40 Stories in 40 Weeks: Lazy H Ranch

Original story by Sharon Sullivan

Just beyond the beautiful North Fork community of Paonia lies nearly 4,200 acres of prime high mountain rangeland, irrigated pasture, and particularly rich and diverse wildlife habitat along over three miles on both sides of the North Fork of the Gunnison

In the spring of 2011, this ground was on the market and aggressively priced to sell and relieve some of its then-owner’s growing financial difficulties back home in Nevada. That is a very dangerous recipe for a large historic Colorado ranch. It is a time when big ranches are broken up and sold off in pieces for their trophy home development potential. It is also a time when water and water rights can be severed and sold off the land, drying formerly productive agricultural land and creating long term weed problems as the land’s only lasting legacy.

Different Vision – Different Outcome

The Harris family of Castle Rock, Colorado purchased the ranch in 2011 and are changing the fate of this ground forever. By conserving over 4,000 acres of this ranch in partnership with BCRLT, the Harris family will relieve the intense pressure to develop this prime scenic spot. Instead, the ground will continue to exist and be enjoyed by everyone who passes along Highway 133 as one of those big charismatic ranches that we all know makes Colorado unique. BCRLT thanks the Harris family for their vision of keeping this property one single contiguous working ranch for today’s Harris family, tomorrow’s heirs and all of the friends, family and passersby who will receive the treat of visiting and viewing this amazing piece of high mountain Colorado ranch land.

2020 Update: Marta Laylander works closely with the Harris family as the manager of an environmental project on their property, and was kind enough to explain the project for us in the description below:

Owners Doug and Kerry Harris have succeeded in pulling together a large environmental improvement project, demonstrating that working together to benefit many diverse interests can provide great end results. The 4,000-acre conserved Lazy H Ranch adjoins the critical Juanita substation that provides electric power to the North Fork Valley, as well as the West Elk Coal mine, a major employer in the area. With the Colorado State Forest Service and the National Wild Turkey Federation, an application for grant funding from the Forest Restoration and Wildfire Risk Mitigation Grant Program was applied for and received to protect critical infrastructure and high valued assets in the area. The ranch’s wildlife habitat improvement program adds to that success, and will be integrated into the ecological restoration work. The ranch has a successful track record in combining fire mitigation work with wildlife habitat work to benefit wildlife in the area and to provide a critical buffer from wildfire on the wildland-urban interface.

Supporting partners that will benefit from this cooperative project include the Lazy H Ranch, Tri State Generation and Transmission Association, Delta Montrose Electric Association, Mountain Coal Company, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Delta County, Gunnison County, Colorado State Forest Service and the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Colorado West Land Trust is grateful to Doug and Kerry for their work to protect and enhance wildlife habitat on their land, and for their efforts alongside Marta’s to accomplish this project in partnership with so many other agencies and organizations.