Gunnison County: Trampe Ranch protection a done deal

Here’s the release from the Trust for Public Land:

Broad coalition protects more than 4,300 acres with help from the largest-ever GOCO grant

The Trust for Public Land today announced the final-stage closing in the protection of 4,377 acres of working ranchland in the scenic valleys of the Gunnison and East Rivers between Gunnison and Crested Butte. The protection effort, for land on the Trampe Ranch, was completed through three working-ranch conservation easements and with help from a $10 million grant from the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) funding program, the largest single transaction grant in the organization’s history.

The easements prevent subdivision and development of scenic ranchlands stretching for 30 miles in one of Colorado’s most iconic landscapes. These lands are essential to agriculture, with Trampe Ranch generating 20 percent of Gunnison County’s agricultural economy. In addition, the conserved lands provide scenic views that attract tourists and visitors, include habitat for a wide variety of wildlife, and serve as research lands for scientists from the nearby Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory.

“The lands and waters of the Trampe Ranch play such an important role in defining the character and sense of place of one of Colorado’s last, great mountain valleys,” said Jim Petterson, The Trust for Public Land’s Southwest and Colorado Director. “This project brought together a deep and broad partnership of individuals, governments and organizations, all allied around a shared commitment of helping local communities fulfill their visions for how they want to grow and what they want to preserve.”

Efforts to protect ranchlands and open space in the Gunnison Valley began in the 1980s in an alliance between local land trusts, national conservation groups, funders like GOCO, local governments, and agricultural landowners, including Trampe Ranch owner Bill Trampe, who has been a leader in encouraging ranchers to conserve their land with easements. With the completion of the most recent project, Trampe Ranch has more than 6,000 acres under easement.

“GOCO is proud to be one of the partners to help make this monumental land conservation effort possible, and our Board of Trustees and staff are eternally grateful to Bill Trampe for his vision, leadership, and generosity,” said GOCO Executive Director Chris Castilian. “Trampe Ranch received GOCO’s largest ever, single transaction grant award at $10 million, because conserving this iconic property means the protection of vital agricultural land and stunning scenic views for those who will recreate on beautiful, adjacent public lands for generations to come.”

“What this one very special place means to the Gunnison Valley and to our entire state cannot be overstated. Today we join our fellow Coloradans in celebrating Bill Trampe, his family, and all they have accomplished,” added Castilian.

In addition to the GOCO grant, funding for the project came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County, The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, Crested Butte Land Trust, and 1% for Open Space, a consortium of Gunnison County businesses that collects a voluntary donation of 1% of sales for its customers to fund open space conservation in Gunnison Valley. Additional private funding came from a multi-million dollar campaign. Trampe Ranch also donated a significant portion of the conservation easement value toward the project.

“This land has been the heart of our ranch for more than 100 years,” said Bill Trampe. “Conservation of our home place means this land is available forever for agriculture.”

Local partners cheered the completion of the conservation effort.

“We are very excited to see this critical step in the conservation of the East River Valley,” said Dr. Ian Billick, Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. “Keeping the properties in ranching is one of the most important things we could do to leverage the nation’s large investment in the field research that helps us manage our water, air, and food.”

“Nothing is more important than the preservation of the natural state of Colorado and its heritage of ranching. Especially in this day and age when there seems to be a valid threat to open spaces throughout the West,” said Mayor Jim Schmidt from the Town of Crested Butte.

“We are very excited about the completion of this final conservation easement,” said Carlos Fernandez, Colorado State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “The Trampe Ranch is a spectacular property with some of the most outstanding scenery in Colorado. Conserving this iconic ranch leaves an amazing legacy for the Gunnison Valley, reminding us of Colorado’s history and landscape.”

From The Crested Butte News (Mark Reaman):

One of the most significant land preservation actions in Colorado concluded Tuesday, April 10 with the closing of the last parcel of the Trampe Ranch property in Gunnison County. The final closing puts thousands of acres of prime ranchland stretching from Gunnison to Gothic into a conservation easement that is meant to keep the property free of development and focused on agriculture in perpetuity.

This multimillion-dollar deal was broken up into three parts totaling 4,377 acres. The first step took place in February 2017 when the 1,447-acre Trampe Home Ranch was preserved. That parcel, located near Gunnison, resulted in Gunnison sage grouse habitat being protected.

“This land has been the heart of our ranch for more than 100 years,” said Bill Trampe at the time. “The meadows and pastures are the resource base for ranch production, and also provide habitat for Gunnison sage grouse and other wildlife species. Conservation of our home place means this land is available forever for agriculture and for the birds.”

