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“Old technique applied to a modern world” brings rotational cattle grazing to a housing development south of Littleton

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“Old technique applied to a modern world” brings rotational cattle grazing to a housing development south of Littleton

Dozens of cattle, Angus mostly, hoofed their way through the Sterling Ranch housing development south of Littleton last Sunday morning, cowboys at their flanks either on horseback or four-wheelers.

The cattle drive wasn’t off course. Harold Smethills, founder and chair of the development company, said he wants the herd on the property as a way to keep its 3,400 acres as natural as possible.

“There used to be big herds of bison, which, for thousands of years, used to go through, aerate, eat and control the grasslands,” Smethills said. “The cows are doing exactly what the bison used to do.”

The few dozen cattle will soon be joined by perhaps 100 more and the whole herd will spend the winter grazing just west of the development, Smethills said. By living on the land, the cattle will cut the risk of wildfires, boost soil health and provide a more hospitable environment for some of the area’s ground-based species such as burrowing owls.

Then in the spring, the cattle will be taken back to their normal pastures throughout the area and the land will be allowed to freely grow again, Smethills said.

That method is called rotational grazing, said Lauren Connell, director of stewardship for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. And in the past decade it’s grown more popular across the west. Farmers and ranchers typically use rotational grazing, but Smethill’s property is the first time Connell said she’s seen it used at a housing development.

Because this is the first season of rotational grazing at the Sterling Ranch, Connell said it’s too early to tell how effective it will be, but she’ll watch with great interest.

Representatives from the Bird Conservancy, Denver Botanic Gardens and other ecological and engineering experts worked with Smethills to develop his overall prairie management plan for the property, which includes rotational grazing.

It’s a simple enough concept, Connell said. Essentially, three things naturally “disturbed” or destroyed the land in a good way before human development, ultimately sparking regeneration and new growth: fire, prairie dogs and grazing large wild herds, she explained.

Humans tend to kill prairie dogs and work hard to either prevent wildfires entirely or put them out quickly once they’ve started, Connell continued. Additionally, humans hunted the once-massive herds of bison to near extinction.

By reintroducing periodic grazing with herds of cattle, humans can recreate a bit of the healthy destruction and create new life, Connell said.

“It’s an old technique applied to a modern world,” Brian Vogt, CEO of the Denver Botanic Gardens said.

The cattle provide healthy destruction by eating overgrown vegetation, much of which is dead or dying, thereby shrinking wildfire risk, Smethills said.

“So then the worst you get is a little grass fire,” he said. “You put that out, no big deal.”

While the cattle are grazing, their cloven hooves aerate the soil, Smethills said. Clearing out the old vegetation and loosening the soil makes the land habitable for creatures such as prairie dogs, which can, in turn, make the ground more hospitable for burrowing owls native to the area, Connell said.

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Wranglers help push cattle through open space in between housing developments during a cattle drive through Sterling Ranch in Littleton on Nov. 21, 2021.

And what comes in must go out. Cattle excrement fertilizes the soil without the chemicals found in many modern fertilizers.

“The residents do have to put up with that smell but it’s better than a fire,” Smethills added with a chuckle.

In a place like Sterling Ranch,  rotational grazing is a good way to restore the ground to a more natural state, bring back natural vegetation and animals that have been driven away by development, Vogt said..

So many other ranches or farms operate where “everything’s plowed up every year and lots of chemicals are dumped down,” Vogt said, adding that such land management practices aren’t sustainable.

“Soils, when depleted, have destroyed countless civilizations over time,” Vogt said. “Just think about our dust bowl.”

Rotational grazing can not only bring those soils back to life and but even increase the crop yield, he said.

To be effective and sustainable, however, the grazing must be well thought out and intentional, Connell cautioned. The number of cows, time spent grazing and amount of forage available are all crucial factors to consider. Allowing cattle to graze indefinitely could leave land barren or moving the animals too often could drain their energy, she said.

