Rio Oxbow Ranch and the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust ink deal for conservation easement

Rio Grande Valley near Creede.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Coupled with a prior easement, a 6-mile stretch of the Rio Grande and its bottom lands will now be protected along with habitat for elk, eagles and trout and the mountain views that greet drivers along Colorado 149 west of town. “We just thought it was too valuable a piece of land in its present state to ever dive off it,” Alan Lisenby said.

The family bought the ranch in 1996, and with their love of trout fishing immediately focused on shoring up the river, he said. The family has worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to reduce the river bank erosion that harms trout habitat and in high runoff years sends silt downstream as far as Del Norte. The Lisenby’s also adjusted their cattle operation, which includes anywhere from 400 to 900 cows in a given year, to accommodate the elk herds that wander down from the surrounding high country. “All of that stuff fits in together,” Lisenby said. “It threads the needle with what the conservation people want to do.”[…]

A $7.4 million award from Great Outdoors Colorado in 2007 helped the land trust complete the easement on the Rio Oxbow in addition to completing agreements on six other ranches along the Rio Grande. Other contributors to the easement included the Nature Conservancy, the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The land trust has protected 18,000 acres along the Rio Grande. The group is pushing to protect a 175-mile stretch of the river from the headwaters to the state line that remains largely in the hands of ranchers and farmers.

Meanwhile, a recent study commissioned by the Trust for Public Land has determined that there Colorado nets $6 of economic benefit for every $1 spent on conservation easement tax credits, according to a report from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. From the article:

The study was done by Jessica Sargent-Michaud, a staff economist for the land conservation organization. It looked at the investments and returns in Colorado’s conservation easements since 1995. Over that time, the state invested an estimated $511 million in conservation easements, including $373 million through tax credits and another $138 million through the lottery-funded Great Colorado Outdoors (GOCO) grants. That’s equal to $595 million in today’s dollars, the study said…

The study separated the easement land by type of ecosystem and looked at the value such ecosystems offer on a per-acre basis. It concluded that Colorado’s land in easements gave $3.51 billion in economic benefits to the state through water-supply protection, waste treatment and flood control; farm and ranch production; and recreation, including hunting, fishing and hiking.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

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