CFO 2024 Land Steward Appreciation Award

The CFO Board of Directors created a new CFO award recognizing outstanding land stewardship in Colorado. As recorded in the 2024 board meeting minutes, the Land Stewardship Appreciation Award recognizes individuals or entities who support significant conservation initiatives on Colorado land they own or manage, seeking to maintain habitat that benefits Colorado’s birdlife.

The inaugural Land Steward Appreciation Award went to the May Ranch, a family-owned ranch near Lamar, CO. Plaques were presented to Dallas May and Jonathan Reitz at the Annual Meeting of CFO during the 2024 Convention in Lamar. Many members of the May family were also in attendance.

May Ranch Land Steward Appreciation Award Nomination Letter

Nominated by Peter Burke

I nominate the May Ranch as the recipient of the inaugural CFO Land Stewardship Award. The ranch is operated by four generations of the May family who purchased the land in 2012 after leasing it for decades. At nearly 20,000 acres, the land would support a herd of up to 1,200 cattle, however, the Mays limit the herd to roughly 600 head to, “maintain a sense of balance and harmony with nature.”

That philosophy is readily apparent. The Mays take pride in the American Beaver population that slows the flow of the Big Sandy Creek, creating habitat for diverse wildlife including the threatened Black Rail, which is abundant on the ranch. Thriving prairie dog colonies made May Ranch one of the few private properties approved for the release of endangered black-footed ferrets. Declared extinct in 1979, today this cousin to European and Asian polecats is part of a captive breeding program managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The ferrets feed primarily on prairie dogs, which are plentiful on the May Ranch. This results in large numbers of unoccupied burrows and may explain why Burrowing Owls are so plentiful on the ranch. There may be as many as 2,000 owls on the May Ranch, making it one of, if not the, densest populations in North America.

A fire burned 9,000 acres of the May Ranch in 2022, further testing the May family’s resolve for balancing the needs of nature with their financial obligations. Among the many challenges wrought by the fire was the loss of more than 60 miles of fencing, valued at roughly $1.5 million. The Mays are replacing those barbed wire fences with a unique, three-wire fence that includes a white, high-visibility top wire to ensure animals see the fence, and a non-barbed lower wire, to prevent injuries to deer, pronghorn and other animals that choose to pass under the fence rather than jump over it. One of many voluntary actions to minimize the impact of ranching on wildlife.

The May Ranch has been designated as an International Important Birding Area by the National Audubon Society. In 2021, it won a Leopold Award, given to those who, “inspire others with their voluntary conservation efforts on private working land.”

A Unique Partnership in Conservation

Dallas May is a commissioner for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the May family has worked closely with CPW for decades. Jonathan Reitz is a wildlife biologist for CPW and has been working closely with the May family to implement strategies that have contributed to the remarkable development of this land. Working together, they built underwater structures to simulate beaver dams, slowing the flow of water that in turn supported the formation of marshland habitats used by many birds, most notably Black Rails.

Using novel “regenerative grazing” practices that simulate the historical movements of American Bison across the land, stomping on weeds and fertilizing native grasses, the May Ranch is cultivating the original prairie ecology of the West. The Denver Botanic Gardens conducted an audit of the May Ranch and documented 90 species of plants found nowhere else in Prowers County.

The prairie ecosystem supports thriving prairie dog towns that in turn are a food source for other predators. Apart from black-footed ferrets, the ranch is home to a naturally balanced community of coyotes, bobcats, badgers, swift foxes and more. Despite this, Dallas May claims that there hasn’t been a single incidence of cattle predation on his ranch in over four decades.

Dallas May has shown that cattle ranching can not just coexist but thrive together with nature. His willingness to partner with CPW and jointly develop, test and implement ranching practices and land management techniques supporting outstanding cattle production while preserving the land and safeguarding endangered and threatened species.

Colorado Field Ornithologists would like to recognize the May Ranch for its outstanding land stewardship and present awards to Dallas May and Jonathan Reitz for their unique partnership that has achieved such outstanding results.

CFO Awards are selected by the CFO Board of Directors based on nominations for CFO members and community members. Learn more about CFO Awards and the past recipients on our Awards page.

The inaugural Land Steward Appreciation Award went to the May Ranch. Plaques were presented by CFO President Chuck Hundertmark to Dallas May and Jonathan Reitz at the Annual Meeting of CFO during the 2024 Convention in Lamar.
Many members of the May family attended the CFO Banquet where Dallas May and Jonathon Reitz were the keynote speakers.