Restoration: ‘I have been a full-time student of water and fish as far back as I could remember’ — Shannon Skelton

Boulders placed to enhance habitat via CFI Global Fisheries Management
Boulders placed to enhance habitat via CFI Global Fisheries Management

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Ryan Maye Handy):

“I have been a full-time student of water and fish as far back as I could remember,” he said in early January. In college, he spent most of his year guiding flying fishing trips on private ranches. “And on some of these private pieces that kind of led me to saying, ‘You know, ranch owner, this could be a lot sexier.’ ”

As he guided clients on riverfronts damaged by decades of cattle grazing, all Skelton could see was room for natural improvement.

“Sexier” for Skelton means bigger fish, deeper pools, more insects and lush riverbanks. Skelton’s job is to put them all there, changing the river flow or seeding riverbanks.

In 1997, he founded CFI in Fort Collins and made “playing God” on the river a profession. In 2012, CFI garnered national attention when a private equity fund, Sporting Ranch Capital Management, hired Skelton’s team of seven employees to restore a few miles of river on private ranches in Colorado and Utah.

Sporting Ranch paid CFI $2 million in 2013 for its river work. The going rate for a mile of river restoration can be about $250,000, Skelton said.

With drought and a changed economy, working ranchers are embracing stream enhancement for anglers as a potential moneymaker. In the past four to five years, Skelton has seen an increase in interest in enhancement projects as “there has been more of a push toward land and habitat stewardship,” he said. In Colorado, where real estate investors can purchase stretches of riverbed, stream enhancement boosts the prospects of an already lucrative real estate deal.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

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