Economic Benefits of Protecting 30% of Planet’s Land and Ocean Outweigh the Costs at Least 5-to-1 — Campaign for Nature

Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Here’s the release from the Campaign for Nature:

First-of-its-kind report shows the global economy is better off with more nature protected

In the most comprehensive report to date on the economic implications of protecting nature, over 100 economists and scientists find that the global economy would benefit from the establishment of far more protected areas on land and at sea than exist today. The report considers various scenarios of protecting at least 30% of the world’s land and ocean to find that the benefits outweigh the costs by a ratio of at least 5-to-1. The report offers new evidence that the nature conservation sector drives economic growth, delivers key non-monetary benefits and is a net contributor to a resilient global economy.

The findings follow growing scientific evidence that at least 30% of the planet’s land and ocean must be protected to address the alarming collapse of the natural world, which now threatens up to one million species with extinction. With such clear economic and scientific data, momentum continues to build for a landmark global agreement that would include the 30% protection target. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has included this 30% protected area goal in its draft 10-year strategy, which is expected to be finalized and approved by the Convention’s 196 parties next year in Kunming, China.

This new independent report, “Protecting 30% of the planet for nature: costs, benefits and economic implications,” is the first ever analysis of protected area impacts across multiple economic sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, and forestry in addition to the nature conservation sector. The report measures the financial impacts of protected areas on the global economy and non-monetary benefits like ecosystem services, including climate change mitigation, flood protection, clean water provision and soil conservation. Across all measures, the experts find that the benefits are greater when more nature is protected as opposed to maintaining the status quo.

The nature conservation sector has been one of the fastest growing sectors in recent years and, according to the report, is projected to grow 4-6% per year compared to less than 1% for agriculture, fisheries, and forestry, after the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting natural areas also provides significant mental and physical health benefits and reduces the risk of new zoonotic disease outbreaks such as COVID-19, a value that has not yet been quantified despite the extraordinarily high economic costs of the pandemic. A recent study estimated the economic value of protected areas based on the improved mental health of visitors to be $6 trillion annually.

“Our report shows that protection in today’s economy brings in more revenue than the alternatives and likely adds revenue to agriculture and forestry, while helping prevent climate change, water crises, biodiversity loss and disease. Increasing nature protection is sound policy for governments juggling multiple interests. You cannot put a price tag on nature — but the economic numbers point to its protection,” said Anthony Waldron, the lead author of the report and researcher focused on conservation finance, global species loss and sustainable agriculture.

The report’s authors find that obtaining the substantial benefits of protecting 30% of the planet’s land and ocean, requires an average annual investment of roughly $140 billion by 2030. The world currently invests just over $24 billion per year in protected areas.

“This investment pales in comparison to the economic benefits that additional protected areas would deliver and to the far larger financial support currently given to other sectors,” said Enric Sala, co-author of this report, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society and the author of the forthcoming book The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild (August 2020). “Investing to protect nature would represent less than one-third of the amount that governments spend on subsidies to activities that destroy nature. It would represent 0.16% of global GDP and require less investment than the world spends on video games every year.”

The Campaign for Nature (CFN), which commissioned this report, is working with a growing coalition of over 100 conservation organizations, and scientists around the world in support of the 30%+ target, and increased financial support for conservation. CFN is also working with Indigenous leaders to ensure full respect for Indigenous rights and free, prior, and informed consent. CFN recommends that funding comes from all sources, including official development assistance, governments’ domestic budgets, climate financing directed to nature-based solutions, philanthropies, corporations, and new sources of revenue or savings through regulatory and subsidy changes. As 70-90% of the cost would be focused on low and middle income countries because of the location of the world’s most threatened biodiversity, these countries will require financial assistance from multiple sources.

GOCO awards $1.6 to conserve local ranches — The Mountain Mail

Uncompahgre Fritillary butterfly. By USFWS Mountain-Prairie – Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74757856

From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Mountain Mail:

The Great Outdoors Colorado board awarded a $1,625,000 grant this month to Central Colorado Conservancy in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to help conserve four ranches covering more than 2,400 acres in Chaffee County.

The project is part of the Heart of the Arkansas Initiative, aiming to protect water resources and diverse landscapes surrounding the Arkansas River.

The grant is part of GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program.

Those projects help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds and sustain local agriculture.

“This GOCO grant will help match the conservancy’s easement awards received through Chaffee County’s new Common Ground Fund, which supports community-based conservation projects for local agriculture, healthy forests and managing recreation impacts,” Adam Beh, conservancy executive director, said.

