Ranchlands’ Colorado & Wyoming Ranches Certified as Audubon Bird-Friendly Habitats

Cattle cater to bird conservation in the Audubon Conservation Ranching program
A small owl standing in grass holds a worm dangling from its beak and looks at the camera with its bright yellow eye.
Burrowing Owl. Photo: Evan Barrientos/Audubon Rockies

Fort Collins, Colo. — A pair of ranches managed by Ranchlands, spanning close to 200,000 acres in Colorado and Wyoming, have been designated Audubon Certified bird-friendly habitats by the National Audubon Society through the bird nonprofit’s Conservation Ranching program. The land certification recognizes Ranchlands’ commitment to improving grassland habitat. Beef produced on the Chico Basin Ranch in Colorado and the Paintrock Canyon Ranch in Wyoming and sold under the Ranchlands brand can carry the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal. This consumer package label recognizes products grazed on lands managed for birds and biodiversity.

Audubon Conservation Ranching, Audubon's flagship grassland habitat initiative, is a collaborative effort between farmers, ranchers, and Audubon to address the decline of grassland bird populations. Over 100 ranches, encompassing nearly 3 million acres, have earned Audubon Certified status as bird-friendly land. The land certification underscores wildlife-focused grassland management, specifically through rotational cattle to create a mosaic of habitat for grassland birds.

Chico Basin Ranch, located in southern El Paso County and northern Pueblo County near Colorado Springs, is owned by the Colorado State Land Board, managed by Ranchlands, and serves as the company’s headquarters ranch. It is a working cattle operation spread over approximately 87,000 grazeable acres of shortgrass prairie. The ranch's diverse habitat types provide habitat for a wide range of avian species, from Burrowing Owls to Vesper Sparrows. 

Situated on the western slope of the Bighorn Mountains in north-central Wyoming, Paintrock Canyon Ranch covers 80,000 acres of differing habitats and elevations. This vast landscape is essential connected habitat for birds and other wildlife in the region, including the Brewer’s Sparrow and the Greater Sage-Grouse, species classified among those of greatest conservation need by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Tess Leach, Head of Business Development for Ranchlands, emphasizes that cattle play a pivotal role in enhancing and safeguarding native and restored grasslands and rangelands. "Cattle are more than a product to us; they are the primary tools we employ to emulate the symbiotic relationship between the great bison herds and native grasslands. Grazing rotationally through our pastures allows us to fulfill this mission effectively. And now, the Audubon certification provides consumers additional knowledge and personal shopping power to support our work that is improving the land for birds.”

Dusty Downey, Conservation Ranching Manager for Audubon Rockies, says “good grazing,” though often misunderstood, is a key element to maintaining a diversity of habitats that hosts a spectrum of grassland bird species. “Grassland birds aren’t homogenous. The short vegetation that the Burrowing Owl needs is not the taller vegetation the Western Meadowlark gravitates to. Strategically moving cattle around the landscape, while resting areas from grazing activity altogether, is an ideal way to create this right mix of habitat.”

For more information about Audubon Conservation Ranching in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, contact Dusty Downey, Audubon Rockies Conservation Ranching Manager, at (307) 756-3941.


About Audubon Conservation Ranching

A wildlife habitat initiative of the National Audubon Society with a unique market front, Audubon Conservation Ranching aims to stabilize declining grassland bird populations in partnership with ranchers – on whose land 95 percent of grassland birds live. Audubon Conservation Ranching’s enrollment includes over 100 ranches and nearly 3 million acres that have earned status as Audubon Certified bird-friendly land. Incentivizing this habitat work for birds and biodiversity are consumers with an appetite for conservation, who support it with the purchase of products grazed on these lands. Shoppers see a special package designation – the Audubon Certified bird-friendly seal – that sets these products apart. For more information, visit Audubon.org/ranching.

About Audubon

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon’s state programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon’s vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.