The process also has to be economical for land owners, Vogt added. He noted that not everybody has ready access to dozens of cattle or the know-how to start a rotational grazing program. The Botanic Gardens’ Chatfield Farms is developing a best practices model, which could be used as a reference for anyone interested in rotational grazing, he added.

The approach could be used on large tracts of land and drawn down for much smaller properties, Vogt said. A single homeowner could even use one or several goats to get similar results on their property.

1638277870 523 Old technique applied to a modern world brings rotational cattle

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Wranglers help push cattle through open space in between housing developments during a cattle drive through Sterling Ranch in Littleton on Nov. 21, 2021.

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Broncos Journal: Let Aaron Rodgers Speculation Season begin

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Aaron Rodgers enters uncertain offseason after short postseason

Eleven things about Aaron Rodgers and the Broncos:

1. Aaron Rodgers/Broncos Speculation Season began at 9:12 p.m. Saturday, four minutes after No. 12’s Packers team lost to San Francisco. Green Bay fans must have been too depressed to respond to my tweet saying, “See ya in March, bud,” under a picture of Rodgers. I wasn’t even called any names.

2. So we now wait … and project. So now we wait … and think out loud. So now we wait … for Broncos general manager George Paton to put Quarterback Plan 2022 into motion. Undoubtedly, the main question during his 10 interviews with coaching candidates was, “How do you fix our offense?”

3. Rodgers after the game (Part 1): “We truly had a Super Bowl-caliber team. In other years, it feels like sometimes you need things to go your way, but that didn’t feel like this season. … You just felt like this was a team that could really win it and didn’t need a bunch of things to go their way.”

4. Rodgers, expected to win his fourth NFL MVP award next month, dropped to 4-4 in home playoff games and lost as the No. 1 seed for the third time in his career. The Packers scored a touchdown on their opening drive and that was it. A completely inexcusable defeat. Bad pass protection (sacked five times) and hideous special teams (allowed a blocked field goal, a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown and kick returns of 32 and 45 yards) and a non-descript game by Rodgers sent the 49ers to the NFC title game for the second time in three years.

5. Rodgers after the game (Part 2): “There’s obviously a lot of decisions to be made. … I don’t think it’s fair to anybody or myself to really go down those paths at this point. It’s disappointing, sad and fresh. I’ll have conversations in the next week or so to contemplate (the future) after that.”

6. The Broncos are one of the few teams (Pittsburgh, too) that need quarterback help and have the salary cap space to fit Rodgers’ salary. According to Over The Cap, the Broncos have $41,613,840 of cap space (eighth-most in the league).

7. Rodgers after the game (Part 3): “I don’t want to be a part of a rebuild if I’m going to keep playing.” The Packers, if they want to keep Rodgers, will remain in win-now mode and will restructure a bunch of contracts to create space for free agent-to-be-receiver Davante Adams.

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Georgia Aguirre: Workers like me — and everyone else — are safer with Colorado’s new paid sick days law

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Georgia Aguirre: Workers like me — and everyone else — are safer with Colorado’s new paid sick days law

Paid sick days and COVID leave, which are guaranteed starting this year for all Colorado workers under the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act, are a game changer for Coloradans who have been working on the front lines of the pandemic.

My name is Georgia, and I work at a nursing home in Greeley, where I care for residents with Alzheimer’s and Dementia. I’ve been doing this work since 2016, and I adore my job and the residents I care for. While challenging, being a nursing home worker means I get to care for people in their most vulnerable moments and ensure that they’re getting the compassionate care they deserve as they age.

This job, however, has put me squarely on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, I caught the virus several months ago, and I’ve been struggling with my health ever since.

I came into contact with a resident in August who was sick with COVID, and days later I began experiencing symptoms, some of which still haven’t gone away. I still need supplemental oxygen to breathe, and when I try to ween myself off, it feels like someone is stepping on my chest. For nearly a month, I couldn’t even get out of bed, and because there was no room at the hospital, my kids had to bathe me and feed me and take care of me.

