Colorado 2024 Jake Hamill Hamilton Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

Resiliency defines Jake Hamill and his ranch.

Beyond ranching’s normal challenges of unpredictable weather and market conditions, Hamill Ranch is in Moffat County, where high elevations and lack of water pose serious obstacles.

But from early on, Jake had a vision to tap into the underutilized natural resources of the ranch his father homesteaded in 1917. Jake and his late wife Calista purchased Hamill Ranch in 1963 and raised sheep before transitioning to cattle 10 years later.

Jake developed an uncanny knack for finding a way to conserve natural resources and wildlife habitat while expanding his cow-calf herd from 120 to 300 head. With assistance from Soil Conservation Services (the predecessor of the Natural Resources Conservation Services) Jake found ways to move water using gravity which allowed him to graze cattle on mountain tops and other remote areas of the 4,400-acre ranch.

His passion for water and its application for conservation drove him to other innovations. He developed springs and reservoirs and installed more than 20 miles of pipelines that deliver water to large storage and stock tanks. This allows cattle and wildlife to have water available in places that would otherwise not be efficiently grazed. To maximize forage production, Jake leveled a riverside hay field and pumped water to higher fields using pivots and sprinkler guns.

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“What Jake has been able to accomplish with water for his pastures and hay fields exhibits a level of brilliance that few, if any, would have ever thought possible,” said ranch manager Darrell Camilletti.

At the age of 86, Jake and his daughters outsourced the day-to-day management of Hamill Ranch to Camilletti and his son Joe. The Camillettis credit Jake with showing them the economic and environmental value of conservation practices. They credit his past practices for making it possible for them to graze cattle amid three years of prolonged drought.

Hamill Ranch’s pastures are strategically placed with wildlife-friendly, cross fencing to prevent over-grazing and allow regrowth of preferred grasses. Native plants from bluebells to silver lupine have flourished thanks to Jake’s meticulous work to control noxious weeds and brush.

Hamill Ranch straddles the Williams Fork River, which can vary from barely flowing to flooding. To prevent soil erosion, Jake stabilized its banks with rip rap and controlled grazing methods.

Through the years, the Hamill Ranch’s economic resiliency was bolstered by the successful irrigation and outfitting side businesses that Jake created.

No single act or achievement shows Jake’s personal resilience like his response to tragedy in 1995.

A fire in his workshop destroyed several outbuildings, tractors, haying equipment, tools, and irreplaceable items his parents had gifted him. While preventing the fire from spreading to his house Jake suffered first, second, and third degree burns over half of his body.

He could have given up, but he didn’t.

Instead, after leaving a burn center in Denver his priorities were harvesting hay so his cows would have feed that winter, and building a calving barn before spring.

With the help of his community, he rebuilt what was lost over the course of several years. It’s that sort of grit and commitment that has marked his six decades of ranching.

Jake’s success and longevity at Hamill Ranch is the epitome of resilience.

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