Black-footed ferret reintroduction recognized with Larimer County Environmental Stewardship Awards

The Board of Larimer County Commissioners announced Dec. 8 the 2014 Larimer County Environmental Stewardship Awards. These awards, began in 1995, are given each year to honor the environmental efforts of county residents, businesses and organizations. Winning programs are innovative and proactive, and show exceptional effort and concern for stewardship of the Larimer County environment.

The county’s volunteer-citizen Environmental and Science Advisory Board reviews the nominations and makes recommendations to the Commissioners who determine the recipients. These are the 2014 Larimer County Environmental Stewardship Award winners:

• The City of Fort Collins Utilities and Natural Areas Departments, for their black-footed ferret reintroduction program at the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Meadow Springs Ranch. Black-footed ferrets were thought to be extinct until a small population was discovered in 1981. The City of Fort Collins worked in collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department to plan and implement the reintroduction of captive-bred ferrets. The ferrets live in prairie dog colonies – which provide their main source of food.

The long term impact will be to have self-sustaining black-footed ferret populations that positively contribute to the ecosystem of the area. These animals will be significant in the recovery of their species in the wild. A potential long term impact may include management of an ecosystem that produces wild young ferrets that can be transported to other sites with suitable habitat for additional re-introductions. As noted in the nomination for this award, environmental stewardship is an ethical approach and mentality to managing today’s environmental resources in a manner that will provide future generations with a quality environment that includes a place for a wild population of one of the rarest mammals on Earth.

• James Gano, for his strong personal commitment and sustained effort training volunteers for conservation activities related to the Nature Conservancy’s Phantom Canyon Preserve. Gano directs the Phantom Canyon Special Projects Crew, a group that he organized in 2003. A wide range of projects were implemented by the crew in 2014 include a sustainable dirt road design and maintenance project to capture water and minimized erosion, leading nature hikes on the Preserve, repair and improvement of structures on the Preserve and training interns.

The skills necessary to address these tasks include planning, teaching, motivation, and at times hard physical labor. These activities are a great benefit to the Nature Conservancy in their efforts to manage the Phantom Canyon Preserve. In addition to his work related to Phantom Canyon, Gano participates in up to six patrols each year on national forest lands for the U.S. Forest Service through the Poudre Wilderness Volunteers. Gano is a committed leader with the ability to draw others into the work and thereby create a sustainable effort to preserve the environment beyond the present.

• The Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed, for their effective efforts to improve and maintain the ecological health of the Poudre River Watershed through community collaboration. Begun initially as an informal network following the Hewlett Gulch and High Park fires in the summer of 2012, initial activities focused on the identification of restoration needs, finding funding, training volunteers, and completing the first projects.

Based on the success of those early efforts, the group made the transition to a formal nonprofit — the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed. The Coalition brings together a wide range of stakeholders to plan and implement watershed activities in order to reduce the risk of future catastrophic wildfires and to address other important watershed needs. A diverse group of stakeholders including natural resource professionals, scientist, landowners, and government agency representatives have come together in the spirit of cooperation and community benefit. Their efforts continue to provide important resources for fundraising, planning, technical assistance, training and volunteers. As noted in the nomination for this award, the Coalition is a crystallization of the shared community spirit present in Larimer County. And for full disclosure, Larimer County government is a voting member of the coalition.

A complete list of Larimer County’s Environmental Stewardship Awards for 1995 to 2013 is located on the Virtual Courthouse, Larimer County’s web site at http://larimer.org/boards/eab/Awards/env_awards_winners.htm.

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