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Conservation District Sponsors Rangeland Tour

by Carol Dunn and Nelson Holmes

HUERFANO- Any property owner who feels that there is little return on their property tax dollar should have been at the Upper Huerfano Conservation District Annual Meeting and rangeland tour.  In this agency, a small group of dedicated souls take a meager budget and turn it into education programs, soil and water conservation projects and direct guidance to individual landowners.  

    The Conservation District combined its Annual Meeting with a rangeland tour on August 16, complete with rain, mud, weeds, grass, sunshine and a barbeque luncheon.  The District received a grant to fund the tour from the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative, dedicated to increasing the awareness of the importance of grazing land resources.  

    The morning started out damp and grey so David Hettich stood at the front of the bus to update those in attendance on the Pole Canyon Wind Project.  Hettich, generated quite a bit of interest as he described the proposed Pole Canyon Wind Project.  According to Hettich, the 28,000 acre project area has “some of the best wind in Colorado.”  This drew a chuckle from the crowd, as some had never thought of the wind as the “best.” 

    There will be 125 wind towers of prodigious proportion—130-feet tall with blades weighing 8 tons each, which will track wind speed and direction in order to rotate at a steady 17 rpm. The towers, which will be placed to have minimal impact on migratory birds and bats, use forward scanning radar to allow the articulating blades to anticipate wind direction.   Pylons under the base of each tower will be sixty feet deep.  Each base will take five layers of rebar and 243 cubic yards of concrete (Louis Vezzani, don’t retire yet). The jobs created (200 construction and 35-40 long-term) will be a boost to the local economy.

    The towers themselves will take up relatively little land, and landowners will be able to continue grazing the area as they had been.  Leases will run from twenty-five to fifty years, based on power generation royalties.  

    The Pole Canyon project will generate 300 megawatts of electricity, enough to power 100,000 homes for an entire year.  It will require an investment of $670 million, plus $17.5 million to route the power to the Comanche power substation in Pueblo.  With this much power so close at hand, none of it will be used in Huerfano County.  Hettich explained that the Pole Canyon project was not successful in its bid to supply power to Tri-State Generation, supplier to San Isabel Electric.  

    Tony Arnhold, District Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), gave the tour group the low-down on tamarisk, also known as salt cedar.  He explained that management of riparian areas, those adjacent to water, should strive to keep natives like cottonwood and willow and eliminate non-natives like tamarisk and Russian olive.  Referring to tamarisk, Arnhold said, “It’s a hard beast to take down.”  Most spray treatments are costly and time-consuming and need to be repeated once or twice.  He explained that each full-grown tamarisk can consume 500 gallons of water per day.  Enough tamarisks grow in the Arkansas drainage to suck up the water Denver would use in a year.  It is such a voracious consumer of water that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has undertaken a project to remove tamarisk in the Arkansas River watershed in order to free up water required for the Kansas Compact.  Arnhold said there is hope.  A beetle is being used in limited areas for biological control of tamarisk, and that use may expand.

    The day ended with a thoughtful invocation by Larry Ogle and a sumptuous lunch, games and good conversation.  Kudos and style points to Mollie Fuller, our District Manager, for organizing the event and dealing with the unexpected with calm and grace.

    During the luncheon, the Conservation District reported on its activities during the past year.  One highlight is having a Conservation Technician to serve District landowners.  Don Sanchez, retired from NRCS, brings his 43 years of engineering and design experience to the District.  His part-time position is funded by a grant from the State Soil Conservation Board, with matching funds from the Huerfano County Commissioners.  Jim Hribar, District Board president, thanked the landowners and voters for helping pass the District’s mill levy increase in May.  He explained that the funding will be used for more programs to educate, assist and benefit landowners.

Grass is the Crop for Area Ranchers

by Carol Dunn

HUERFANO- According to Ben Berlinger, Range Management Specialist, the main crop produced by Huerfano County ranchers is grass, not beef.  “Animals harvest the crop,” he said.  Pointing out that conservation is wise use without abuse, he described the best way ranchers can use their grass crop without damaging future production.  Mr. Berlinger emphasized the “take half-leave half” grazing philosophy. He advised that animals be kept on a particular pasture for a short time.  “That way,” he said, “they get the best feed, the new shoots, and take the least amount of the growing part of the plant.”  Berlinger said the rule of thumb to keep a pasture healthy is to allow animals to graze fifty to sixty percent of the palatable production, then move them to a different pasture.    

    The same principle applies when raising horses.  The correct number of livestock on a pasture is determined by calculating the number of pounds of grass the land is producing per acre.  With a chuckle, Berlinger pointed out that it will be easier to measure grass production “now that it has started raining.”