Federal fire restrictions in Garfield County start Friday | PostIndependent.com

Federal fire restrictions in Garfield County start Friday

Federal fire restrictions will take effect in Garfield County Friday.

The stage 1 restrictions, which prohibit fires outside of developed areas, extend to Bureau of Land Management-administered lands in the county.

BLM is basing fire restriction decisions on local conditions, including moisture measurements in vegetation and other factors. The White River National Forest is not initiating fire restrictions, nor is BLM for lands in Eagle and Pitkin counties, although officials warn fire danger is still present in those areas.

“While we have received some moisture in this area over the past few weeks, we are drier than normal and fire danger has reached high levels at elevations below about 8,000 feet,” Karl Mendonca, field manager for the BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office, said in a media release.

Fire restrictions have been in place since July 22 in the BLM Grand Junction Field Office and Mesa County, where crews on Thursday announced containment of the Gibbler Gulch wildland fire at 25 acres.

In Moffat County, two wildland fires started burning Wednesday afternoon, the Craig Daily Press reported. One of those fires, located south of Colowyo Mine, was burning at approximately 30 acres.

And in Dinosaur National Monument, crews continue to battle the Bench Fire, which was sparked by lightning Friday.

That fire is holding at 570 acres and is approximately 85 percent contained, according to a news release from the National Parks Service.

Under the restrictions taking effect in Garfield County Friday, campfires are only allowed within designated fire grates in developed campgrounds — fire pans and rock campfire rings are not acceptable. Fires of any type, including charcoal, are prohibited outside of developed areas.

Smoking is only acceptable within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or in a barren area free of vegetation.

Welding and use of an open-torch flame is prohibited outside of areas that have been cleared of vegetation, and all internal combustion engines must have a working spark arresting device.

Use of explosive materials also is prohibited.

The restrictions will remain in place until further notice from the BLM. Violating the restrictions is punishable by a fine of as much as $100,000, a prison sentence of no more than 12 months or both, according to BLM.

Violators responsible for starting wildfires also will face restitution costs for fire suppression.

Authorities withholding name of driver killed on I-70

Authorities are waiting until next of kin is notified before releasing the name of an Oregon man who died Wednesday after being ejected from his vehicle on Interstate 70 in Rifle.

Law enforcement is still investigating a possible cause, but it appears the vehicle, a 2013 Jaguar XKR, went off the interstate, then back on the interstate before rolling several times, Rifle Police Chief John Dyer said Thursday morning.

The driver did not appear to be wearing a seat belt.

Eastbound I-70 was closed for about an hour, ending shortly after 5 p.m., following the accident.

Rifle police, Colorado State Patrol and the Colorado Department of Transportation responded the crash, and the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office helped with traffic control.

The Post Independent will update this story as more details become available.

Wine Ink column: Drink the old stuff first

Due to the great largess of friends and people in the wine business, I have been afforded the opportunity to taste some wines that have a little age on them. Not ancient wines, or even wines from, say, before I took my first steps, but rather some wines that had their genesis in the summers of my youth in the 1970s and 1980s.

First, let me say that when I can sniff, sip and contemplate a wine from a time gone by, I love to try to remember my personal state at that time. For example, while once looking at the burnt-orange rim of a ’71 Domaine Gros, Richbourg, I recalled that I was entering high school as the grapes in that glass were being harvested. My go-to wine at the time, if you could call it that, was Mateus Rose, a slightly sparkling Portuguese number that I had read was popular with Rod Stewart, who had recently released his third solo LP “Every Picture Tells a Story,” with the hit “Maggie May.”

But I digress, as anyone who knows what an LP is will surely tell you.

Savor the past

The point is that for many of us, the opportunity to taste the wines from the historic vintages of the past is one that should be savored. Old wines — similar to old people — have achieved texture, character and beauty that is a result of having been afforded time to mature.

Not all old wines, of course. But there are special wines sourced from grapes born in vintages in which the sun and the seasons smiled softly upon them and were crafted by winemakers whose deft hands gently persuaded them to perfection. These are wines that have been nurtured by owners who kept them in pristine condition for decades — never too warm, nor too cold. Just right, as they awaited the moment when the twisting of the cork and the rush of air through the bottle’s neck would announce that it was time for the wine to be drunk.

