This 14,000-acre working cattle and bison ranch has a broad range of habitats and wildlife, such as elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep and black bear. The preserve is part of a larger vision to create a resilient and connected network of conserved land along the Huerfano Valley foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and stretching west into the San Luis Valley.
What's at Stake
West of Walsenburg and just off Highway 160, Silver Mountain Preserve is special for the wide variety of habitats that can be found there. It includes shortgrass prairie, piedmont grassland, pinyon-juniper woodlands, Gambel oak shrublands and mixed conifer forest, spanning elevations from 6,700 to 10,000 feet. This variety in habitat and elevation makes it a critical part of our landscape-scale conservation vision. As hotter temperatures, increased drought, and other impacts of climate change affect the region, this ranch can provide wildlife a refuge and link between high and low elevations.
For a ranch of its size, it is home to a tremendous number and variety of large mammals. Elk and mule deer winter here, and black bear and bighorn sheep are common. It’s within potential habitat range for Canada lynx. The area also provides habitat for migratory birds and raptors of conservation concern, as well as amphibians, small mammals, and butterflies. Twelve miles of North Abeyta Creek run through the preserve, providing freshwater habitats and supporting riparian shrublands around the creek.
"It offers us a shot at protecting a linkage for wildlife between the southern Rocky Mountains, foothills and prairie across significant elevation and topography changes. These are all critical factors for building resilience in the face of a changing climate." - Galen Guerrero-Murphy, TNC Land Conservation Program Manager
The recently purchased Silver Mountain Preserve offers exciting opportunities for community engagement, restoration, and sustainable grazing. As the property will continue to be a working ranch, TNC plans to implement a sustainable grazing lands project on all 14,000 acres.
This means it will be the next site where we are developing science-based solutions to advance grazing practices that meet the needs of ranchers and help sustain native plants and animals. In this program, ranchers work with TNC to develop, test and share tools to adapt management and monitoring plans for grazing operations.
These tools will help improve the economic production of the land, increase its ecological value, and sustain the health and wellbeing of wildlife. We are also considering restoration and land management programs including grassland health (such as Cheat Grass management), shrubland and forest health (such as erosion control of previously burned areas) and improving riparian habitat along North Abeyta Creek.
Finally, this preserve offers other potential opportunities for climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies, including conservation design for climate resilience and carbon offsetting. Through these and other projects, community education and engagement will be prioritized.
Just south of Silver Mountain Preserve, TNC recently completed a conservation easement on the 4,800-acre JW Ranch. There are upcoming opportunities to conserve several thousand acres adjacent to Silver Mountain, which could connect with other privately conserved properties. Together, these would create a large area of conserved lands that include TNC’s Medano-Zapata Ranch, U.S. Forest Service land in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and Great Sand Dunes National Park.