Mike and Cathy McNeil
McNeil Ranch
Monte Vista, California

When Mike McNeil heads out to check his cattle on a March day, he’s likely to see amongst his grazing animals some of the 20-30,000 sandhill cranes and perhaps even rare whooping cranes that visit his ranch during their northerly migration. The McNeil Ranch’s lush wet meadows complement the wetland habitat of the adjacent Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge. As the fourth generation on the land, the McNeils practice holistic management to enhance the ecological health of their land while sustaining its agricultural profitability.

In response to the pressures of real estate development that are impacting much of Colorado’s high country ranch lands, the McNeils are working to secure the future of the Rock Creek corridor. Along with their neighbors, the McNeils helped form the Rock Creek Heritage Project, a landowner initiative to protect and enhance a block of approximately 15,000 acres of agricultural land and water. With the support of American Farmland Trust, the McNeils will permanently protect their own 3,033 acres, and they have garnered the active support of national and regional nonprofit organizations and the federal government. Cathy McNeil is also the founding president of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, serving the 8,000-square-mile San Luis Valley, and she serves on the Rio Grande Soil Conservation District Board. She and Mr. McNeil are members of the San Luis Valley Wetlands Focus Area Committee and are founding members of Friends of the Alamosa/Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges. With friends like the McNeils, wetlands in the San Luis Valley have a hopeful future and superb partners in the ranching community.

— Rio de la Vista, American Farmland Trust, Pagosa Springs, Colorado