In 2001, rancher Russell Davis learned he had a bird on his land that the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) wanted to list under the Endangered Species Act: the Mountain Plover.
“One day I was driving along my ranch, and I saw a biologist wearing a fisherman’s cap and binocs standing by her truck. I’d never seen anything like it. In the middle of prairie dog country, someone stopped by their truck is usually going to be a man with a 30-30 rifle shooting at prairie dogs!
“When I stopped, she turned to me and said, ‘Mr. Davis they’re everywhere!’
“I’m 80 miles east of the Rockies, the Eastern plains of Colorado, and the Fish and Wildlife Service was considering listing this species on my land, the Mountain Plover. I didn’t even know who the USFWS was! That chance encounter changed my life. It led me down a path of community collaborative conservation, which involves tearing down a lot of walls, and that takes time.”
What happens when you face challenges head on
Davis’s father raised his boys not to run from challenges. That day on the road with that young biologist, Davis had to decide whether to lock his gate or deal with what was happening.
“Because of my dad, I began to try to understand what’s going on.” Colorado Division of Wildlife had found the plovers on Davis’s ranch and wanted Russell to attend a workshop about the bird hosted by Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.
“By going down this road of having conversations and allowing research on my land, local folks—many of whom considered endangered species people “threatening”—began to alienate themselves from me. My neighbors were watching me, and folks stopped talking to me. I had to work through the biases, but also I had to build relationships: first, with researchers at Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the federal Partners for Wildlife program, and then I had to rebuild bridges back to my family, neighbors, and community.
“The Eastern Colorado community around me was dying. We had fewer young people staying in the area, and we struggled with what could be a draw to keep them on the land. Neighbors began saying, ‘Have a plover festival! Birders have money, and they love to come out and look at birds!‘ And so we did. The Karval community held the first annual Plover Festival in 2007.”
Davis teamed up with Ken Morgan from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, traveling around the state putting on a show and tell story about the plovers. “I realized then that it’s important for landowners to carry the conversation and to be leaders. Conservation on-the-ground, whether on private or public land, needs landowners to step up and be the voice.”
Just like church camp
“I didn’t know about collaborative conservation until Bill Noonan, who at the time was Colorado coordinator for the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, took me out to meet Jim Stone along with Greg Neudecker (PFW Montana) at a private lands meeting in Montana in 2008.
“That night at Seeley Lake, MT is when we decided to create a Landowner group. The week was like church camp for me, I was so fired up when I got home about community collaborative conservation efforts! For community collaboration to be successful, it takes men and women working on the land to be a part of this movement. Our first Private Lands Partners Day was held in Colorado 2009. I tip my hat to everyone who was there.”
The upshot of efforts by Davis and many others was that in 2011, after a thorough review of all available scientific and commercial information, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that “the Mountain Plover is not threatened or endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
Davis, along with the Karval community, sees the value in “facing the challenge head on”!