“Our local communities value these ranchland conservation projects and have shown their support through generous donations to match our other fundraising efforts. We appreciate and respect the local landowners who have made the choice to help protect this beautiful valley.”

The three organizations will protect four ranches: Centerville Ranch, Arrowpoint Ranch, Pridemore Ranch and Tri Lazy W Ranch. The cattlemen’s trust will hold the conservation easement on Pridemore Ranch, while the conservancy will hold the conservation easements for the other three ranches.

This conservation work is also supported by funding from the Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River.

In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species.

The riparian areas and surrounding wetlands support several species listed as “greatest conservation need” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and birds of “conservation concern” as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Data from the Fish and Wildlife Service also indicates the landscape is suitable for several federally threatened or endangered species, including North American wolverine, Mexican spotted owl and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly.

The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Tri Lazy W Ranch has won numerous awards for exceptional stewardship of the land, and Arrowpoint Ranch provides natural beef to several local restaurants.

Centerville Ranch and Pridemore Ranch both feature several hundred acres of irrigated land and produce thousands of tons of hay each year.

While unrestricted public access is not permitted on any of the properties, visitors can access and fish a section of the Arkansas River that flows through Pridemore Ranch via the adjacent Pridemore State Wildlife Area.

Centerville Ranch and Arrowpoint Ranch will feature limited opportunities for guided hikes, 4-H programs and volunteer work days.

To date, GOCO has invested more than $14.2 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved more than 3,500 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported conservation of Steel Ranch, Buena Vista River Park, Ruby Mountain Campground and Salida River Trail, among other projects.

Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 Colorado counties without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

Arkansas River headwaters. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The Conservation Fund finalizes its acquisition of Sweetwater Lake #LWCF

Sweetwater Lake, Garfield County, Colorado. Photo credit: Todd Winslow Pierce with permission

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

The Conservation Fund on Tuesday finalized its acquisition of Sweetwater Lake, getting a bargain price and marking a milestone in the effort to protect the 488-acre property long eyed for big development.

It’s been almost a year since the fund began negotiating with investors who owned the lake surrounded by White River National Forest and bordered by the Flat Tops Wilderness. The plan was to buy the property for $9.3 million and then transfer it over to the White River National Forest, which would tap the Land and Water Conservation Fund to pay back the national conservation organization.

“We knew we were taking a risk, but this is why The Conservation Fund exists; to bridge the gap between private landowners who can’t wait around all day and federal agencies who have their own processes,” The Conservation Fund’s project manager Justin Spring said. “We can’t thank the investors enough for taking a chance on conservation. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.”

[…]

As developers circled the property in 2019, The Conservation Fund and the Eagle Valley Land Trust built their plan to raise money that could bolster a bid for Land and Water Conservation Fund support. Things fell into place quickly. Eagle County pledged $500,000 to help protect the lake in Garfield County. Great Outdoors Colorado loaned The Conservation Fund money. The White River National Forest’s $8.5 million plan for Sweetwater Lake landed at No. 9 on the LWCF’s plans for the coming year. That marked the largest request on the Forest Service’s list of 36 projects. And, if approved, it will be among the largest allotments of LWCF money ever in Colorado…

The Forest Service is in a holding pattern as it awaits a final decision from Congress on LWCF project funding.

“But because of the ranking and the very strong support we feel very confident about that funding,” said White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.

There are many more steps before the Forest Service can open Sweetwater Lake to visitors. After title and appraisal work, the Forest Service will study how existing structures may fit into its overarching recreation plan. The agency is still in talks with Colorado Parks and Wildlife about a unique management partnership.

Heart of the Arkansas Initiative: Conservancy receives $1.6M GOCO grant — The Chaffee County Times #ArkansasRiver

Looking westerly from a meadow on the Centerville Ranch. Photo credit: Central Colorado Conservancy via The Chaffee County Times

From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Chaffee County Times:

The Great Outdoors Colorado board awarded a $1,625,000 grant to Central Colorado Conservancy this month in partnership with The Trust for Public Land and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to help conserve four ranches covering more than 2,400 acres in Chaffee County.

The project is part of the Heart of the Arkansas Initiative, aiming to protect the water resources and diverse landscapes surrounding the Arkansas River.

This grant is part of GOCO’s Special Opportunity Open Space grant program, which funds high-value conservation projects that seek funding beyond the $1 million maximum request amount set in GOCO’s ongoing Open Space grant program.