The second phase of the overall effort took place in October 2017 when 284 acres were preserved in the corridor between Gunnison and Crested Butte near Jack’s Cabin. And Tuesday’s 2,647-acre closing put land primarily located in the Upper East River Valley near Crested Butte into the conservation easement.

The Nature Conservancy is the holder of the Trampe Ranch conservation easement and the Trust for Pubic Land facilitated the transactions and led the public and private fundraising campaign…

While 4,377 acres were protected in these latest three closings, in sum total, the Trampe Ranch will have close to 6,000 protected acres from prior projects near Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery.

Webinar: Request for Water Acquisitions — @COWaterTrust

Little Cimarron River via the Western Rivers Conservancy

Click here for all the inside skinny and to register:

2018 Request for Water Acquisitions Pilot Process

Are you curious about how you can help keep your local rivers and watersheds healthy, especially during this dry year? Join us and learn more!

Click here to register for the webinar.

Colorado Water Trust staff will explain the Pilot Process, available transaction tools and the protections available to water right owners who share their water with the environment.

Voluntary water sharing arrangements or voluntary acquisitions of senior water rights, on a temporary or permanent basis, are tools that – particularly in dry years – can help restore flows to rivers in need, sustain agriculture, and maximize beneficial uses of Colorado’s water.

This year, the Colorado Water Trust is partnering with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) on a Request for Water Acquisitions Pilot Process. This Pilot Process intends to:

  • Invite voluntary water offers from willing water right owners to benefit streamflow;
  • Provide a user-friendly mechanism for water right owners to explore working with CWCB and the Colorado Water Trust on water acquisition transactions;
  • Streamline transaction processes and utilization of resources;
  • Facilitate implementation of Colorado’s Water Plan objectives, and,
  • Add flows to river segments in need while coordinating with agricultural and other uses.
  • Following the drought years of 2002, 2012 and 2013, the legislature created several new tools for water right owners to lease or loan their water for instream flow or flow restoration use without penalty to their water rights. These new tools have been successfully implemented in several river basins around the state, and benefitted water-short streams during the dry years of 2012-2013.

    This year, with streamflow forecast to be well below average in many of parts of Colorado, temporary, voluntary, compensated leases or loans of water may provide an alternate source of revenue to preserve agricultural operations and may also help sustain streams and aquatic life during critically low flows.

    Additional information about the Pilot Process, including Inquiry/Offer Forms and FAQs, can be found here on our website.

    Register now!

    The Colorado Water Trust Team

    *Presentation of this webinar is made possible by our friends at Water Education Colorado.

    The Eagle Valley Land Trust and the Eagle River Watershed Council hope that area businesses will collect 1% fee for streams

    Eagle River Basin

    From The Vail Daily (Pam Boyd):

    The 1% for Land and Rivers initiative is pretty self-explanatory. The organizations are reaching out to area merchants willing to impose a voluntary 1 percent fee on transactions, with the money going to the two sponsoring nonprofits. Participating businesses will display signs noting their participation in the program, and customers will have the option to opt out of the payment at the time of purchase.

    Jim Daus, executive director of the Eagle Valley Land Trust, was inspired to launch the program in Eagle County after studying similar efforts in the Crested Butte and Buena Vista areas. Program participants in those communities told Daus that customers were overwhelmingly supportive of their programs and, during their operation, only one or two people a year ask to opt out of paying the 1 percent fee.

    “This is a way for everyone in the community to give a little bit,” Daus said. At 1 percent, the fee is a penny on a $1 purchase, a dime on a $10 percent or a dollar and on $100.

    Every type of business is welcome to participate, and the Land Trust and Watershed Council are willing to help get the program started. In addition to providing signs for both the business front entry and cash register area that announce participation in 1% for Land and Rivers, program volunteers can work with business owners to launch the effort. Program literature notes that point-of-sale setup should be very simple, but if a merchant has issues, then the program can provide a $100 credit if a business needs to contact its bookkeeper or other professional point-of-sale representative.

    “Don’t overthink the opt-out. It is very rare that people opt out (typically less than one customer per five years). There are several simple ways other businesses handle this. For businesses that provide bids and invoices, we’ll provide sample language showcasing your support of land and rivers,” the program statement says.

    All donations received from 1% for Lands and River will be used directly by the Land Trust and the Watershed Council within the Eagle River and Colorado River watersheds to help fund their objectives of promoting clean water and responsible growth through preservation of open space, agricultural operations, fish and wildlife habitat, public recreation, scenic vistas and significant natural resources. The organizations are proud to share the work they have done with landowners and local, state and federal agencies to help identify and protect land and water with key values.

