Landscape Stewardship Awards - 2006

THE OWL MOUNTAIN PARTNERSHIP (OMP) is a collaborative, community-based process focused on restoring and/or sustaining both land health and economic productivity in North Park, Colorado.  The partnership got its start some 13 years ago, evolving from another program aimed specifically at resolving conflicts between growing elk populations in the area and private landowners.  The partnership replaced that single focused program with the idea that the elk conflicts could be more effectively resolved through a larger approach for ecosystem management, one in which human needs and values were considered in the context of the area’s natural systems.

The partnership was founded on the concept that sustainable land stewardship must, in large measure, originate from the community’s grass roots, where a sense of place and community ties to a natural world is best expressed.  So, although the partnership was intended to be an inclusive and collaborative process among all interested parties, ultimately it depended on the desire of local people to be good stewards of the land.  The partnership brought together eight government agencies, both state and federal, to work collaboratively with each other, other interests, and local people to better understand and resolve a variety of land issues faced by people in the area.  Those issues included rangeland health, elk damage to private property, declining sage grouse populations, degrading waterfowl habitat, water quality, wetland and riparian systems health, and invasive exotic plants.

Although many people have made significant contributions to the Owl Mountain Partnership over the years, the Public Lands Foundation wishes to specifically recognize the work done by Dave Harr and Jerry Jack for their vision, hard work, and adherence to principles that have been so important to the success of this partnership.

Dave Harr (photo shown), formerly BLM associate field office manager in Kremmling, Colorado, was responsible for bringing much of the vision that led to the founding of this partnership.  His deep sense of purpose has both stood for and fostered the principles underlying the partnership’s success.  Those same principles continue to anchor and build the partnership today.  His personal involvement has been the key to resolving a number of critical issues in which there was disagreement among participants, particularly among agencies.  In one example, a rancher whose operation included some valuable wetlands believed he was out of business due to livestock/wildlife habitat conflicts.  It was Dave’s patient skill that helped to transform that issue into a unified commitment among agencies and other interests that the grazing operation could continue.  Once proper grazing management practices were agreed to, wetland management was actually turned over to the rancher.  Today that rancher continues to apply the management practices and other knowledge he’s gained through the partnership to both the public lands and his private lands.  This is only one of many success stories that could be attributed to Dave’s personal involvement in the stewardship process over the years.  His wisdom and foresight were evident from the beginning of the partnership.  Socially and culturally, North Park is an extension of Wyoming into Colorado.  Recognizing this, Dave hired a Wyoming native, Jerry Jack, who had both a ranching background and a practical environmental consciousness, to be the project manager and on-the-ground presence for BLM.

Jerry Jack took the job with one condition; that if the area was to be managed as an ecosystem it would have to include all lands in the area – federal, state, and private.  Making that condition says a lot about Jerry’s understanding of the task before him, as well as his confidence in being up to the task.  Since then, it has largely been Jerry’s cultural alignment with the area and his patient but professional approach to the job that have gradually built the trust needed to support ecosystem management in the area.  He has shown himself to be an honest  broker to the local people, as well as to the various agencies involved.  He has patiently worked with ranchers to bring about a better idea of the area’s potential, and how to achieve that potential in a profitable way.  Once, when locals insisted that a certain riparian area never had supported willows, Jerry simply placed a wire cage out.  Within a few weeks, there were the willows showing, undeniable to anyone.  With patience, creativity, and sometimes good old-fashioned humor, Jerry is gradually winning people over to become better stewards of the land.  He has served as fund-raiser, expert land manager, public contact person, and overall coordinator of the effort since its beginning.

Originally, the Owl Mountain Partnership was designed to cover only a portion of the North Park area.  Basically, the area selected covered most of a watershed and a variety of land ownerships and environments, including wetlands administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM.  It was designed to set an example of what could be accomplished through the citizen-based stewardship process.  And over the next few years a great deal was accomplished.  In fact, it was said that, after only a few years, more had been accomplished than had been done in the previous 20 years.  Most of the rangelands and riparian systems showed remarkable recovery, as did some of the wetland areas where livestock grazing had previously been a problem.  One of the first things done was to fence off haystacks on private lands to resolve the elk damage; then various improvements and land treatments were applied to better distribute elk and livestock grazing in the area.  Fire was introduced successfully, as were other types of land treatments, along with improved grazing management.  Vegetation inventories were completed along with studies for sage grouse and waterfowl habitat.  Monies were contributed from a variety of sources that wanted to support these community-based efforts.  EPA remains a major contributor because of the success in improving watershed conditions.

Since its inception, the partnership has spent over $2 million dollars on various projects and inventories.  Today, the partnership continues to rely mostly on contributed monies rather than range improvement money allocated by BLM.  The boundaries of the partnership have been enlarged to include all of Jackson County, and there has been interest shown by the Wyoming Game and Fish to extend the work into adjoining Wyoming – which makes great sense both environmentally and socially.

But a recent study found that perhaps the biggest gains have been with people, finding that trust and communications have greatly improved, that mutual education has been very influential in bringing about needed changes, and that empowering local people to help find solutions ant to become the basis for land stewardship, are all factors leading to fundamental changes that will almost certainly continue as part of the area’s local culture and wisdom.

The Public Lands Foundation believes the Owl Mountain Partnership is a true example of citizen-based landscape stewardship, one that will continue to grow and exemplify the new relationship between government and people needed to foster and support citizen stewardship.  The Foundation presents this award to David Harr and Jerry Jack in honor of their vision, transformational thinking, and dedication to this effort.  The Foundation also wishes to honor all others who have made valuable contributions, but whose names are known only to Dave and Jerry.