If you live on the grid in downtown Durango, it’s likely you’ve heard the late-night hooting of an owl off in the distance. And thanks to one Durango resident, those bird calls might be here to stay.
“It’s a neighborhood novelty, for sure, that we love,” said Kathleen Adams.
Adams moved to Durango in 2008 after spending nearly 25 years living in Wisconsin, drawn to the area, in part, because her son lives here and runs Skywalker Construction.
About six to eight years ago, to her surprise, an unlikely neighbor moved onto her property near East Sixth Avenue and Ninth Street: the great horned owl.
“I had the owls hooting up there in my forest, and the neighbors talked how wonderful those sounds are,” Adams said. “In the past few years, nests have been built, and they’re probably laying eggs. It became obvious it was a habitat for the great horned owl.”
So, two years ago, Adams started looking for ways to ensure her property would remain open and suitable habitat for owls.
Adams owns a double lot. Her home is located on one side, and the other is forested. The property is zoned, however, in such a way that someone in the future could have built another home.
Adams contacted Amy Schwarzbach, executive director of La Plata Open Space Conservancy, an accredited land trust and nonprofit that protects land through conservation easements.
But there are stringent requirements for lands to qualify for conservation easement status, and because Adams’ property is relatively small, it didn’t qualify.
“This owner’s passion to protect this small island within city limits resulted in her going off on her own to make it possible to protect that nesting habitat for horned owls,” Schwarzbach said. “There’s not many backyards within the city with horned owl habitat.”
Adams sought an attorney who helped draft a covenant on her deed that prevents future development. Whereas a conservation easement carries tax incentives, Adams’ covenant carries no benefits.
“I really felt strongly it was up to me and that it was my responsibility to do something about it,” she said. “It’s a really nice spot ... and now it’s protected.”
Adams erected a sign on her property that’s visible from the “Sky Steps” trail that connects downtown Durango to Fort Lewis College. She hopes other property owners will be inspired to take similar action.
“It’s a way to inform people that it’s possible, it can be done,” she said.
Schwarzbach said it’s important to protect large swaths of land for wildlife, but it can be just as important for animals to have pockets within largely urban environments to find respite.
“We tend to think wildlife needs these big magical places outside of city limits, but that’s not the case,” she said. “Backyards can be wonderful habitat that serves as lineages and connectors for wildlife.
“And us as residents get to have owls,” she said.