My greatest old wine experience came from a bottle of Syrah from the Northern Rhone. Hermitage, to be precise. And it was not all that old. But the 1990 Hermitage Cuvee Cathelin, Domaine Jean-Louis Chave was one of those wines that demonstrated why having the patience to cellar and keep a wine for some time — in this case two decades — can be so rewarding. This was a wine from an outstanding vintage in a place that is as regarded as a mecca for lovers of Syrah.

‘The old is better’

J.L. Chave Hermitage is a family-owned Domaine based in Mauve, France, that has been growing vines and making wines in the northern Rhone since 1481. Throughout those 500 years, the responsibility for the grapes and the fine wines that are made from them has passed from father to son, from one generation to the next.

The reins and that responsibility are now held in the hands of a brilliant winemaker named Jean-Louis Chave, who is widely regarded as the 21st century’s master of Syrah. This wine was made by Jean-Louis’s father, Gerard, who was the 15th generation of the family to be involved in the production of wines.

The Cuvee Cathelin is only made in exceptional years. I remember the nose was still fresh with floral notes, as though I were smelling a field at the base of the mountain where the fruit was grown. It was complex, structured, fruity, leathery, smoky, spicy and rocky. There were berries, peppers, a little chocolate and a hint of vanilla. In short, there were all of those things that make great Syrah such a pleasure to drink. The intensity and richness were overwhelming. For more than an hour, I savored my glass of wine and observed subtle changes with each sip.

I still have the empty bottle in my wine rack as a reminder of the experience, though the moment is etched in memory. While I do not know the Bible well, I do know a passage or two that relate to wine. This one, Luke 5:39, kind of sums up the experience:

“No man also having drunk old wine straightway desires new: for he said, The old is better.”

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab, Vino. He can be reached at malibukj@aol.com.

Chamber Chat: A big week for Rifle

Greetings from your new interim president/CEO of the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce.

As we dry our tears from saying goodbye to Andrea Maddalone, we also are looking forward to an amazing Garfield County Fair and Rodeo week starting Aug. 1 through Aug. 7. This is a great opportunity to celebrate our community with events and activities for the entire family.

As your chamber, we will be hosting the Garfield County Fair parade on Aug. 6 at 10 a.m. The theme of the parade is “Back to Our Roots” and we are accepting parade entry registrations through Aug. 3. This a great, inexpensive way to get exposure to hundreds of people for you, your business or organization. Parade entries are $25.

Starting at 9 a.m. the morning of the parade at the chamber office on 11th Street and Railroad Avenue, we will have multiple vendor booths set up ready to serve you. If you are interested in being a vendor, please contact us — space is limited.

This year we will also be featuring an additional parade announcer booth at the chamber office for parade goers, in addition to the announcer at Heinze Park. Please come and watch the parade with us.

On a housekeeping note, we have been getting a lot of inquiries on road closures for the parade so I wanted to address those here. Road closures from 9:50 a.m. to approximately 11:30 a.m. are as follows:

Railroad Avenue from Third Street to 16th Street.

All Railroad Avenue through streets.

Whiteriver Avenue will not be closed, however, it is the back route for all parade floats returning from Railroad Avenue.

We apologize in advance for any inconvenience these closures cause.

We are working closely with the city of Rifle and the Rifle Police Department to get the word out and make this closure as brief and safe as possible.

We hope you enjoy an amazing Garfield County Fair and Rodeo week in Rifle and you are able to take advantage of the great opportunities being provided to engage in and celebrate your community.

We encourage you to continue to shop local and support your local businesses by purchasing all of your needed items within Garfield County.

See you there!

Kasey Nispel is the interim president and CEO of the Rifle Area Chamber of Commerce. To contact the chamber, call 970-625-2085 or visit www.riflechamber.com.

Going ‘Beyond the Screen’

In the digital age, when most people can connect to others around the world using the phone in their pocket, it is all too easy to become distracted and disengaged. The tendency can lead to cyberbullying, digital dependency and other negative consequences.

