Our History

SPLT got started in 1998, with the vision of establishing a network of prairie preserves to provide refuge for native flora and fauna. Just a few months after its founding, SPLT celebrated the purchase of its first preserve in November 1998: a 1,280-acre property in Baca County, Colorado, located three miles north of the Comanche National Grassland. We named this property Fresh Tracks to acknowledge the welcomed sight of native animal tracks on the land and to signify a new path toward land management on the Plains, one where wildlife is respected for its intrinsic value.

Fresh Tracks Nature Preserve had been harmed by over 75 years of cattle over-grazing, fire suppression, water diversion, and prairie dog poisoning. But, under careful protection, this property is now flourishing with native animals and plants. It hosts fertile riparian habitat, botanically rich limestone breaks, a colony of black-tailed prairie dogs, a robust population of Colorado green gentian (a plant species found only in southeast Colorado), and a spectrum of other prairie life.

In December 2000, another 1,300 acres was added to the preserve network. Located only three miles south of Fresh Tracks and adjacent to the Comanche National Grassland, the Marianne Rees and Two Marys Nature Preserves are named in memory of the partners’ mothers and strict conservation easements protect this land. This expanse of rolling grassland is home to several black-tailed prairie dog colonies, which increased from 143.4 acres in 2001 to 423.2 acres in 2004 (a 295% increase).

A setback occurred on the Marianne Rees and Two Marys Nature Preserves: sylvatic plague struck in 2005-2007. Plague also decimated colonies across the county, including on the Comanche National Grassland. The U.S. Forest Service, which manages the Comanche, documented nearly 15,000 acres of black-tailed prairie dog colonies in 2005, but only half that – 7,700 acres – in 2011. Prairie dogs on SPLT’s preserves are recovering from this plague outbreak, but many colonies on the Comanche have disappeared altogether.

In 2003, SPLT established the Quail Ridge Nature Preserve, an open space area located in between housing developments in Lamar, Colorado. This property is protected under strict conservation easement.

In 2013, SPLT purchased our 2,240-acre Raven’s Nest Nature Preserve, which is located in Bent County. The property includes rolling shortgrass prairie, seasonal creeks and gullies, and dramatic sandstone outcroppings.

In 2015, we doubled the size of Raven’s Nest Nature Preserve by purchasing an adjacent ranch. This property is now nearly 4,800 acres and includes miles of Rule Creek, an important tributary of the Arkansas River in Bent County.

Also in 2015, SPLT purchased the 10,880-acre Heartland Ranch in Bent County, which is our largest preserve yet.

SPLT has also been active regarding the public policy reform aspect of our mission, most notably through our participation in national grasslands planning processes for the Comanche and Cimarron National Grasslands from 2005 to the present, and the Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands from 2011 to the present. We believe that both the natural environment and the human communities of the Southern Plains would be better served through economic diversification and, especially, an embrace of nature-based tourism.

For an in-depth exploration of SPLT’s founding, check out Wildlands Philanthropy, a beautiful book about buying private lands to protect nature, forever.