Agriculture in Jeffco Open Space

by Alicia Doran, Jefferson County Open Space
comments open from June 5 until June 19

Jefferson County has a rich agricultural history starting in the 1800's when hay and cattle ranching became a way of life. In the 20th century, vegetable and greenhouse crops were grown until much of the land was developed for other uses. Open Space owns a number of properties that had been used for agriculture by previous owners. We have tried to embrace the historical use of those properties when developing the vision for the parks.

While sensitive to the economics of agriculture, our goal is to preserve and enhance the natural resource values of our land. We try to balance agricultural use with recreational and wildlife needs.

Natural Resource Benefits
Grasslands represent a significant ecological type that supports many natural systems. Our grasslands historically have been grazed by wildlife and historically experienced fire events every 10 to 30 years. Removing vegetation by haying or grazing mimics those natural processes and allows grasslands to remain healthy.

How We Do It
Agricultural Licenses - We issue Agricultural Licenses for hay harvesting and grazing. The licensee must go through a bid process. The length of the license will vary and may be adjusted to meet current production and environmental conditions. If interested in upcoming bids, please email Alicia Doran at adoran-AT-jeffco-DOT-us.

Grazing - We have worked with NRCS to develop grazing plans for a number of sites. The plans provide a guide for stocking rates and timing. Our goal is to time the grazing so it has a positive effect on the vegetation, has little impact to wildlife, and has minimal effect to recreational uses of the property.

Haying - We allow one harvest per year and require that stubble be left. This helps prevent soil erosion, helps the plants stay healthy, and helps the site to hold moisture. We evaluate the benefit of harvesting each year. There may be some years that we would not let the licensee harvest if production or environmental conditions were unfavorable.

Sustainable Practices
We strive to manage our resources so that they will remain productive for both agriculture and natural resources. One benefit of our sustainable practices is the prevention of topsoil loss. If topsoil is lost, the grassland produces less biomass, species diversity is reduced, and non-native invasive plants may become established. Topsoil loss contributes to erosion that may cause silting. Silting affects water quality which negatively impacts aquatic plants, animals and invertebrates.

Water Resources
Agriculture in Jefferson County has always been limited by the availability of water. Open Space has limited seasonal water resources at some locations but the majority of our sites do not have developed agricultural water supplies.

Other Agricultural Uses
With the increased interest in urban farming, we may develop future agricultural opportunities. Water availability is our main limiting factor.


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