Skip to main content


The Canyonlands Research Center evolved through a shared vision of its public and private partners. A key foundational element of the Center, however, is The Nature Conservancy’s Dugout Ranch. Below is a summary of key milestones along the path to the creation of the Canyonlands Research Center.

The Dugout Ranch

In 1997, the Conservancy preserved an ecological treasure and an icon of the American West: the Dugout Ranch. Located at the doorstep of Canyonlands National Park in the heart of the Colorado Plateau, this historic cattle ranch encompasses 5,200 acres of private land and 300,000 acres of associated public grazing allotments, spanning some of the most spectacular red rock scenery in the world. Beyond its beauty, the ranch lands support bear, cougar, desert bighorn sheep, Mexican spotted owl, eleven globally rare wildflower species and more than 42 miles of vital cottonwood/willow riparian forest.

Working with the Redd family, long-time owners and ranchers, the Conservancy purchased the Dugout Ranch to save it from the threat of development, ensuring that its magnificent landscapes and rich habitat will remain intact. The Dugout Ranch still supports a private residence for Heidi Redd, who has a lifetime lease on a portion of the property. Heidi has more than 40 years of experience running cattle at the Dugout, and she and her family exemplify a lifelong commitment to stewardship and the health of the lands. Today, Matthew Redd is the Project Manager of the Canyonlands Research Center and the Dugout Ranch. Having spent his life on the ranch he brings a strong commitment to science and conservation.

Formation of the Canyonlands Research Center

While the protection of Dugout Ranch was a major coup for land conservation, it also provided a crucial foothold in the Colorado Plateau from which the Conservancy could see the potential for a much larger conservation impact. Years of field research revealed the Dugout Ranch and surrounding lands would provide the perfect setting for an outdoor laboratory devoted to the health of resources and communities on the Colorado Plateau. In 2008, the Conservancy began to join forces with a suite of partners who shared similar concerns for this ecologically rich and increasingly pressured region, and who saw the potential to make a difference for future generations. 

In 2009 the Conservancy and its partners officially launched the Canyonlands Research Center with the hiring of the Center's director, Dr. Barry Baker, and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the USDA Forest Service, the State of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Utah State University.

In the fall of 2009, the Conservancy purchased the Dugout Ranch's cattle herd, with the intention of using the herd as a research tool to develop new management solutions for sustainable grazing. In the spring of 2010, the Canyonlands Research Center partners began the process of designing a year-around research facility that will exemplify sustainable design and management principles consistent with the Conservancy's environmental commitment.