Conservation easements: ‘All we’re trying to do is give farmers another option [to buy and dry]’ — Jay Winner

Purgatoire River
Purgatoire River

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Two groups promoting conservation easements in the Lower Arkansas Valley agreed last week that protecting water is more important than who takes credit.

“We have been losing land to buy-and-dry,” Ginger Davidson, head of the Rocky Ford office of the Palmer Land Trust told the board of the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District. “We don’t want to see another drop leave the valley. A healthy habitat for wildlife means healthy ranch land.”

The Lower Ark district has accepted and managed conservation easements as part of its mission to protect water since it was formed in 2002. It has some easements outside its boundaries and several that do not include water rights.

The Palmer Land Trust, in connection with other nonprofit groups and federal agencies, launched its own initiative in an area that overlaps part of the Lower Ark district. Davidson said the trust is open to conservation easements outside the initiative’s boundaries.

“A lot of people say we’re in competition, but I say, ‘The more, the merrier,’ ’’ said Jay Winner, manager of the Lower Ark district.

The Palmer Land Trust is working with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, Canyon & Plains and Guidestone in the 10-county initiative. The National Park Service and Nature Conservancy are cooperating as well.

Each group has its own goals in protecting farm and ranch land from development, but the Palmer trust is primarily concerned with water rights, Davidson said.

“When people lose their water, they don’t have the incentive to invest, because they don’t know if the water will be there in the future,” Davidson said. “The businesses will stay if there is a critical mass of farming.”

She agreed with Winner that the primary goal of conservation easements — which provide either tax credits or cash for forgoing development — should be to offer alternatives to selling water to cities.

“We’re not forcing anyone to do anything,” Winner told the board. “All we’re trying to do is give farmers another option.”

More conservation easements coverage here.

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