Fountain Creek watershed: Conservation easements key to protecting the riparian environment

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Here’s a recap of an event last week sponsored by conservation groups on Fountain Creek, from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

Unfortunately, development in Colorado is heaviest along the sides of those streams, called riparian areas, and is putting pressure on the most productive wild environments in the state. “Whatever you’ve been doing here is great,” Rondeau told Ann Hanna, who like her late husband, Kirk, has continued to put the environment first in running the ranch on Fountain Creek. “It is a lot different than the river looks in Colorado Springs.” Despite a few invasive salt cedars, there are both large and small cottonwoods and a thick mix of undergrowth near the creek on the Hanna Ranch. On the ground were signs of all sorts of wildlife moving through the area. Bugs were everywhere. Those are all good signs, since species diversity in Colorado is highest among riparian corridors…

“These riparian zones face the greatest pressure,” Rondeau said. That is amply illustrated on the Hanna Ranch, located halfway between Colorado Springs and Pueblo in El Paso County. Once it was a sprawling spread that stretched from the foothills of Pikes Peak to the short-grass prairie and Tepee Buttes – volcanic vents that were part of the ocean floor in the ancient past. In the 1960s, the ranch was split by Interstate 25. Much of it was sold to Colorado Springs, which uses some of the land for the Ray Nixon Power Plant. The Clear Springs Ranch, on the west side of Fountain Creek, was a wildlife viewing area badly damaged by the 1999 flood and Colorado Springs Utilities plans to rejuvenate it as part of the corridor master plan with a fish diversion, trail, wetlands. camping areas and ponds. Hanna has kept the ranch going and continues to train hunter and jumper horses. She is working on a conservation easement that will set aside about 460 acres along Fountain Creek with Great Outdoors Colorado purchasing the development rights. “It was a struggle just to keep the ranch,” Hanna said. Her relatives, Jay Frost and Ferris Frost, own an adjacent ranch, which already has a 900-acre conservation easement.

Meanwhile, development edges ever closer. Pikes Peak International Raceway is due west. Trains barrel through several times a day. Power corridors, toll roads, extensions of city streets, more power plants, gravel pits and wastewater treatment plants have all been proposed for the area in recent years. The Southern Delivery System pipeline will cut through the ranch at some point, although no one’s quite sure where yet, and that’s the least of worries for Hanna. “At least it will be underground when it’s done,” she said…

“The Hannas and the Frosts, like a lot of families, have worked with conservation trusts very fiercely trying to protect their ranches,” said Dan Pike, executive director of Colorado Open Lands, which has obtained a $4.7 million legacy grant from GOCo for its Peak to Prairie program. Its partners include the Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund, Colorado Conservation Trust, the Trust for Public Land and Conserving Land for People, which collectively have formed Keep it Colorado. Pike said the public funds available for protecting ranches pale when compared to the money available for development…

Overall, about 114,000 acres in a 2.2 million-acre area have been preserved at a cost of $32.69 million, about two-thirds funded by public funds. The goal of the project is not to stop or even curtail development, but to preserve enough land to maintain wildlife corridors and encourage strategic planning, Pike said. The short-grass prairie, like most riparian environments, is not greatly respected by the public, Rondeau said. “It’s under-known, under-conserved and under-appreciated. No other ecosystem is as converted to other uses as our grassland,” Rondeau said. “Ninety percent is privately owned. You can’t buy it all; that would be ridiculous. We want to work with the people who own it to preserve it.”

More coverage from R. Scott Rappold writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette:

…the Peak to Prairie program, which uses lottery funds and private donations to buy easements, has preserved 114,773 acres of prairie in the Pikes Peak region. That now includes 460 acres of the Hanna Ranch, which county property records show covers more than 4,200 acres.

More Coyote Gulch coverage here.

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