By: Leopold Conservation Award Program
Jim and Jo Stanko’s ranch, near Steamboat Springs, has been in the family since 1907. Their love for their land is evident in that Jim cites the ranch’s centennial anniversary as one of the greatest accomplishments of his life. Jim and Jo manage the ranch with assistance from their son, Pat, his wife, Jan, and their two children.
The Stankos have utilized several conservation initiatives on their ranch. In the face of an incredible amount of development, Jim and Jo placed 143 acres of their land into a conservation easement. The easement, which serves as irrigated hay meadow and spring calving grounds, is home to several wildlife species, including bald eagles, sandhill cranes, fox, moose, deer, egrets, and rainbow and cutthroat trout. They manage water distribution through innovative irrigation methods, including an earthen dam; which created a three-acre lake that provides water for cattle and wildlife, and helps prevent soil erosion from runoff. The Stankos also place a high priority on range management. Some of their techniques include rotational grazing and a vigorous weed control program that utilizes a combination of chemical, mechanical, and physical methods. The program includes preservation of areas of sagebrush to promote sage-grouse habitat.
Perhaps most impressive, however, is the Stankos’ commitment to taking conservation beyond their ranch’s borders, which is not surprising given the fact that they are both former teachers. The Stanko Family, for 100 years, has dedicated itself to a high level of community involvement.
“You look at any of these people that have the century ranches, it’s not that they kept the ranches going for a century, it’s that they were involved in the community,” Jim Stanko said. “ I think that’s just as important as talking about raising grain and cows.”
Jim and Jo were co-founders of the Southside 4-H Club in the late 1970s. Jo is a past president of the Colorado CattleWomen and Jim served on the State and Federal Lands Committees. The Stankos welcome countless domestic and international visitors to their ranch. They host Ag 101 classes for new landowners and community leaders and open their ranch to Ranch Days classes where third and fourth grade students learn about agriculture. Jo was the originator of this program in Routt County and organized it for 10 years. They also have offered their ranch for research projects by academic institutions, such as Colorado State University.