A team of 20 Campo School students armed with sharp eyes and nets helped scientists learn more about a rare Eastern Plains fish community last week by participating in an aquatic life survey on the East Fork of Carrizzo Creek as it runs through the Sikes Ranch in southeastern Colorado.
Working alongside Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists, the students collected fish stunned by a mild electric shock, netted them and then recorded data such as species, size and location. Fish were also collected using trap nets, dip nets and seines. The information will be used to help develop management goals for the property.
“This is a fun science project that gave students an experience that will have a long-lasting impact,” said Chris Pague, lead scientist for the Nature Conservancy of Colorado, which partnered with the state agency on the project. “The Sikes Ranch is a unique piece of property with amazing pools and streams. Some of the fish and plants found here are not found anywhere else in the state.”
The 7,100-acre ranch, located between the small communities of Pritchett and Kim, consists of shortgrass prairie, riparian woodlands, rocky outcrops, shrublands, marshes and an Eastern Plains stream. The headwaters of the East Fork of Carrizo Creek provides a critical and unique riparian corridor for migrating waterfowl and amphibians as well as native prairie fishes. The property also has three crop circles irrigated from well water that provide feeding areas for mule deer and white-tailed deer as well as several species of birds including quail and lesser prairie chicken.
Management goals could include protecting portions of the water with fences and managing grazing to ensure water is delivered to livestock while protecting the vegetation and stream banks.
“Without the efforts of landowners like the Sikes, Coloradans would not enjoy the remarkable wildlife heritage we have today,” said District Wildlife Manager Aaron Bartleson of Springfield. “This research will paint a clear picture of how amphibians and fish are doing in this area. We can use this data to work with the Sikes family and the Conservancy to help protect this important habitat.”
The stream survey by the Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife is part of a broader conservation effort to protect the Sikes Ranch and provide recreation for Coloradoans. The Nature Conservancy will place a conservation easement on 7,100 acres of the ranch, which will help support the family’s bottom line while precluding future development. Once that’s completed, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will place a public access easement on the land, which means people can hike to observe wildlife and hunt in the area.
“We’re thrilled we can provide this opportunity to connect people with the landscape,” added Bartleson “Some of life’s best memories are made outdoors.”
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have helped protect 130 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org/Colorado.