“…the oldest task in human history [is] to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.”

-Aldo Leopold, 1938

While livestock production remains an important component of many ranching programs, today’s ranches have diversified their operations significantly to allow for more stable economic profitability and enhanced environmental sustainability for generations to come. The courses offered through our program in the Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship are designed to provide students the skills and tools necessary to formulate adaptive management strategies on working lands. Anchored in experiential learning and engagement within the ranching community, our courses offer extensive opportunities to interact with ranch managers, ranch owners and natural resource managers as part of the program’s curricula. From the start, students learn the fundamental principles of forest and rangeland ecosystems, the roles that plants and wildlife play in these systems, and the natural processes that support water and soil nutrient cycling in the Rocky Mountain West. Students also learn about the operational side of ranching, including business and accounting, employee management, equipment, and policies that influence day to day activities. Throughout the program, students are exposed to innovative and often novel land-use strategies that are increasingly being integrated into modern ranching. These range from conservation easements and trophy hunting to ecotourism and carbon credits. Through the courses offered, students visit and stay at a variety of working ranches seeing first-hand how operations are tailored to support ecosystem processes, foster lasting protection of the land, and achieve economic profitability.

Summer Field Course Enrollment: We offer a summer field course in Western Ranch Management and Stewardship (NR 539). Undergraduate and graduate students as well as non-degree seeking students are welcome. Enrollment is capped at 10 students, so get in touch soon. Contact Tony Vorster (

Financial Assistance has been offered in the past, and will hopefully be offered again. More information to come.

New Courses Offered

  • NR 536: Ranch Management and Stewardship Field Course (Summer semester)
  • NR 537: Ranch Management and Stewardship Seminar (Fall semester)
  • NR 538: Skills in Ranch Management (Fall semester)
  • NR 539: Western Ranch Assessment and Planning (Spring semester)

NR 536: Ranch Management and Stewardship Field Course

This summer field course will be offered from July 23 to August 15, 2021. The course consists of two 10-day field sessions hosted at eight ranches in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. The ranches represent a variety of ecosystems that characterize the Rocky Mountains, spanning arid to alpine ecosystems. The course draws on multiple disciplines, including agriculture, animal sciences, business, ecology, forestry, rangeland sciences, watershed sciences, and wildlife. Field visits to each ranch highlight the unique opportunities and challenges in modern ranch management and land stewardship.

In this field course, students are introduced to:

The course is designed to introduce students to the variety of ways in which ranches address similar challenges. Students may not become experts in all covered topics, but they are exposed to established practices and emerging ideas to build a toolbox of techniques and programs that will help them have successful careers working with Western ranches. By the end of the course, students understand the range of career paths available in ranch management.

  • Different grazing strategies developed for cattle and bison, and see how grazing plans are designed to help protect biodiversity, enhance soils and conserve water resources
  • Ecology of Western forests and see how they are managed for timber, wildlife habitat, fire risk and carbon sequestration
  • Collaborative partnerships with state and federal wildlife agencies to re-establish and protect threatened and endangered wildlife, such as bighorn sheep and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout
  • Riparian habitat restoration projects designed to protect critical headwaters and understand how water rights influence land use decisions
  • Long-term conservation planning through easements, carbon cap-and-trade, and other programs and incentives
  • Methods on vegetation sampling techniques used for monitoring response to management treatments and natural processes, such as grazing and fire
  • Basic elements of hunting programs and game management strategies, agricultural practices to conserve water, alternative energy development and mineral rights, ecotourism and guest services, ranch financial operations, and more

Contact Tony Vorster ( if you are interested in enrolling.

More information about enrolling as a non-degree seeking student can be found here.

Calculating available forage

NR 539: Western Ranch Assessment and Planning

Offered for the first time in fall 2019, this course is designed to offer applied learning opportunities to students that attended the summer field course. At the beginning of the fall term, students visited a ranch on Colorado’s western slope. Students had the opportunity to ask the ranch owners about their long-term vision for the property, review the existing conservation easement and other documents, and see first-hand the issues related to degraded rangelands, mitigation of invasive species, improved wildlife habitat, erosion control, and forests and wildland fire. Throughout the term, students develop strategies and recommendations for addressing these issues using techniques and approaches that were demonstrated in the summer field course and through additional research. These will then be written up as a management plan and presented to the ranch owners at the end of the semester.

In this course, students learn to:

  • Identify issues that may impact rangeland and forest ecosystem processes and productivity.
  • Evaluate management priorities, opportunities, and challenges for ranch owners, and recommend management strategies that align with their long-term vision while demonstrating good stewardship of the land.
  • Identify best practice management for a given social and ecological context from course readings and independent research.
  • Apply foundational principles in range, forestry, water, wildlife, and conservation to justify recommended management strategies and planning.
  • Write and present a ranch management plan highlighting challenges, recommendations and desired long-term outcomes.

NR 538: Skills in Ranch Management

Skills in Ranch Management information to come. This course will be offered in the fall.

NR 537: Ranch Management and Stewardship Seminar

Ranch Management and Stewardship Seminar, information to come. This course will be offered in the fall.