Habitat work statewide coming thanks to CPW, Land Board, Turkey Federation

KIM, Colo. – Work to improve habitat for a variety of wildlife will now be conducted year-round across Colorado thanks to a unique new public-private partnership between Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Colorado State Land Board (CSLB) and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF).

The three organizations have joined forces to buy a “hydro ax” which resembles a large farm threshing machine. But instead of removing seed from husks, the hydro ax pulverizes large bushes and trees such as junipers and piñon pine that grow like weeds and encroach on grasslands and other wildlife habitat.

The hydro ax agreement was announced in June with a demonstration at the vast Chancellor Ranch east of Trinidad in the canyonlands of Las Animas and Baca counties.

Large junipers were devoured in minutes by the hydro ax – its large, spinning teeth chewing up branches and spitting out big splinters of wood. With a single operator in an air-conditioned cab, the hydro ax did in a few hours work that typically would require several days by a crew working in the field with chainsaws and mulching machines.

Dan Prenzlow, CPW Southeast Regional manager, praised the partnership that resulted in the Land Board purchasing the hydro ax and turning it over to CPW to operate and maintain under the daily supervision of the NWTF staff.

“We work collaboratively with both the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Land Board on all kinds of different projects, but this one is special,” Prenzlow said. “This is a very expensive piece of equipment to buy. It’s expensive to run and it takes a lot maintenance. But there’s no piece of equipment that will touch it to improve habitat, basically instantaneously, for wildlife and livestock.”

The idea for the collaboration came as the partners discussed a mutual problem, said Greg Ochis, assistant director at the CSLB, which owns and manages 3 million acres of trust land across Colorado, much of which is leased for grazing or public recreation such as hunting.

“We realized that we had a common issue: we were hiring contractors to do tree treatments on our properties and it was very expensive,” Ochis said. “We could never do as much treatment as we wanted to in a given year.”

Sharing responsibilities made the purchase possible and a key to the deal was the Turkey Federation’s willingness to handle day-to-day administrative details and providing support from a biologist to map projects for the hydro ax to tackle and measure its success.

Tom Spezze, the NWTF’s conservation field manager for eight southwestern states, praised the partnership as unique nationwide.

“Nowhere do we have a three-way partnership between a state board of land commission and a state wildlife agency on a landscape-scale conservation project like this,” Spezze said. He said his non-profit organization saw the project as a way to advance its mission of conservation of  wild turkey and preservation of our hunting heritage.

“With the State Land Board controlling 3 million acres in the state and Colorado Parks and Wildlife having roughly 1 million acres of state wildlife areas, this is an opportunity to really move our ‘Save the Habitat, Save the Hunt’ needle for conservation and for access in a substantial way,” Spezze said.

Ochis said the hydro ax will remove juniper on Chancellor Ranch, improving habitat for bighorn sheep, which like open sightlines across canyons. Spezze envisions it removing brush that destroys grasslands favored by wild turkey. Prenzlow said it will transform state wildlife areas for big game species like deer, elk and antelope as well as benefiting quail habitat, songbirds and threatened and endangered species like sage grouse and lesser prairie chickens.

Prenzlow said the hydro ax will have a dramatic impact on habitat improvement in Colorado.

“This wouldn’t have happened without the partnership,” Prenzlow said. “To my knowledge this has never been done nationally. We’re excited about that. We never mind when Colorado leads the nation.”

The men representing the agencies participating in the new partnership pose in front of their new hydro ax. They are, from left, Tom Spezze, the National Wild Turkey Federation’s conservation field manager, Greg Ochis, assistant director of the Colorado State Land Board, and Dan Prenzlow, manager of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Southeast Region.

See this hydro ax in action in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqLNFWEWbiI

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