Summit County Council member Chris Robinson recently received the 2014 Division of Wildlife Resources Landowners of the Year Award.
The culmination of a 10-year effort, the CEO and co-owner of Ensign Ranches earned the award through work to help restore habitat for the Utah sucker and sage grouse. But for Robinson, the real prizes are the species he has preserved.
"We like having a lot of diversity (on our ranches)," Robinson said. "We think it is a sign of wealth when there is a variety of plants and animals. (The land) tends to be more robust."
To support the sucker population in Utah Lake, Robinson partnered with the Fish and Wildlife Services and the Utah DWR to build hatcheries, which is endemic to Utah Lake and threatened by an invasive species of carp. Suckers come to the Rosebud Ranch as "fingerlings." Once they grow to seven to nine inches they are transplanted. According to Robinson, his ponds raise between 15-20,000 Utah suckers each year.
In addition to the Utah sucker, Robinson's properties in Box Elder and Summit County have been used as part of an effort to keep the Sage Grouse off Utah's endangered species list. All of Ensign's holdings in the state are prime grouse habitat.
Federal agencies are considering placing the sage grouse, which is currently a protected species, on the endangered species list. Robinson hopes to prevent such a measure, which he says would be better for both the bird and the ranches. Were the grouse to become endangered, the federal government would oversee all of its habitat preservation.
"If the grouse is listed, we could have the federal government come in and tell us how to tend our cattle, where to build a fence or where to build a road," Robinson said. "It's a case of the carrot or the stick. We like the carrot. It makes more sense. It's better to be proactive than reactive."
Robinson is the first to admit that there's no such thing as a perfect solution, but believes proper planning can go a long way toward helping ranchers cohabitate with nature.
"A lot of times ranchers get where they are backed up against the wall, where they don't have options," Robinson said. "They get a drought and you don't have contingency plans or ways of adapting and wind up over-utilizing the land. We think we have a good plan. If something changes, we try to adapt."
It's this stance that has helped Robinson and Ensign build a successful working relationship with Utah's Division of Natural Resources and the Division of Wildlife Resources. By cooperating, rather than resisting, Robinson believes everyone is happier.
"It's been a good partnership," Robinson said. "I am appreciative for the Division of Wildlife Resources, the Department of Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other agencies for all the work they do to try and conserve our resources."