Conservation Ranching Initiative

Soil Restoration at Rafter W Ranch

Enhancing soil health to increase drought resilience.

Located on the shortgrass prairie in eastern Colorado, Rafter W Ranch is certified by Audubon's Conservation Ranching Initiative. The owner, Lance Wheeler, has a deep interest in holistic ranch management and improving the long-term health of his land, the wildlife it sustains, the livestock it nourishes, and the people they feed. In February of 2022, Audubon Rockies' Conservation Ranching staff helped Lance implement a restoration project to improve the ranch's soil health and drought resilience. 

Audubon staff helped Lance secure a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to use a keyline plow (operated by United Ecology) to reduce soil compaction and increase water filtration in a historically overgrazed pasture. This treatment should allow the land to capture more of the rain that falls on it. As the ranch faces hotter and drier summers, this will be crucial for growing grass, feeding cattle, and supporting the wildlife that also call the ranch home. Native seeds were also spread over the pasture to bolster and diversify the prairie plant community.

Audubon will monitor the treatment's impacts for years to come, but the initial results are encouraging. In the first growing season, there were already noticeable improvements in soil compaction and forage production.

For questions, please contact dusty.downey@audubon.org or aaron.maier@audubon.org.

Aerial view of the keyline treatment at Rafter W. Ranch. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies
Aerial view of the keyline treatment at Rafter W. Ranch. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies
Blue grama inside the keyline treatment area growing taller and greener than the grass outside it. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies
Aaron Maier, range ecologist, digs a soil pit inside the keyline treatment area. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies

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