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Agriculture has been practiced for millennia, but that doesn’t mean farmers and ranchers have stopped innovating since the invention of barbed wire.

This is clear in Chaffee County, where The Central Colorado Conservancy Agricultural Programs Manager Natalie Allio is partnering with the U.S. Forest Service and local ranchers to launch a pilot virtual fencing project.

Cattle drive along the Ute Trail. photo credit-S. Hobbs

Virtual fencing is a new technology for the grazing world. It uses a network of radio towers and programmable animal collars to set virtual fence boundaries. The Conservancy received a Chaffee Common Ground grant earlier this spring to purchase the first set of towers for the region.

The Conservancy reports that local ranchers are excited to try the technology, which will enable them to manage livestock to benefit soil health, protect riparian areas, target noxious weeds, mitigate wildfire risk and improve forest health.

Ranchers also hope virtual fencing will mitigate conflicts between livestock and recreational land users. Such conflicts are on the rise as recreation booms in Chaffee County, bringing visitors who are not always familiar with or respectful of fence and gate etiquette.

While virtual fencing can’t replicate the value of a rancher riding out to check on a herd, it can help ranchers meet new and old challenges, and ensure that they will be riding fence lines and tending to the land long into the future, rather than becoming an iconic vision from the past.

Sunnyside irrigation ditch: improvements to increase agricultural and watershed resilience

Here in Chaffee County and throughout the region, without irrigation water, the ditch networks that deliver it and the farmers and ranchers who manage it, we would live in a completely different landscape.

Keeping irrigation water on working lands is critical to watershed and ecosystem health.

Ditch maintenance is critically important to keep irrigation ditches functional. Photo courtesy of Central Colorado Conservancy.

This was one of the main priorities to come out of a locally driven watershed planning effort by the Upper Arkansas Watershed Partnership, led by the Conservancy’s Natalie Allio.

With support from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Allio worked with the local agricultural community to identify key issues, challenges, and opportunities their operations face around water.

This process identified Sunnyside Ditch as a high priority for infrastructure improvements and an opportunity to demonstrate how improving water efficiency can bolster agricultural and watershed resilience.

The project, which will improve water delivery along the ditch, aims to engage other irrigators and water stakeholders in planning efforts and wider conversations around supply, abandonment, infrastructure, augmentation, climate adaptation, and development.