Those are not the statements of a high school guidance counselor or college researcher; rather, they are the idea behind a new mural painted along the Rifle Creek Trail underpass near 16th Street.

A team of 12 young artists from area high schools have been working, under the guidance of instructors Mandy Klauck and Dylan Bentz, on Rifle’s newest piece of public art since early June. The mural, titled “Beyond the Screen,” will be publicly unveiled at a presentation Wednesday at 5 p.m.

The project is a joint effort between Youth Zone and the Bookcliffs Arts Center in Rifle.

It was made possible by a $75,000 grant from the Embrey Family Foundation, which cites “arts for social change” as one of its passions.

The money went toward paying the students and instructors, along with the supplies and the work of Susan Drinker, a Carbondale-based photographer who will produce a short video feature on the project.

The mural, which measures 68 by 9 feet and depicts open skies adjacent to bubbles filled with city-like skylines, is more a societal statement on how technology impacts our lives than a beautification project.

“There’s a balance,” Breanna Ballesteros, a recent graduate of Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs, said recently while pausing her work on the mural. She, like the other students involved, recognizes the role social media plays in people’s lives.

The point was made clear early on when the 12 selected artists were asked to come to a meeting with ideas of issues that effect teenagers. At least five of them brought up the idea of technology, said Klauck, who teaches art at Rifle High School.

From there, other issues, including dependency and depression, were woven into the piece and the team began sketching out the mural.

While it might seem surprising that a group of teenagers, who are part of a generation regularly criticized for their alleged smart-phone dependency, are aware of how big a role technology plays in their lives, Klauck said she is not surprised at all.

“Every person I’ve talked to in the community is surprised at how self aware the kids are,” she said. “I know about the self awareness … it comes out in art projects in school.”

Part of the goal of the mural is to spread that awareness in the community.

“There’s a lot of distractions,” said Savanna Fender, who will be a senior at Coal Ridge High School.

She noted the recent popularity of “Pokemon Go” as another example of how people can be consumed with technology.

Public art might seem like an unusual project for Youth Zone, a nonprofit that has provided services to area youth and families for more than 40 years, said Lori Mueller, executive director.

“It’s a specific project and we haven’t necessarily done a specific project like this,” but at the most basic level Youth Zone strives to engage children and teenagers, who might otherwise not be engaged, with their community, Mueller said.

As evident through watching the students work, the mural project accomplishes Youth Zone’s core mission, she added.

“They spoke to a social issue, and that first and foremost is what Youth Zone’s mission is.”

Silt to celebrate HeyDays

Silt HeyDays is almost here and organizers see this year’s event as an opportunity to showcase current happenings and what awaits the town in the future, all while paying homage to its history.

The annual event, which features live music, games and fun for both young and old, gets underway Friday night at the Stoney Ridge Pavilion with a performance by Blackout, a tribute-band performing hits by the rock group Scorpions. Rick Aluise and the Corporation Band will open starting at 6 p.m. Fireworks will follow the show.

Tickets for the Friday night concert are $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children when purchased in advance at townofsilt.org or Silt Town Hall, located at 231 N. Seventh St. Ticket prices are and additional $2 at the gate.

With a theme of “forging our future,” this year’s event — aside form offering a fun-filled weekend — will focus on efforts made by the town in recent years.

“As Silt continues to grow, the town has been striving to be proactive and provide amenities that not only encourage further growth, but that also provide its citizens a place to live that they can be proud of and that brings others to our town to enjoy,” organizers said in a release.

Some of that current work includes the ongoing beautification of Main Street, stadium lighting that will soon be installed at the Stoney Ridge baseball field, a revamped river park and the recently opened Interstate 70 pedestrian underpass trail, as well as other new developments and projects.

Saturday’s festivities gear up early with a pancake breakfast starting at 7 a.m. in Stoney Ridge Park. The Leonard Curry Trio will perform a blend of bluegrass, folk and more leading up to annual parade at 10 a.m.

The parade at last year’s HeyDays, which also served as Silt’s centennial celebration, drew hundreds of people, and led others to remark at the sizable crowds lining the streets, said Peggy Swank, a member of the Silt HeyDays committee.

