San Luis Valley: ‘Blanca Ranch conservation easement signed’ — Pueblo Chieftain


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The San Luis Valley’s largest landowner signed off Tuesday on a conservation easement with federal wildlife officials for the 90,000­acre Blanca Ranch. Owner Louis Bacon said the preservation of the property, which takes in three 14,000­foot peaks and extends down to the valley floor, would provide a keystone link for wildlife in a previously unprotected reach of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The same motivation led the billionaire hedge fund manager to protect 76,700 acres in September on the Trinchera Ranch, which sits just across U.S. 160 from the Blanca.

Steve Guertin, a deputy director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the easement would protect valuable habitat for animals such as the Canada lynx and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. “We based this on strong biological planning,” he said.

But the easement limits what Bacon can do on the ranch. “As long as he doesn’t subdivide the property, clear cut it, pave it over or do other Draconian management regimes on it, he’s free or any landowner is free to go about managing it as a working ranch,” Guertin said.

Tuesday’s signing came nearly six months after Bacon announced his intention to preserve the ranch during a ceremony with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. While Salazar was not present at Tuesday’s signing, he issued a statement praising the easement as the beginning of a new era in which private landowners and the government work together to preserve land. Bacon said he and his team rushed to finalize the easement through the fall given the looming election that might have ended Salazar’s stint as secretary.

“We were worried that if there were a change in Washington whether the impetus in the Interior Department would be there to follow through with this,” he said. He said the service, which is a part of Interior, would be an invaluable partner because of the agency’s scientific expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife habitat.

He also gave a hat tip to longtime ranch manager Ty Ryland, who helped convince the previous owners to sell to Bacon with the argument that he would be a good steward of the land. “This is his dream come true,” Bacon said.

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