    More than 7,700 acres of Eagle County land have been placed in conservation easements, while many projects are currently underway that will significantly add to this acreage. More than 40 miles of stream banks and fish habitat have been restored and protected. Every year, more than 5,000 points of water quality data are collected and analyzed in an effort to stay ahead of threats to stream health.

    Palisade: Colorado West Land Trust nears goal of protecting 1,000 acres

    Palisade peach orchard

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Katie Langford):

    As the Colorado West Land Trust nears a long-term goal of preserving 1,000 acres of farmland in Palisade, a new 22-acre conservation easement of peach and apricot orchards is moving the needle that much closer.

    Rob and Clare Talbott of C&R Farms have previously conserved 59 acres of orchards through the land trust, and Director of Conservation Iliana Moir said she was happy to hear the Talbotts wanted to do it again.

    The land trust has conserved approximately 800 acres of Palisade farmland through conservation easements since 2009. Conservation easements are an arrangement in which landowners agree not to subdivide their property and the land trust agrees to hold it in perpetuity. In Palisade, it means those 800 acres will only be used for farming.

    “That area is the only area in the Grand Valley that consistently produces good fruit, so it’s really important,” Moir said. “The winds that come through De Beque Canyon in the spring keep the frost from settling on the peach buds, and the area around Palisade has prime, unique soil that’s excellent for growing fruit trees. They have excellent water rights, so they can invest in long-term crops.”

    Colorado West Executive Director Rob Bleiberg said preserving Palisade’s agriculture industry is key for the future success of the Grand Valley.

    “We have been focused on the fruitlands of Palisade since our founding in 1980, and for the simple reason that the orchards and vineyards are an incredible asset for our community and an economic driver,” Bleiberg said. “They define Palisade.”

    The Talbotts started farming in 1979 and have long understood the need to preserve the farmlands of Palisade, said Rob Talbott.

    “Our family believes it’s important to preserve farming for future generations,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure on orchards to subdivide their land so homes can be built. Once these homes are built, the small orchard on the property can’t sustain the cost of the home, therefore putting the property out of reach of young farmers to purchase the property as an initial investment or an existing young farmer to expand. We want future generations who want to make farming their livelihood to have the ability to afford to do so.”

    Culebra watershed: Grant from the Trinchera Blanca Foundation will allow Colorado Open Lands to work toward the conservation of 2,000 acres

    Culebra Peak via Costilla County

    From Colorado Open Lands via The Alamosa News:

    Colorado Open Lands announced continued support from The Trinchera Blanca Foundation to protect historic water rights and increase awareness of conservation across the San Luis Valley. A generous grant from The Trinchera Blanca Foundation, an affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation, founded by Louis Bacon in 1992, will allow Colorado Open Lands to work toward the conservation of 2,000 acres of naturally and culturally significant land and acequia water rights in the Culebra Watershed.

    The protection of these important lands will promote working agriculture throughout the Culebra Basin. Dating back to the historic Spanish Land Grant, the Culebra Basin has the oldest water rights in Colorado and serves as a major wildlife corridor for the nationally protected Southwest Willow Flycatcher, Yellow Billed Cuckoo, and Sangre de Cristo elk herds. Conservation easements will ensure that the water rights can never be sold separately from the land. The LOR Foundation and Great Outdoors Colorado are also supporting this critical initiative.

    “We are grateful for the support of The Trinchera Blanca Foundation to help Colorado Open Lands kick off our Acequia Initiative Project and support ongoing efforts to encourage conservation leadership,” said Judy Lopez, Colorado Open Lands Conservation project manager. “Protecting these local farms and ranches and the water that irrigates them ensures they can remain in historic agricultural production, which is essential to the future of the community.”

    “Colorado Open Lands’ Acequia Initiative Project is an essential and significant effort to preserve working agriculture and the unique cultural and conservation heritage in Costilla County,” said Ann Colley, executive director and vice president of The Moore Charitable Foundation and its affiliates.

    A portion of The Trinchera Blanca Foundation grant will continue support for the “Emerging Leaders Program,” an ongoing initiative to promote conservation leadership among people with business, community, conservation and philanthropic backgrounds. The funding will help encourage individuals to champion conservation in their respective fields.

    The partnership between The Trinchera Blanca Foundation and Colorado Open Lands has helped complete important community projects, including:

    The creation of comprehensive outreach programs to educate communities of the value of conservation and urge them to participate in conservation efforts.

