Unique combination of agricultural lands and natural habitat permanently conserved in northeast colorado
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May 18, 2023
Newly conserved lands along the South Platte River protect a landscape rich in agricultural and biological diversity.
STERLING, Colo. – A newly donated conservation easement on the X7 Ranch adds to the growing number of preserved private lands that sustain both working agricultural operations and diverse wildlife habitat in northeast Colorado.
The easement property, owned by the Hettinger family, is forever conserved as a working farm and cattle ranch through a partnership with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT). The more than 2,600 conserved acres include healthy and productive native rangelands, the South Platte River corridor, and irrigated and dry croplands. Significant stock watering resources and irrigation water rights are also protected under the conservation easement in perpetuity. The Hettinger family has worked the X7 Ranch for four generations. They will continue their operations as a multigenerational ranching family and viable agricultural property into the future.
X7 Ranch Owner Howard Hettinger’s great grandfather immigrated to the U.S. during the World War I era and initially settled near the town of Atwood. After World War II, Howard’s father purchased additional acreage which is still part of the working ranch today. Howard continues to work the property with wife Julie, son Michael, and grandson Jake who is now the overall fifth generation rancher in the family. The Hettinger family also invests in sharing their knowledge with the next generation of youth in their community. They host high school students for hands-on demonstrations of machinery and techniques used for planting and harvesting. Preserving the family’s legacy in land stewardship is what Hettinger said he values the most in this conservation partnership.
“The way I think of it, we’re safeguarding something of great value and investing in making this ranch a more sustainable operation going forward,” Hettinger said. “We’re keeping it whole. I’m nearly 100% certain my ancestors would feel the same way.”
Areas designated in the easement include working and natural lands in both Logan and Washington counties. Shortgrass prairies provide summer grazing to support the Hettinger family’s cattle operation that currently runs a mix of Red Angus, Black Angus, and Simmentallines. Vital water rights allow for the irrigation of diverse croplands and deliver water to livestock via a series of ditches, natural reservoirs, and wells. The Hettinger’s agricultural methods and management practices complement surrounding land uses, and are compatible with sustaining healthy wildlife populations, especially certain wildlife species of concern.
Unique features of the conserved property are recognized nationally and statewide, as contributors to plant and animal biodiversity in that corner of Colorado. Over 40 percent of the property is considered agriculturally significant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture with 20 valued soil types. These soils support Great Plains shortgrass prairie, sandhill shrublands, and a riparian corridor that benefits threatened species under the Colorado Non-Game, Endangered, or Threatened Species Conservation Act, such as burrowing owls and river otters. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has also mapped white-tailed deer and mule deer concentration areas and winter range within the easement. A portion along the South Platte River Potential Conservation Area was labeled as critical year-round habitat for Colorado’s bald eagle population by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program. The richness of the land stood out to CCALT Stewardship Manager Dan Skeeters while working with the Hettinger family.
“The X7 Ranch possesses a unique combination of natural and agricultural attributes that make it truly special. The agricultural operation that the Hettinger family has developed over generations is also extremely impressive,” Skeeters said. “The Hettingers have worked a lifetime to leave this place better for subsequent generations and they have done just that.”
The easement on X7 Ranch is part of a growing number of working landscapes being conserved in the South Platte River drainage. The property adjoins a mixture of lands managed by the State of Colorado, private lands, and conserved private lands. Policies of the State of Colorado, and of Logan and Washington counties consider preservation of scenic open space, habitat, and agricultural lands important to the future of the region.
The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) is a nonprofit land conservation organization whose mission is to “…conserve Colorado’s western heritage and working landscapes for the benefit of future generations.” CCALT has partnered with hundreds of ranching and farming families to protect more than 750,000 acres in Colorado.