CSU alumni, generational ranch owners invest in private land conservation with scholarships to Warner, Agricultural Science students

Mike and Jan Bohart at their home in North Fort Collins. Photo: John Eisele

As a third-generation rancher with over 40 years of experience in the agricultural field, Mike Bohart knows one thing for certain:

You don’t have agriculture and ranching without conservation.

Through decades of experience and a strong familial bond, the values of conservation have come to define Mike’s relationship with the land.

“You have to have an eye on the future,” said Mike Bohart whose family had a ranch in Ellicott, Colorado, since 1911. “You mix somewhat a vision of reality with a vision of beauty. The beauty is where your conservation practice comes from.” Mike’s conservation practices and ethic were inspired by his father and his own dedication to the Bohart Ranch.

Today, Mike and his wife Jan continue to pass along a legacy of land ethic and conservation stewardship by funding scholarships to students in the Warner College of Natural Resources and the College of Agricultural Sciences aimed at bridging the gap between the goals of conservation and those of agricultural production.

Jan joined the Bohart family in 1964 when she and Mike graduated from Colorado State University and married shortly after. Jan, a Denver native who had graduated with a degree in mathematics, experienced a great change of pace on the Bohart Ranch and began understanding Mike’s vision to apply a conservation ethic in cattle ranching.

Then something changed. After Mike served in the U.S. Army until 1970, he and Jan returned to Colorado and took over the family ranch until 1998. Those 28 years were not without hardship and difficult decisions on how to make a living on the land while ensuring its preservation into the future. Eventually, these not-atypical challenges led the couple to sell Bohart Ranch. In doing so, Mike knew that the choice could compromise the land’s integrity if the ranch fell into the wrong hands.

“The process of selling the ranch should be an opportunity to maintain the ethos of good conservation and practical working experience,” Mike said.

The Boharts were faced with the economic reality of sustaining adequate production while being equally committed to sustainable ranching. However, Mike and Jan made it clear that the decision to transfer ownership of the ranch would be made only in such a circumstance where the land’s intrinsic value would be sustained by a future owner sharing a similar commitment to sustainable land management.

Fortunately, the opportunity to pass the ownership down to a conservation-minded buyer arrived in 1998, preserving Mike and Jan’s vision of sustainable conservation on working lands. The Bohart Ranch is now owned by the Colorado State Land Board and operated by family friends in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. With the careful consideration involved in this process, the future of the ranch is protected, with uses guided to ensure the longevity of the earth that sustained the Bohart family for generations.

“Because the fact that the ranch has been maintained and continues to be maintained with good conservation practices in place,” Mike continued, “the primary benefactor of the land is the state of Colorado.”

Supporting the future of conservation on private lands

Now residing in Fort Collins, funding multiple endowments for CSU students interested in production agricultural and/or private lands conservation is one way Mike and Jan have their eye on the future and stay connected to the values they have embodied throughout their lives.

“What conservation is all about is providing a future for all of us to enjoy the land that we have,” Mike said. “With it or without it, we’re still going to have problems, but at least we can see into the future of what we hope to be a reasonable outlook for folks to come.”

While reflecting on his career in cattle ranching and why caring for the land is such a core part of Mike’s motivations for giving back to the CSU community; his first thought was a memory that highlighted just how beautiful the world can be.

“On the west side of the ranch there were white sandstone cliffs that we had, and I remember vividly the sun coming up, and we’re gathering this one pasture. Misted grass was backlit by the sun, and I’m looking out just thinking ‘Thank you, Lord. Thank you for letting me be here at this time in this place.’”

Mike and Jan care deeply for the students they connect with and take great honor in being a part of their educational aspirations. With the opportunity to meet their recipients at annual Scholarship Banquets and hear the stories of Warner College and Agricultural Science students, they see their values reflected in the agriculturalists and land stewards of the future.

“I just believe in people getting an education,” Jan said. “Any help they can get these days is a positive thing.”

While Mike’s career as owner and operator of his family ranch for decades had its own hardships and barriers, his philosophy of caring for land and investing that idea into the future is a choice he will never compromise.

“If there’s any young person who reads this story, keep in mind that you have to look to the future,” Mike said. “Do the best you can and just remember to surmount current obstacles because when you do that, your future is going belong to you.”