Kiowa Creek Ranch
In the shortgrass prairie and Black Forest north of Colorado Springs, Colorado, Audubon owns Kiowa Creek Ranch. Beyond the ranch’s 1,579 acres of intact grassland and ponderosa forest, subdivision and sprawl run rampant. The shortgrass prairie and ponderosa forest that until recently covered the rolling hills is now dotted with houses spreading in all directions.
Amidst this habitat fragmentation, the ranch has become an important refuge for wildlife. Grassland birds like Western Meadowlarks, Vesper Sparrows, and Lark Sparrows nest in the open prairie. Amid the ponderosa pines, forest species like Pygmy Nuthatches, Western Bluebirds, and Wild Turkeys forage for insects and seeds. Also in this forest lives a rare and remarkable species: a pair of Northern Goshawks.
But conserving wildlife habitat requires more than buying land and leaving it alone, especially in grasslands and ponderosa forests. In the absence of active land management, invasive plants grew rampant in the ranch’s prairie, the forest grew unnaturally dense as a result of decades of fire suppression, and Northern Goshawk sightings stopped. In 2013, a wildfire burned much of the forest on Kiowa Creek Ranch and the surrounding land. “After the fire, it was clear that Kiowa Creek Ranch needed a dedicated land steward to maintain its value as wildlife habitat,” said Alison Holloran, executive director of Audubon Rockies.
Corner Post Meats
In 2014, Dan Lorenz and Adrienne Larrew were looking for a home base for their business, Corner Post Meats. Their goal was to raise livestock in an ecologically responsible way in order to sell naturally raised meat to home consumers nationwide. “We’re showcasing how conservation and ranching can go hand in hand,” said Larrew. “When you take care of your land, your animals are healthier, and that creates a better product for people.”
During their search for a property, they heard of Kiowa Creek Ranch and met with Holloran. “It was clear that their conservation ethic was a perfect match for us,” said Holloran. So in 2014, Audubon leased the ranch to Corner Post Meats. which soon earned certification from Audubon's Conservation Ranching Initiative.
Restoring the Prairie and Forest
In addition to operating a ranch and selling meat, Corner Post Meats manages livestock in ways that improve the ecological health of Kiowa Creek Ranch. They employ nomadic, high-intensity, short-duration grazing methods that build soil and improve its health. The churning hooves of cattle, tilling noses of pigs, and the fertilization from chickens restore a natural cycle of disturbance and growth to the land. Strategically timed grazing helps control invasive species. The highly invasive Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) that used to grow in monocultures across the ranch, for example, has now largely disappeared.
To restore health to the fire-suppressed forest, Corner Post Meats with the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Colorado State Forest Service began strategically thinning the trees to restore a more natural density and structure to it. Not only does this reduce the potential spread and severity of future fires; it creates a habitat that local wildlife is better adapted to. In 2017, Northern Goshawks started to be regularly seen on the ranch again. It’s possible that this as the result of forest restoration that Corner Post Meats has implemented.
“Conservation Ranching is what we are all about. With Audubon as a partner, we work together to learn from birds who frequent the ranch and let their presence determine if we are doing right by the land,” said Lorenz. “From what we have seen, land with ecological based ranching practices often have more birds than land managed any other way.”
Through the partnership between Corner Post Meats and Audubon's Conservation Ranching Initiative, the habitat quality on a precious remnant of prairie and forest is increasing. And most importantly, its future is protected from development.
Connecting People to the Land
Corner Post Meats was the first ranch certified by Audubon's Conservation Ranching Initiative and they remain an inspiration for it. In addition to practicing bird-friendly ranching, they’re committed to helping people understand the connection between their food and the land that it comes from. They host numerous public events on the ranch where people get to see the land firsthand. They also work with local chefs, colleges, and other institutions to provide sustainable dining options in Colorado. “We are the connecting point for customers to conveniently buy mindful meat direct from healthy and thriving ecosystems,” said Larrew.
As Corner Post Meats grows, Lorenz and Larrew intend for its impact to grow as well. By providing online shipping for their products countrywide, they’re creating a way for people anywhere in the US to support grassland conservation with their food dollars. Ultimately, they’re making people aware of how their food choices can help land, and that’s exactly what our grassland birds need.