This parade starts at Cactus Valley Elementary School and heads east on Grand Avenue to Ninth Street, where the route turns north and makes its way to Stoney Ridge Park, located at 648 N. Seventh Street.

Games, music and activities continue throughout the day both in Stoney Ridge and the Silt Historical Park, located at 707 Orchard Ave. Along with the horseshoe tournament earlier in the day, a corn hole tournament was added to the day’s activities. There is a $5 entry fee and the winner will take home a brand new corn hole set. Second and third place will bring home cash prizes, and a portion of the entry proceeds will benefit the Silt Historical Society.

Diamond Empire Band will close out the day with some country rock starting at 6 p.m. at the Stoney Ridge Pavilion. The concert is free.

Sunday starts at a faster pace — at least for some — with the seventh-annual HeyDay Hobble 5K race at 8 a.m. The race starts and ends at the Silt Historical Park.

The eighth-annual Silt Heyday Car Show runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Grand Valley Days shortens to 1 day

One of the region’s longest running annual celebrations returns to Parachute Saturday with an abbreviated schedule.

The 108th Grand Valley Days celebration gets underway at 7 a.m. starting with a pancake breakfast at Grand Valley United Methodist Church on Parachute Avenue. A day filled with family fun, including a parade and rodeo, will follow the breakfast.

Unlike in previous years, this year’s celebration will be limited to one day. The change was made due to the loss of some experienced board members and difficult financial times, said Dave Devanney, with the Grand Valley Parks Association.

Organizers hope to return the event to its two-day format in the future and have no plans of dropping the “s” from days. However, this year the decision was made to cut the second day in order to try and focus on generating sponsorships.

Even with the programming change, there is still plenty to do, Devanney said.

Prior to the start of the annual parade at 10 a.m., Beasley Park will host a smoked turkey auction, sponsored by the Grand Valley Historical Society.

Speaking before Parachute trustees earlier this month, Devanney attested to the greatness of the turkeys, which are being donated by Rib City.

They “days of olde” parade will start at the intersection of Third Street and Parachute Avenue. Each year the parade honors a resident or group of residents for their commitment to the community by selecting them as grand marshal.

This year, Parachute Mayor Roy McClung, a lifelong resident whose great grandparents homesteaded on Parachute creek in the 1880s, will serve as grand marshal — a recognition that he said is an honor.

McClung, who works as a packaging supervisor at Natural Soda on Piceance Creek, said he loves living in a small town where his family has deep roots. Aside from aunts, uncles and cousins who live in or near Parachute, McClung has two daughters in high school and his eldest daughter lives in Rifle with her husband. His sister and her husband also live in Parachute and operate Old Mountain Gift and Jewelry.

“I love being in a small town in western Colorado,” McClung said. “The area is beautiful and it just feels like home to be here. … Knowing that my family has lived here for four generations and that my kids want to live here has a real sense of home to me.”

McClung, who handily won a recall effort earlier this year, also shared some optimism for the future.

“We live in an area with so much untapped opportunities for recreation and various businesses, it is exciting looking at what the area can become,” he said.

A bike rodeo and ice cream social will follow the parade. The rodeo, sponsored by the Parachute Police Department, will take place at the Grand Valley Center for Family Learning, and the social will be at the Beasley Park tent.

The rodeo gets underway at 7 p.m. in Cottonwood Park. General admission tickets are $10, while tickets for seniors are $5 and veterans and children 5 years old and younger get in for free. The evening ends with a street dance in Cottonwood Park from 9 p.m. to midnight.

Adding a twist to the fun, Shire of Draca-Mor, which Parachute Town Manager Stuart McArthur has described as a renaissance fair, will be in town Friday through Sunday.

After some initial confusion over scheduling space in Cottonwood Park, which also is hosting the renaissance fair, Devanney said he’s hoping the two events compliment one another and give the area a boost for the weekend.

“It’s going to be bigger and better with the medieval people and the cowboys and cowgirls,” he said.

More jurisdictions allowing OHVs on public roads

An ordinance paving the way for off-highway vehicle (OHV) use on designated county roads will likely come before Garfield County commissioners in the next two months.

