May Family Presents Conservation Efforts on May Ranch

Dallas May



The May family offered an overview of their continued conservation efforts on their southeast Colorado ranch during a recent Lamar Rotary meeting.  Dallas May said that when the land was purchased, the family decided at that time, it’s purpose would be to go hand in hand to coexist with wildlife and to protect the natural habitat.

May presented a 10-minute video on the preservation efforts on behalf on the Black-Footed Ferret, produced by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.  A portion of the video was filmed on the May ranch, a participant in the CPW’s efforts.

May explained, “We worked for two years just to get to the point where we were approved to become a release site for the ferrets.  Since that time, we now have 35 that have grown on the ranch site and teams from the CPW and National Resources Conservation Service, have been on our land for five nights of surveys.  He explained the ferrets are very secretive and nocturnal, so spotlights are used to discover their holes and plant a transponder that can mark a ferret with a chip that identifies its age and sex and travels.  “Last spring one male was identified and he had moved five miles from his original hole.  The department placed five females in his vicinity at one later release to see if any mating is taking place,” he explained, adding that scent dogs are also being introduced to ID a working hole and set up camera traps for nighttime pictures.

The family has also been at work developing a carbon sequestration program through a lifetime conservation easement.  May said, “We set up a partnership with Ducks Unlimited to develop a carbon credit offset program, the first privately funded operation in the nation.  The prairie grass we have here has been storing carbon forever but the moment the grass is plowed, the carbon is lost to the atmosphere.”

Carbon credits can be banked or sold to corporations to help offset the carbon they produce through travel, mostly through aircraft or exhaust or from burning off lands to clear them for agriculture.  He said some of the corporations that have purchased the May ranch credits are HBO, American Airlines and Levi Strauss.  “We don’t make a lot of money from this, but it does help in our conservation goals.  Because of the easement, the prairie grass on our property will never be plowed, even if the land is sold sometime in the future, the easement will remain.”

May said a large fire on their land last year did release a lot of carbon into the air.  Some of that occurred in wetlands and while the impact there wasn’t a great as on the prairie, the amount of remaining carbon had to be studied.  The family has to file an annual report.  “The only credit we can take here is by not farming, and we received no credit for the wetlands, even if they pack more carbon than the grassy areas.  We’re measured for about 9,500 metric tons of carbon each year, but because we use some of those credits ourselves, we only sell off about half of the 18,000 tons stored in our grasslands.

Even though most of the biomass is stored underground in grasslands, sometimes as much as 30 feet deep, it’s deeper and more packed with carbon that what you’d find in a forest, he explained.  “Most of the biomass in a forest is above the ground and even with our fire, because we had some good rains afterwards, about three months later, the burn scar was mostly repaired and the carbon storing process started over again.”

Birding enthusiasts also come to the May properties to view various species. “Through the Audubon Society, our ranch is listed as a conservation ranching/certified ranch.  We’ve been selling registered cattle and bulls for over 40 years and now we can put our cattle program in unison with wildlife habitats and bring in nature conservancy operations such as Ducks Unlimited.  This region is centrally located so that if you start to venture to the west, you won’t see any birdlife that congregates to the eastern portion of the country and by the same token, move eastward and you will miss out on birds that congregate to the west.  We’re in one spot where both groups can be observed.”

The streams along the ranch also provide a habitat for some threatened species including the Arkansas Darter, a small perch.  “We have about seven miles along Sand Creek that hosts many beaver dams and complexes.”  Last year, a team of specialists took an aerial survey of the land to get a feel of where beaver are located and the role they play in the local ecology.

With regard to the role that regular citizens can play in protecting the environment, May asked the Rotary gathering, “What’s the official state animal?”  The Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.  “While there are some in the mountains, May said the largest and most vibrant herd of them in the world is in southeast Colorado at the Chancellor Ranch near the Colorado/Oklahoma border.  He summarized, “We see reports about retreating glaciers, severe storms and rising tidelines, and if may feel as if those things are beyond our control, but I believe you can make a difference and you can start in your own neighborhood.”

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: AgricultureConsumer IssuesEnvironmentFeaturedHistoryHot TopicsRecreationWaterWeather

About the Author: