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A new conservation partnership between JA Ranch and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust will ensure the ranch’s land stewardship originally developed through collaboration with county and national partners will be carried forward at the state level into the future.
July 26, 2023
LARKSPUR, Colo. – Today, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) announced transfer of the 6,409-acre JA Ranch conservation easement to CCALT as the ranch’s new long-term conservation partner. The property adjoins the Greenland Ranch conserved property, also transferred to CCALT’s holding in 2020. These ranches offer views of “big green open spaces” along the urban Interstate 25 stretch between Denver and Colorado Springs that haven’t changed in hundreds of years. JA Ranch becomes part of a larger conserved landscape CCALT holds as partnering land stewards in a very populated part of the state.
In 1999, JA Cattle Company conveyed the original JA Ranch conservation easement to The Conservation Fund (TCF), a national nonprofit leader in U.S. land conservation, and Douglas County as easement holding partners, with significant funding provided by Douglas County and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). In 2021, JA Cattle Company, TCF, Douglas County, and CCALT jointly agreed to transfer the conservation easement to CCALT, the statewide leading land trust that focuses on conserving working agricultural lands. They identified CCALT as the appropriate long-term easement holder given JA Ranch’s ongoing cattle operation. Now 24 years to the day of granting the initial conservation easement, the transfer finalized. Formed as a land trust by landowners for landowners by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association membership, CCALT welcomes this addition to their portfolio.
“CCALT is honored to partner with the Ritchie family and JA Cattle Company in the future stewardship of this iconic ranch,” said John Gioia, CCALT Director of Transactions. “The JA Ranch is a symbol of Colorado’s past and present agricultural heritage and will continue to feature prominently for the many thousands of people that travel I-25 every day. We thank JA Ranch, The Conservation Fund, Douglas County, and Great Outdoors Colorado for their collective conservation commitment 24 years ago and look forward to continuing their great vision.”
JA Ranch lands have been used for agricultural purposes since the area was first settled around 1870, with several historic structures and old foundations still present on the property. The Hunt Cabin is the oldest structure on the ranch and housed Governor Alexander Hunt of the Colorado Territory before it became a state.
The original JA Ranch is the oldest ranch in the Texas Panhandle and is still owned and operated through JA Cattle Company by the original family. In 1960, Montie Ritchie purchased the Colorado ranch of the same name. Since that time, the JA Ranch in Larkspur has utilized the property for additional summer livestock grazing. As descendants of this historic family, current owners Ninia Ritchie and her son Andrew Bivins are committed to conserving this incredible property. They manage the Colorado JA ranch with Dale Smith and Jay O’Brien of JA Cattle Company.
“We are excited to have the option to work with CCALT and have partners knowledgeable about the cattle business,” said Jay O’Brien.
While this is not a new conservation project, the transition of the JA Ranch conservation easement is important for several reasons. First, it highlights the importance of continuing partnerships in private land conservation. During the transfer, CCALT worked with all previous partners and Ritchie’s family to update the conservation easement and strengthen the protection of JA Ranch’s significant conservation values.
“It’s really special when we have great landowners and stewards, who are willing to put their ranch into a conservation easement,” said Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas. “If those 6,000 acres had been developed, it would have been prime property, people would have loved to have bought that ranch and developed it, but Ninia selflessly put it into the conservation.”
“JA Ranch and Greenland Ranch are the centerpieces of a decades-long plan envisioned by TCF’s Sydney Macy, who worked with former Governor Roy Romer and his administration,” said Justin Spring TCF Colorado and Southwest Director. “It was backed by leaders from Douglas County and Great Outdoors Colorado—a conservation legacy that is today entrusted to CCALT to carry forward.”
Secondly, The JA Ranch conserved property adds to the more than 21,500 acres of permanently conserved ranch land already under CCALT conservation easements in Douglas County alone. JA Ranch’s shared boundary with CCALT’s Greenland Ranch conservation easement forms a significant stretch of undeveloped and open ranch land along Interstate 25. Grasslands, forests, ponds, and creeks support the working agricultural operation and a variety of wildlife populations in this larger conserved landscape. As a statewide funder that preserves and enhances Colorado’s open landscapes and original funding partner of JA Ranch, GOCO also recognized CCALT as JA Ranch’s new land stewardship partner.
“Thank you to CCALT, its partners, and the Ritchie family for ensuring that the conservation values of JA Ranch are protected for future generations,” said GOCO Executive Director Jackie Miller. “Our gratitude for your commitment to Colorado, its open spaces, and its working lands only grows with time.”
The JA Ranch conservation easement is in an area of Colorado that has seen steady and significant urban development between Denver and Colorado Springs this century. CCALT’s partnership with the JA Ranch carries on an important role of preserving this working Colorado landscape that offers views of open spaces and agricultural lands to thousands of people that travel Interstate 25 daily.
About the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust
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 families in the protection of more than 765,000 acres.
About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 8.8 million acres, including 288,500 acres in Colorado. conservationfund.org
About Douglas County
Douglas County is committed to preserving its unique historic, cultural, and natural heritage. More than 46% of all the land in Douglas County is public or protected land. Douglas County Commissioners focus on the county’s high quality of land, air, water, and wildlife by protecting habitat and being responsible stewards of the county’s history and heritage.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,600 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.