To make matters worse, I stopped getting a paycheck. I’m a single mother, and I was already behind on my bills, so I had no other choice but to get back to work. My job often requires me to work from 6 in the morning until 11 at night. I work because I can’t afford to lose wages, and I have continued to work 80-hour weeks carrying the oxygen tanks I rely on on my back. When I run out of oxygen at work, my kids deliver a fresh tank so I can keep working. It’s been completely exhausting.

When I was too sick to go to work during my illness, I used up my vacation days so I could stay home because I did not have access to paid sick days. But I wasn’t on vacation. I was too sick to stand up and gasping for air.

Having paid sick days and COVID leave, which are now guaranteed for all workers under Colorado’s new law, would have been a game changer. I could have stayed home from work longer to focus on my recovery. If I’d been able to take COVID leave, my health might be in a better place today.

With COVID cases surging once again due to this highly contagious Omicron variant, I worry about what it will mean for myself and my family. But with this new law in place that ensures everyone has the paid time off and support to stay home if they catch the virus, I feel a lot more at ease knowing that we can keep ourselves and the people who depend on our care safe and healthy.

As of January 1, every worker in the state can earn up to 48 hours of sick pay, and an additional 80 hours for COVID. If I get sick again, I can stay home, and my coworkers are more likely to stay home from work rather than bringing COVID with them to work if they get sick.

Colorado’s front-line workers like me deserve dignity and respect. We work hard to make sure people’s aging loved ones have high quality care, but often we’re the ones who can’t afford to take time off to care for ourselves or our loved ones.

Ensuring all Coloradans have paid sick days is one of the best ways we can thank those who have put themselves at risk to serve our communities during this crisis.

I’m thankful to Governor Jared Polis and all the state lawmakers who sponsored and voted for the Healthy Families and Workplaces Act. It shows workers like me that the leaders of our state value our health and safety.

It is because of their efforts that we’re more prepared for this new wave of the pandemic and whatever else the future holds.

— Georgia Aguirre is a nursing home worker from Greeley

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AG warns against real estate price gouging in wake of Marshall Fire

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AG warns against real estate price gouging in wake of Marshall Fire

After receiving reports that some landlords excessively raised their prices after so many Coloradans lost their homes in the Marshall Fire, Attorney General Phil Weiser urged major online real estate marketplace companies to address the risk of illegal price gouging.

Weiser sent letters this week to Airbnb, Zillow, Vrbo, and REColorado, according to a news release from the attorney general.

The letters ask the companies to take the necessary steps to make certain that “unscrupulous actors” are not using their platforms to take advantage of vulnerable Coloradans during a disaster period, according to the release. The letters request a response by the close of business on Monday.

Although the letters were addressed to certain companies, Colorado’s price gouging law applies to any landlord or rental property, including those who do not use the platforms, the release said.

Colorado law prohibits charging excessive prices for certain essential products, goods, or services during a disaster period and makes clear that such price gouging is a deceptive trade practice under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, according to the release. Under the law, this state of emergency, or disaster period, will last for 180 days from the date of the declared disaster.

Gov. Jared Polis declared a state of emergency on Dec. 30, when the Marshall Fire sparked. Driven by high winds and dry conditions, the fire spread rapidly across more than 6,000 acres in eastern Boulder County. The flames destroyed more than 1,000 homes, leaving many in need of safe, affordable housing.

“The potential for thousands of Coloradans who suffered great loss to be then faced with excessively and unjustifiably high housing costs is not just a legal problem, but also a moral one,” Weiser said in the release. “Coloradans are protected under the law from illegal price gouging, and online rental companies need to understand this risk and do what they can to stop businesses and individuals from preying on our neighbors during such challenging times.”

The release said Coloradans who witness price gouging or who think they might be a victim of price gouging should file a report with the Attorney General’s Office at 800-222-4444 or StopFraudColorado.gov.

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