Joe Pope was named Conservationist of the Year by Olney Boone Conservation District at their Annual Meeting in October. Joe Pope and Bar Twenty Ranch go back to the Homestead Act of 1882. Under the law a U.S. Citizen could get 160 acres of unoccupied land west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains. They could keep the land if they lived on the land for five years and made improvements to the land. Joe’s great great grandfather, Joseph Asbridge, took advantage of the free land. He moved from Missouri in the early 1900’s to farm and raise cattle in the Olney Boone area. At this point everything was done by hand including hauling water from two ponds.
During the 1930’s Dust Bowl era, Joe’s great grandpa, Young Asbridge, was running the operation. He was able to acquire land from neighbors who were driven out by the terrible conditions. It was also at this time that farming was abandoned, and all effort was put into raising cattle. Young was still hauling water to the cattle.
Joe’s great grandpa and grandfather, Robert Asbridge, developed a spring in 1977 which provided an additional water source. Only the spring was a reliable source for cattle as the ponds were nearly always dry. Robert also drilled a well looking for more water.
Since Joe took over, he has begun adding to the infrastructure by laying 1 ½ miles of pipe to the southeast corner of the ranch. This area had been useless without water. In 2003 he put a generator on the well pump. He went through nearly 2 generators a year pumping water to tanks for cattle. Then Joe discovered the NRCS programs which he has used to enhance the infrastructure on the ranch.
He had divided the land into four pastures. There will be six when he finishes his plan. This allows cattle to be rotated across the land and grass can regenerate. Three and a half miles of additional pipeline takes water to all six pastures. In 2017 solar replaced the generators on the pumps. Joe is glad the days of hauling water are behind him.
The NRCS programs have helped Joe install water tanks equipped with bird ladders. Bats, birds, and especially foxes have benefited from the ladders. Joe is also involved in pastureland monitoring in key areas.
Joe is looking to the future. Some plans include hydro seeding pastures to avoid tilling, windbreaks, and drought resilient plans to retain more of the water/rain that is available.
Joe has accomplished all this while working for the Parks and Wildlife from 1999 – 2014. Here he oversaw the daily operation of 45,000 acres of property owned by the Division of “Wildlife, including the Bosque Del Oso State Wildlife Area west of Trinidad and the James M. and John & Lake Dorothy Wildlife Areas. Joe served as a State Ranger for Colorado State Parks assigned to Lake Pueblo and John Martin Reservoir. He also worked as an instructor for the Pueblo Police Academy from 2011-2016.
From 2004-2012 Joe took various class in the Agriculture program at Otero Junior College earning 122 college credits and certificates in Ag-Business.
It is easy to see why Joe Pope would be Conservationist of the Year. He has transformed the land he inherited. Joe would like to thank the NRCS staff that help him through this process, especially Lana Pearson, Mike Williams and Ryan Hytry.