EL PASO COUNTY - On 1,500 acres near the Palmer Divide, sits Kiowa Creek Ranch.
"We're kind of an island left here in the Black Forest," said rancher Dan Lorenz.
The ranch is home to all kinds of livestock: cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens and sheep. They share the same space with other, more wild creatures.
"We have an amazing raptor population through here," said Adrienne Larrew, who also ranches with Lorenz and owns Corner Post Meats.
They've partnered with Audubon Rockies on a pilot program called the “Conservation Ranching Initiative.”
"We see a lot of migratory birds – a lot of owls, a lot of raptors, a lot of little things, I don't know what they're called – and I call the Audubon Society and ask what they are,” Lorenz said with a laugh.
The program works with ranchers on practices that make their lands more welcoming to grassland birds, whether they're nesting or migrating.
"These are the birds that exist here and these are the habitat requirements of these birds,” said Audubon Rockies Director Alison Holloran. “So, how can we use the cattle to improve that habitat for X, Y and Z species?"
Grassland birds in particular have taken a hit over the decades, as development pushes into their habitat.
"If you look at the overall guild of grassland birds, they've really declined by about 80-percent and that is due in part to a lot of overdevelopment," said Audubon Rockies Deputy Director John Kloster-Prew.
By working with ranchers on a voluntary basis, Audubon Rockies hopes to keep these wide open spaces just that -- open -- and give ranchers the preservation credit they've earned.
"It's cool to figure out how to work with it, rather than to have it be agriculture or conservation—that you can have them together," Larrew said.
Audubon Rockies is also trying out this program in Wyoming. They are creating a label that ranchers would be able to use in marketing their products, to show that they are helping to maintain bird habitat.
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