CFO 2024 Landowner Appreciation Award

CFO recognizes those who graciously allow access for birders to see significant rarities or interesting birds on their property with the Landowner Appreciation Award. In 2024, CFO recognized the Phillips Family, long-time managers of Chico Basin Ranch, with this award. The award plaque was accepted by Linda Hodges on behalf of the Phillips Family during the CFO annual meeting held during the 2024 Convention in Lamar.

Landowner Appreciation Award Nomination Letter

Nominated by Linda Hodges, on behalf of Aiken Audubon

March 19, 2024
CFO Friends,

On behalf of Aiken Audubon, I would like to nominate the Phillips family for CFO’s Landowner Appreciation Award. Duke III, Duke IV, and Tess Leach have managed Chico Basin Ranch since 1999.

In 2000, the family sought out Rocky Mtn Bird Observatory (now Bird Conservancy of the Rockies) to initiate a bird banding station on the ranch. RMBO/BCR has continued the station and education program over the many years, which has been funded by the Phillipses.

At the same time, free rein of the entire 87,000-acre ranch was offered to the birding community, for a small daily fee. This is the only Colorado State Land Board property where such open access has been allowed, which shows what a remarkably generous policy it is. Chico is known as a migratory oasis, with 355 bird species recorded on the property, making it the state’s largest hotspot. Numerous birders – including Europeans – have been privileged to see such species as LeConte’s Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit, Acadian Flycatcher, at least five species of owl, and numerous warblers on the ranch. All thanks to the belief of the Phillips family that the land is to be shared.

700+ birders visit Chico annually, along with an additional 2000 schoolchildren who are introduced to our avian friends and taught about habitat and its preservation. Leading the way is the Ranchlands, which practices holistic and regenerative land management, and has won numerous awards, including:

  • COLORADO PARKS & WILDLIFE, 2019: Partner of the Year
  • PALMER LAND TRUST, 2019: Environmental Stewardship Award
  • SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION, 2017: Leopold Conservation Award Nominee
  • COLORADO PARKS & WILDLIFE, 2008: Landowner of the Year
  • SOCIETY FOR RANGE MANAGEMENT, 2003: Excellence in Rangeland Conservation Award

Aiken Audubon has been fortunate to have an excellent relationship with the Phillips family, and we’ve been thanked for our patronage with chuckwagon meals on the ranch. Ranchlands has not only welcomed numerous birding festival trips to the property, it has also financially supported the local Pikes Peak Birding and Nature Festival. In addition, when needing an overview of the ranch and its habitat – to better advocate for Chico’s protection – we were given an aerial tour. Not many ranchers would be so accommodating.

It’s truly difficult to express how hospitable the Phillips family has been to the birding community, as well as how greatly they’re appreciated for their sustainable grazing practices by the larger ranching community. In November of 2023, when Ranchlands bid to retain the lease at Chico, 24 organizations and individuals wrote letters of support, stressing the “exemplary”, “unparalleled”, and “progressive” work the Phillipses have done at Chico. Supporters included the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, and Audubon Rockies.

Aiken Audubon can think of no landowner more deserving of your Landowner Appreciation Award than the Phillips family, and we are grateful for the opportunity to nominate them.

With thanks for your consideration,
Linda Hodges, on behalf of Aiken Audubon

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 award plaque was accepted by Linda Hodges on behalf of the Phillips Family during the CFO annual meeting held during the 2024 Convention in Lamar.