If adopted, Garfield would join a growing list of counties in Colorado seizing what some see as a valuable economic opportunity.

“I’m hopeful that we can get this across the finish line in the near future,” said Fred Jarman, deputy county manager for Garfield County.

Jarman serves as the county administration’s point man on a committee evaluating the possibility of opening certain county roads for OHV use.

A draft ordinance is awaiting review of the committee, which also includes local enthusiasts and other county departments, including the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.

The hope is to bring something before commissioners in late August or early September, Jarman said.

Colorado counties and municipalities have increasingly started considering the OHV issue in order to catch up with other states in the West, said Scott Jones, an authorized representative with the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, an advocacy group that promotes pro-OHV legislation and regulation.

“Colorado was really lagging behind in this area,” according to Jones.

That fueled frustration among out-of-state OHV enthusiasts who came to Colorado without knowing OHV limitations.

As certain local jurisdictions moved ahead with their own regulations, the situation started to evolve into a quagmire where riders could unknowingly drop into a different county and be in violation of local rules, Jones said.

Several years of effort culminated in state legislation, signed into law earlier this year, that grants local jurisdictions the ability to require OHV operators to have a driver’s license or liability insurance.

Although far from perfect, the legislation helped bring more uniformity to Colorado OHV regulations than had previously existed, Jones said.

“It’s happening so quick at this point that we’re having trouble tracking it,” he said of the number of counties and municipalities addressing the OHV issue.

‘Nice little deal’

Tourism typically is the primary driver of efforts to expand OHV access to local roads.

Rio Blanco County, which is seen as a pioneer on the issue in western Colorado, continues to experience positive impacts from expanded OHV access, said Shawn Bolton, chairman of the Rio Blanco County commissioners.

Over the past four or five years, the county has designated certain roads for OHV use and worked with the towns of Meeker and Rangely to open up access in those municipalities.

The result, said Bolton, is that Rio Blanco County has become a “mecca of outdoor recreation for OHVs.”

Meeker now hosts the annual Wagon Wheel OHV Rendezvous, which saw approximately 187 registered participants this year, along with an OHV rodeo. Both events have grown every year, according to Bolton.

“It’s turned into a nice little deal for us,” he said.

Trying to capture some of that tourism and the accompanying economic benefits led Parachute trustees last Thursday to unanimously approve an ordinance allowing OHV use in town for the purpose of accessing recreation opportunities in the surrounding area.

At this point, the ordinance is more preparation than anything else.

The goal is to allow OHV riders to park in the town and ride out to recreation points, so a trip to the store would not meet the intent of the ordinance.

However, since the primary roadways leading out to trails and public land are county roads, Garfield County would have to change its policy before OHVs would be allowed on public roads in Parachute.

“We’re just kind of a step ahead,” said Stuart McArthur, town manager.

Parachute’s ordinance includes strict requirements pertaining to insurance, vehicle specifications and other regulations. OHV operators must be at least 16 years old and have both a valid driver’s license and liability insurance at least equal to the minimum required under state law. OHVs also must be registered with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Vehicles almost must have certain specifications to operate on local roads, including: a muffler in constant operation; a spark arrestor approved by the U.S. Forest Service; a braking system that meets specific capabilities; and others.

Safety a concern for some

Those requirements are intended to address safety concerns, one of the more consistent issues with expanding OHV access on public roads.

During a meeting in August of 2015, state lawmakers heard from several officials with Children’s Hospital of Colorado who voiced reservations about expanding OHV access on public roads. They presented a paper from the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, a nonprofit trade association, opposing on-road use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

“Permitting on-road use of ATVs, including modified ATVs, would be in conflict with manufacturers’ intention for their proper use, and would be contrary to federal safety requirements,” the letter reads.

From 1995 through 2014, the number of ATV rider deaths on public roads per year in the U.S. has fluctuated from a low of 102 in 1995 to a high of 377 in 2008, according to data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In 2014 there were 323 deaths.

However, local officials said OHV incidents on public roads are a rarity.

Bolton could only recall two incidents, one in Meeker several years ago and another during the OHV rodeo.

The vast majority of OHV riders who come to the county are very respectful, he said, but just like with most things in life there are always going to be a few people who do not abide by the rules.

