LAMAR, Colo. — May Ranch in Colorado is known for its beef and its conservation efforts. The ranch is also home to a large population of beavers that help provide vital ecosystem services, as well as the elusive Black Rail Bird.

“Economically, we depend on cattle to sustain our living. We try to operate our ranch in a wildlife-friendly way,” said Dallas May, co-owner of May Ranch with his family. “We co-exist with wildlife.”

Last fall, 15 highly endangered black-footed ferrets were released onto their property as part of conservation efforts.

The burn scar of May Ranch that consumed a chunk of the property. Credit: Rachel Saurer

“We have some healthy, vibrant colonies of prairie dogs, which is necessary for the black-footed ferrets to sustain themselves,” May said.

But last week, these lush marshes and vegetation, critical for endangered species living on May Ranch changed in a matter of 30 minutes when a fire ripped through a chunk of their property.

“We have a lot of lush vegetation and it was really a perfect storm. The fire began underneath a high voltage transmission line, 70-mile-an-hour winds, we could not do anything,” Dallas said.

The May family said they first heard the fire had reached their property from a neighbor.

The Mays said they were able to save a huge majority of their cattle thanks to the help of their neighbors. Credit: Rachel Saurer

“We got a call from one of our neighbors and said ‘hey, the ranch is on fire at the south end’,” said Riley May, Dallas’ son. “And immediately your heart just sinks because we all three know– all of us, everyone that was there — know that’s the worst place it can be.”

Immediately, their attention turned to their cattle.

“We had so many of our neighbors, so many ranchers that came in and helped us and literally, quite literally, put their lives on the line to help us save cattle,” Dallas said.

Ranchers walked away with stories to tell from saving the cattle.

“One of our best partners, he’s horseback riding as fast as he can, literally right in front of these horrible flames and he saved so many cattle, but his life was literally at risk. He’s got blisters down his back,” Riley said.

A historic building from the original homestead is now just a skeleton. Credit: Rachel Saurer

They said if it hadn’t been for their neighbors’ help, they wouldn’t have saved nearly as many cows as they did. Dallas said 99 percent of their cattle herd survived.

“Every rancher in our country that could get here, got here. And the reason that we didn’t lose a massive amount of cattle is because all those people put their lives on the line to do it,” Dallas said.

Despite the huge loss to the May’s natural grazing, water and 100s of miles of fencing, Dallas said he is thankful for the ranching mindset.

“People who are out here and have animals, and their livelihoods depend on whether that be cattle, sheep, any animal, they do it because they love them, and they do it because that’s in their mindset.”