost to the local economy.
As you cross the border into Colorado from New Mexico on I-25, one of the first things you see is Fisher’s Peak. This iconic table-top mountain is located on a 30-square-mile ranch just outside the city of Trinidad and is the symbol of the community.
The city of Trinidad approached The Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land for help in purchasing the property, which happened in early 2019. The plan is to permanently protect the outstanding wildlife habitat while supporting the local economy by creating a publicly owned recreation and education area.
“We hope to raise the bar for combining conservation and recreation,” says Matt Moorhead, conservation partnerships director for TNC in Colorado.
The Fisher’s Peak Project partners will now work together with community members and stakeholders on a planning process for the land that includes conservation of the landscape’s wondrous natural resources, well-managed recreational access and educational use. After the planning process is complete, the partners plan to transfer the property to public ownership.
Moorhead says, "By planning for both ecological and recreational goals from the ground floor, we’ll strive to show how solid conservation outcomes contribute to an economically thriving community, all while connecting future generations to nature."
A vital first step to making sure that decisions about the property are based on science will be inventorying the property’s spectacular biodiversity.
Chris Pague, senior conservation ecologist at TNC, explains that before parts of the land can be safely allocated for purposes like recreation, stakeholders must first understand the range of plants and animals that exist and rely on the property.
Because Fisher’s Peak shoots up in elevation by nearly 3,000 feet over a relatively short distance, Pague and his colleagues expect to record an impressive variety of plants and animals. The terrain is already known to be home to numerous species, including elk, mountain lion, long-tailed weasel and bobcat. A comprehensive science inventory will allow researchers to back their general knowledge of the area with empirical data. From there, they will be able to more readily advise the development process – designing future uses such that nature thrives.
“We want the best science to go into this,” says Pague. “That way, we will be able to provide a great recreational property for the people here, while making sure to preserve the nature.”
Pague has assembled a 30-member team that will be working for the next few years to better understand the ecology of the newly purchased land. Key partners include Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado Natural Heritage Program along with many volunteer experts. The group has already turned up exciting results. In one of Pague’s initial inspections, team members discovered an area where there were significant traces of black bear—enough for the area to be considered a bear “refuge.”
But it’s not just big mammals that have caught the team’s attention. In another recent excursion to the property, Pague took time to trap and examine several native bees, a crucial, yet threatened, pillar of the ecological landscape.
The information will be used in a planning method that Pague and his team of experts utilize, known as the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation. This tried-and-true framework is employed around the world to ensure that conservation preservation initiatives are implemented successfully.
Protecting the wildlife living on the Fisher’s Peak property—bears, bees and everything in between—will be a top priority for TNC as the process moves forward.
Although the inventory is still in its early stages and will continue for several more years, the initial ‘rapid assessment’ portion is scheduled to be completed by the end of summer 2020. The results will give stakeholders a better understanding of the largely untouched Fisher’s Peak property. With that invaluable knowledge in hand, the intertwining processes of allocating preserves and developing recreation areas for public use can take shape, all with the backing of sound science.
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