Jones, of the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition, pointed to the support from county sheriffs across the state regarding the legislation approved earlier this year. While safety has been a continued concern during these discussions, once people dig into the data they don’t see large spikes in deaths in places that have increased OHV access, Jones added.

As for what regulations could be included in a future Garfield County ordinance, Jarman said he is waiting before releasing specific details, such as age and insurance requirements.

“No, we have not reached consensus yet,” he said, “but we’re getting pretty close.”

Library executive director search moves forward

The Garfield County Libraries began searching for an executive director last fall after longtime director Amelia Shelley stepped down to pursue an opportunity close to family in Vancouver, Washington. The search began with a focus on candidates from neighboring states. In May, two candidates were brought in for in-person interviews. After considerable deliberation, the Library board of trustees did not offer the position to either candidate.

The search then continued on a nationwide scale. Interim Executive Director Sandi Kister and board member Marilee Rippy traveled to Orlando, Florida, in June to recruit during the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference. Their efforts generated significant interest in the position, resulting in applications from librarians across the country. Seven of the candidates were interviewed via Skype by the library’s search committee, which was made up of members of the staff, board of trustees and the public. The committee has decided to bring in three outstanding candidates for in-person interviews.

“This is an exceptional library district with a highly productive, creative and successful staff, magnificent facilities and a supportive community,” said Kister. “We want to ensure that we provide an executive director who will capitalize on these advantages and lead us toward an even better future. We look forward to finding the right candidate for our district during this process.”

The first candidate, Amy Hanaway, comes from St. Louis, Missouri. She received her Master of Library Science from the University of Maryland, and is currently enrolled in ALA’s Certified Public Library Administrator program.

The second candidate is Esther Day from Waco, Texas. She has over 19 years of experience in libraries, and has been a library director in Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as Texas.

The final candidate, Dustin Fife, currently works for Utah Valley University. He was named a “Library Journal Mover and Shaker” in 2016, and is a past president of the Utah Library Association.

All three candidates will be touring the libraries on Aug. 3, and will have interviews with the board of trustees that evening. The interviews will begin at 6 p.m. at the New Castle Branch Library, and will each take approximately one hour. The interviews are open, and all members of the public are welcome to attend.

On Thursday, Aug. 4, the candidates will begin the day with additional meetings with staff members. They will then participate in a meet and greet from 5-6 p.m. at the New Castle Branch Library. All members of the public are encouraged to attend and get to know the candidates.

Following the meet and greet, the board of trustees will conduct a secondary interview with the candidates. This interview session is also open to the public.

We should eat more bison to preserve them

Massive bison herds used to be a staple of the Great Plains, until they were nearly hunted out of existence.

Now, with a new designation as the United States’ national mammal, bison ranchers argue that to conserve the species we have to eat them.

It’s an idea called “market-based conservation,” and it contends that humans are no good at saving species out of the goodness of our hearts, or motivated by some driving force of environmental justice. Instead, we create demand for an animal and then work hard to keep its population robust so we can gawk at it through binoculars, take pictures of it or, in the case of the American bison, eat it.

Greg Nott is an accidental bison rancher. He didn’t grow up on a farm. But in 2012, his wife, Tami, saw a herd of grazing bison on her way to Wyoming from their home in Longmont. She knew then she wanted to raise them.

“I was pretty opposed to it at first because my background is in (information technology),” Greg said.

Over four years they took steps to pivot from computers to bison. Greg kept his job in database management in Fort Collins and Tami still commutes a couple of times a week to Longmont doing finance for the couple’s church. In the off hours they raise bison, selling meat at nearby farmers markets. The Notts raise their small herd on a wide, grassy piece of prairie a few miles south of the Colorado-Wyoming border near Carr.

Their bison heifers are corralled behind a six-foot-tall barbed wire fence. In summer they lose their thick winter coats, looking slim and trim in their warm weather pelts. They take turns rolling around in the dirt, sending a small dust cloud into the sky.

“We have people asking, ‘Can we pet them?’ And we’re like, ‘No, please don’t,’” Greg said.

