Linking Landscapes, Connecting Communities

A unique land deal is expanding grasslands protection in southeastern Colorado while stretching science and education beyond the ranch’s border and into the community. 

Just over a year ago, The Nature Conservancy’s Colorado Chapter purchased the 33,000-acre Maverick Ranch in southeast Colorado. The chapter planned to resell it to private buyers and protect it with a conservation easement. A local ranching family, the Jacksons, purchased the ranch (now called Smokey Rim Ranch), and as part of the deal, traded another 11,000-acre ranch in the area to the chapter. The Conservancy plans to sell that property to a ranching family while placing an easement on it. Both ranches border other ranches protected by the chapter and its partners, creating a core protected area of 100,000 acres in this area and more than 300,000 acres of grasslands protected across the state

Globally, grasslands face enormous challenges; however, The Nature Conservancy's scientists have identified this area as one of the largest stretches of intact and functional grasslands in all of North America. Protecting this region is a priority. 

“Grassland conservation success depends not on a single project alone, but rather the sum of many projects,” says Tim Sullivan, the Conservancy in Colorado’s state director. “Together, these partnerships create conserved, working land that is expansive enough to support the people and nature that depend on it.” 

While you may be familiar with how a conservation easement works in limiting development such as subdivisions, the Smokey Rim Ranch easement is unusual in that it creates opportunities and access for learning and science, as well as creating a demonstration and training site for managed fire. 

“With hard work and a little luck, this place will become a living laboratory for local students and agricultural programs where young people can study land management and science,” adds Matt Moorhead, the Conservancy’s Southeast Colorado program director. 

Plans are already underway for a long-term plant study and prescribed burn. Community members will play a pivotal role in the success of these projects. 

To learn more about this project, contact Matt Moorhead at