    Conservation Easement Acquisition in the southern San Luis Valley. To date Colorado Open Lands has completed three conservation easements, totaling about 700 acres, on acequia-irrigated lands along the Rio Culebra. This group of conservation easements have paved the way for the new and more widespread 2017 Acequia Initiative Project.

    About Colorado Open Lands

    Colorado Open Lands is a statewide land conservation organization dedicated to preserve open lands through private and public partnerships, innovative land conservation techniques, and strategic conservation tailored to the land it protects. All of Colorado Open Lands conservation easements share the same goal: permanent protection from the property being subdivided or developed. That means that all the treasures that come from the land remain: scenic views, fresh water, wildlife habitat, local food production, and Colorado’s heritage.

    About The Trinchera Blanca Foundation

    The Trinchera Blanca Foundation, the Colorado affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation, founded by Louis Bacon in 1992 supports organizations committed to protecting land, water and wildlife habitat in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

    The Trinchera Blanca Foundation also supports community programs dedicated to improving quality of life in the surrounding region.

    @ColoradoStateU: Investments in conservation easements reap benefits for #Colorado

    Colorado’s diverse landscape has a rich natural and agricultural heritage that fuels the economy. Photo: Michael Menefee

    Here’s the release from Colorado State University (Mary Guiden):

    Colorado is famous for its iconic landscapes, which have helped shape the state’s identity and economy. From agriculture to recreation and tourism, from minerals and fuels to forest and wildlife, Coloradans are dependent on nature for many things that enrich our lives.

    Not surprisingly, state officials have repeatedly identified conservation of the state’s natural and agricultural lands as sound public policy. This includes providing incentives for conservation easements. These are legally binding agreements between private landowners and nonprofit land trusts or government to protect conservation values of a property.

    A new analysis from Colorado State University found that each dollar invested by the state for these easements produced benefits of between $4 and $12 for Coloradans. Public benefits include clean water and air, scenic views, access to things produced by local farms and ranches products, and wildlife habitat: all things that contribute to a high quality of life in the state. Researchers said these data show that easements are conserving land that is important for wildlife, agriculture, tourism and outdoor recreation for Colorado’s visitors and residents alike.

    Conservation easements protect specific conservation values of a property, such as wildlife habitat. Photo: Michael Menefee

    “There is a substantial return to the Colorado taxpayer on investments in programs designed to conserve the features of the Colorado landscape that are so dear to all of us,” said Andrew Seidl, one of the study authors and a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at CSU.

    Based on the new analysis, the CSU research team found the investments from the state programs conserve:

  • More than 114,450 acres of preliminary priority habitat for greater sage grouse
  • Nearly 300,000 acres of prime farmland
  • 250 miles along designated scenic byways
  • More than 4,100 miles of streams, creeks and rivers
  • More than 270,000 acres of habitat used by elk during severe winter conditions
  • The state programs have invested nearly $1.1 billion on conservation easements since 1995, according to the new analysis. CSU researchers — who examined data on 2.1 million acres of Colorado lands with conservation easements — said the related benefits for state residents are as high as $13.7 billion.

    The study focused on Colorado’s investments in conservation easements funded through a tax credit program and Great Outdoors Colorado. The voter-approved program uses a portion of lottery proceeds to help with efforts to protect wildlife habitat, river corridors, productive agricultural lands, iconic scenic views. It has also created trails and open spaces for Coloradans to enjoy.

    Colorado is famous for its iconic landscapes. Photo: Michael Menefee

    Study co-author Michael Menefee, an environmental review coordinator with CSU’s Colorado Natural Heritage Program, said the investments are filling a vital need for conservation of identified priorities on private lands. “An active partnership between private landowners and public policy can achieve what neither acting alone can accomplish,” he added.

    The Colorado Office of the State Auditor released an analysis in December 2016 concluding, among other findings, that it was difficult for the public and policymakers to determine the benefits from the conservation easement program. But this new study used a more robust data set from the Colorado Ownership, Management and Protection (COMaP) database, the state’s most comprehensive map of protected lands.

    COMaP started as a Geographic Information System research project in CSU’s Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology in 2004. Since then, it has evolved into an important tool for those around the state with an interest in privately and publicly protected lands.

    “Easements are the primary tool in Colorado for conserving these many benefits while still maintaining land in private ownership – often as working farms and ranches,” said Drew Bennett, study co-author and a postdoctoral fellow at CSU.

