Grand County’s Blue Valley Ranch tapped for climate resiliency study

A lake on the 25,000-acre Blue Valley Ranch in Grand County. The ranch is one of four -- two working, two non -- that are collaborating with Friends of the Lower Blue River on a climate resiliency study supported by Sen. Michael Bennett and Rep. Joe Neguse.
Jonathan Knopf, Friends of the Blue River Valley / Courtesy Photo

Last week, Friends of the Lower Blue River, a volunteer group that promotes quality of life and the environment of the Lower Blue River Valley, came one step closer to potentially receiving federal monies it needs to continue climate action work in Summit and Grand counties through Sen. Michael Bennet’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Friends of the Lower Blue is already in the first phase of its Safe Soils/Climate Resiliency Initiative, which it is conducting in tandem with four local ranches — Blue Tree Ranch, Otter Creek Ranch and Pass Creek Ranch in Summit County, and Blue Valley Ranch in Grand County. All four ranches are participating in soil sampling and data gathering that will help determine the climate resilience of the Lower Blue River Valley.

The assessment will guide prescribed stewardship practices on public and private land to improve climate resiliency and enhance an ecosystem that proactively captures carbon, provides water to the West and reduces risk of severe wildfire.

“We’re trying to determine the health of the soil and what we can do to help mitigate fire danger by identifying the ways we can retain water,” said Johnathan Knopf, the group’s executive director. “Researchers are saying in 30 years, Colorado is going to look like Arizona, and we don’t want that. But if we don’t do something now, we’re going to pay the price. This initiative is the first (in our region) to address fire mitigation and capturing greenhouse gases on ranches. (With our work) the train has left the station. We consider ourselves taking the lead in Summit and Grand counties.”

Of the four ranches participating the in study, Blue Valley is the largest, at 25,000 acres. The Ranch is owned by billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II, who has been in the media in recent years over his wish to both bolster the fishing on his property by adding phosphorous to the Blue River, and for supporting a land swap with Bureau of Land Management that improved access to the Blue.

Neither Jones nor a representative for the ranch returned multiple requests for comment, but Tom Koehler, Friends of the Lower Blue’s director of climate action, said that Jones’ interest in collaborating on the nonprofit’s Safe Soils/Climate Resiliency Initiative is key to building a “framework with dynamic flexibility … that includes both private landowners and land management agencies to come up with dynamic climate solutions for both their land and adjacent landscapes.”

The group’s eco-consulting firm, Geosyntec, was in the field last week, taking soil samples and gathering data at the four partner ranches participating in Phase 1 of the Climate Resiliency Initiative. The project is ongoing: Koehler said the samples came from soil across various landscape types, and that they’ve been sent to a lab for testing. The results should show total organic carbon, nutrient levels and available water capacity in the soil. The project is ongoing: tests will occur again next spring and then at regular intervals after. The aim, he said, is “to educate the private land owner community on practices that will help their land mass be more resilient to drought.”

Knopf said the potential senate funding supported by Sen. Bennett “is just a step in helping (Friends of the Lower Blue) continue working to address climate change. That’s the ultimate goal; what can we do in the next 10 years to turn the tide of climate change that’s showing up in the United States. We’re out there with our tin cup trying to get money to continue to work, because it’s going to take a lot to do the prescriptions we need to do that extend beyond private land to public lands. This is a huge deal if we get (Bennett’s) money, and even if we do, we’re not going to stop there. Representative Joe Neguse is hugely supportive of us. Climate action is one of his top initiatives. We met with him and we are going to apply for house appropriations funding by the end of the year.”

“The support (from Sen. Bennett’s office)is significant for (Friends of the Lower Blue) and our partners to continue to develop this program for the Lower Blue River Valley, the (counties) and the Natural and Working Lands piece of the State’s Climate Action Plan.” said Koehler. “We look forward to further collaboration in Summit and Grand Counties, striving for dynamic solutions to improve our landscape, while mitigating the impact of climate change.”

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