Tami agrees: “You get your hand in the wrong place, you get a horn.”

What the animals lack in calmness and domesticity, they make up for in the price of their meat. No longer relegated to novelty status, bison is in demand at restaurants and grocery stores. The National Bison Association reports sales in retail and restaurants have grown by more than 22 percent over the past two years, topping $340 million.

Yet the Notts say they didn’t just get into the business to make a buck. Part of their desire is to get the animals back on the land they historically roamed.

“In order to save this animal, we’re going to have to eat them,” Greg says.

That’s a sentiment Dave Carter shares. He’s the director of the National Bison Association, based in Westminster.

“I call it market-based conservation,” Carter said.

The idea got a boost recently when Congress named the animal America’s national mammal.

“I think the goal of this is to put bison on a stage to allow all of us that are connected with this animal to tell the story of bison,” Carter said.

MANY SUPPORTERS

The coalition that pushed for the designation included everyone from Native American groups to wildlife advocates to university foundations. Even the Boy Scouts jumped on board. Another flank of the coalition is made up of business people, from small-time ranch associations to Ted Turner, America’s most prolific bison rancher. They say by persuading consumers to buy and eat bison, it creates demand. More ranchers raising them means more animals out on the plains.

Conservation through commerce is not an idea without its critics, though. Taken to its logical conclusions, it’s the same concept that drives most big game trophy hunting. Hunters pay big bucks to take out a rhino, hippo, tiger and in theory that money then goes to save even more of them. Picked up by a media outlet or internet influencer, those stories invariably go viral leading to weeks of online outrage.

Even the National Bison Association recognizes the oddity of asking consumers to grill our national mammal.

“Some people will say, ‘Well gosh, if this is our national mammal and such an icon, why are we eating it?’” Carter said, noting that as long as the industry is profitable more ranchers will join the fray, keeping the mammal on its historical range.

Plus, it’s a prey animal, not like the lions of Africa or the bald eagle Americans so revere.

Bison ranching as a practice isn’t new in the U.S., but those in the industry want to latch onto this moment in the spotlight thanks to the national designation. The early 2000s brought a lull to the bison market. Some call it a “bison bubble,” where ranchers were more focused on breeding and selling the live animals to other aspiring ranchers, rather than investing in infrastructure to process and market their hides and meat.

Since that bubble burst, Bob Dineen has built his bison slaughter facility in Brush. Inside, bison carcasses move along a chain, hung upside down by their legs. Workers use sharp knives to trim up the carcasses, carefully peeling off their hides. Another employee pushes a wheelbarrow past full of freshly skinned bison heads, eyes intact.

“The young bulls that are our prime product weigh somewhere around 1,100 pounds live,” Dineen says, while weaving through hanging carcasses.

NOT COMPETING WITH BEEF

Rocky Mountain Natural Meats kills and butchers upward of 200 animals a day. Meatpackers who process beef cattle do in one day what the entire bison industry does in a year, all to satiate consumers’ hunger for mass-produced beef.

The bison meat from this facility supplies restaurants owned by Ted Turner, and large retailers like Whole Foods and Costco. Their hides are shipped off to be tanned, and organs are boxed up to be processed for pet food, a burgeoning market for bison producers. In a chilled prep room, a table is packed with boxes half-filled with livers the size of a head pillow.

“These would be individually wrapped tongues,” Dineen says. “And those are testicles or Rocky Mountain oysters. And there’s a good market for those.”

No matter how high demand climbs, bison will always remain a niche product, Dineen said. He’s not interested in competing with beef, even though the practices used in raising bison, like keeping the animals on grass longer, could be used in contrast with much of modern beef production. Rather than convert beef eaters to bison, Dineen’s motto is: “Eat beef six days a week and bison on the seventh.”

What will keep the bison industry stronger, he said, is more focus from processors to boost the ranchers who sell to them.

“It’s very important that producers are able to be profitable raising bison. That’s our focus is to try to push that profitability back to the rancher,” Dineen said.

Because that kind of market-based conservation, Dineen argued, is an effective way to put more of the national mammal back on the land.

Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration of KUNC, Rocky Mountain PBS and other public media stations in the Midwest.