    The study’s authors will present their findings later this month at a hearing of the Colorado General Assembly’s Legislative Audit Committee. Committee members will review the programs and consider potential changes.

    The study was funded by Robert L. Tate, a longtime supporter of and donor to the Warner College of Natural Resources and Colorado State University.

    Opinion: Conservation easements are an investment in soils

    Saguache Creek

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Tamera Minnick):

    Soils are vital to ecosystem health. In the U.S., we learned this the hard way in the 1930s Dust Bowl. Extreme drought was just one of the drivers of the Dust Bowl. The effects were magnified by economic, policy and land management decisions during the prior decade.

    At the end of World War I, European agriculture was in disarray and American agriculture benefited. During a few years, wheat prices were high and borrowing money was easy. The result was 5.2 million acres of marginal agricultural lands plowed to grow wheat. In retrospect, we now appreciate that these lands should have stayed as native grass.

    Once that soil was destabilized by plowing and left bare in the drought, it blew. And blew. People died of dust pneumonia — not caused by a bacteria or virus, but from the dust itself.

    In 1935, Dr. Hugh Bennett, a soil scientist, prescribed protecting and revegetating these marginal lands with grasses. When government agencies insisted that soil was a resource that could not be exhausted, Bennett replied, “I didn’t know so much costly misinformation could be put into a single brief sentence.” The main problem with Bennett’s ideas, like today, was that he had to persuade Congress to fund them.

    Congress was stubborn, but Bennett rescheduled a hearing for an afternoon in which he knew that a big duster had formed and was headed for Washington, DC.

    As the meeting began, success appeared unlikely. It suddenly grew dark. The dust storm blew in and turned day to night. Funding was approved. This was the inception of what would become the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Today, most farmers have easy access to an NRCS office.

    NRCS strives to decrease erosion by aiding farmers in adopting techniques such as low- or no-till plowing, contouring with the landscape, using buffer strips around water, and planting shelterbelts.

    Building on this success, President Ronald Reagan implemented the Conservation Reserve Program in 1985. The intent was to take marginal land, mostly land at risk for erosion, out of crop production and plant native grass. The federal government pays rent to farmers for providing this public service of stabilizing these marginal lands.

    The CRP has decreased erosion, improved wildlife habitat, and enhanced water and air quality, all while keeping the land in private ownership.

    One of the deficiencies of the CRP is the short-term nature of the contracts. For 15 or 20 years, erosion is controlled, soil organic matter gradually accumulates, wildlife populations rebound, and sites stabilize. But there can be sudden changes.

    For instance, in 2007, crop prices increased dramatically. Many marginal lands were put back into crop production. In one year, many of those public goods, paid for by taxpayers, were eliminated.

    In the late 1990s, a new conservation tool was developed — conservation easements. With conservation easements, the right to develop the land is relinquished and, in return, the owner usually is accorded significant tax credits.

    One similarity between the CRP and conservation easements is that entering into either one is voluntary. The landowner makes a personal and economic decision that the program is the right thing to do with his or her private land. Additionally, the private land remains private.

    There are some major differences between conservation easements and CRP. Under conservation easements, many land uses are allowed, including continued crop production; these are described in a contract. Also, the easement is often held by a non-profit (like our own Mesa Land Trust). The result of an easement is a substantial tax credit (which in Colorado can be transferred to others). Finally, the easement is permanent, not just a 10- or 15-year contract.

    That last point is important. At Colorado Mesa University, my colleagues, students, and I have reported that it may take our fragile western soils 50 years or more to recover to a healthy functioning status following damage (and much longer if topsoil is lost to erosion). Permanent conservation easements assure public investments will not be lost with short-term fluctuations in commodity prices.

    Another reason that conservation easements are in perpetuity? In order to gain the federal and Colorado tax credits, the easement must be permanent.

    Mesa Land Trust is phenomenally successful in our county. There is widespread support, and they have helped landowners protect, in perpetuity, over 66,000 acres. Much of this is important wildlife habitat outside of the valley, while some insures that agriculture thrives in the valley and that we have buffers between our towns to preserve the rural character of our area.

    Conservation easements are a modern tool based on our improved understanding of the science of how ecosystems function. Their perpetual nature guarantees the public’s return on this investment.

    Tamera Minnick, Ph.D., is a professor of environmental science and technology at Colorado Mesa University where she has taught soil science and sustainability. She recently renewed her membership with Mesa Land Trust. Much of the Dust bowl information came from Timothy Egan’s “Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.” Email tminnick.gjsentinel@yahoo.com.