These projects will help give outdoor recreationists places to play and enjoy scenic views, protect wildlife habitat, safeguard the state’s water supply and watersheds and sustain local agriculture.

“This GOCO grant will help match the Conservancy’s easement awards received through Chaffee County’s new Common Ground Fund, which supports community-based conservation projects for local agriculture, healthy forests and managing recreation impacts,” said Adam Beh, executive director for the Conservancy.

“Our local communities value these ranchland conservation projects and have shown their support through generous donations to match our other fundraising efforts. We appreciate and respect the local landowners who have made the choice to help protect this beautiful valley.”

TPL, CCALT and the Conservancy will protect four ranches: Centerville Ranch, Arrowpoint Ranch, Pridemore Ranch and Tri Lazy W Ranch. CCALT will hold the conservation easement on Pridemore Ranch, while the Conservancy will hold the conservation easements for the other three ranches.

This conservation work is also supported by funding from the Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“The Trust for Public Land has been working with the Conservancy and CCALT for nearly 13 years to help give working landowners in the valley conservation options to help them achieve their financial goals, so we don’t lose the working lands and water rights that are the lifeblood to agriculture and public recreation in the Upper Arkansas Valley,” said Wade Shelton, TPL senior project manager. “By working together, we’ve been able to achieve far more than we’d ever be able to accomplish working on our own, so we don’t lose the very things that make the Upper Arkansas Valley such a special place.”

The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support high quality outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River.

In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species.

The riparian areas and surrounding wetlands support several species listed as “greatest conservation need” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and birds of “conservation concern” as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Data from USFWS also indicates that the landscape is suitable for several federally threatened or endangered species, including North American wolverine, Mexican spotted owl and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly.

The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Tri Lazy W Ranch has won numerous awards for exceptional stewardship of the land, and Arrowpoint Ranch provides natural beef to several local restaurants.

Centerville Ranch and Pridemore Ranch both feature several hundred acres of irrigated land and produce thousands of tons of hay each year. Conservation will ensure that these lands continue to support the local economy and sustain the area’s rich agricultural heritage.

The Arkansas River provides numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation and is designated as Gold Medal waters for trout fishing.

While unrestricted public access is not permitted on any of the properties, visitors can access and fish a section of the Arkansas River that flows through Pridemore Ranch via the adjacent Pridemore State Wildlife Area.

Centerville Ranch and Arrowpoint Ranch will feature limited opportunities for guided hikes, 4-H programs and volunteer work days.

Anyone passing through the area will enjoy the exceptional views of the open land stretching between the Arkansas River and the Collegiate Peaks.

To date, GOCO has invested more than $14.2 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved more than 3,500 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported the conservation of Steel Ranch, Buena Vista River Park, Ruby Mountain Campground and Salida River Trail, among other projects.

Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live near a Trust for Public Land park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.

The properties boast several miles of stream and riparian corridors along the Upper Arkansas River as well as significant water rights that support agricultural production while contributing to overall watershed health. They also support high quality outdoor recreation experiences for visitors to Browns Canyon National Monument and nearby public lands along the Arkansas River.

In conjunction with surrounding private and public lands, the properties create a continuous corridor of open space that serves as a seasonal migration route for big game species.

The riparian areas and surrounding wetlands support several species listed as “greatest conservation need” by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and birds of “conservation concern” as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Data from USFWS also indicates that the landscape is suitable for several federally threatened or endangered species, including North American wolverine, Mexican spotted owl and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly.

Uncompahgre Fritillary butterfly. By USFWS Mountain-Prairie – Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74757856

The properties operate as working ranches and will continue to do so after conservation easements are in place. Tri Lazy W Ranch has won numerous awards for exceptional stewardship of the land, and Arrowpoint Ranch provides natural beef to several local restaurants.

Centerville Ranch and Pridemore Ranch both feature several hundred acres of irrigated land and produce thousands of tons of hay each year. Conservation will ensure that these lands continue to support the local economy and sustain the area’s rich agricultural heritage.

The Arkansas River provides numerous opportunities for outdoor recreation and is designated as Gold Medal waters for trout fishing.

While unrestricted public access is not permitted on any of the properties, visitors can access and fish a section of the Arkansas River that flows through Pridemore Ranch via the adjacent Pridemore State Wildlife Area.

Centerville Ranch and Arrowpoint Ranch will feature limited opportunities for guided hikes, 4-H programs and volunteer work days.

Anyone passing through the area will enjoy the exceptional views of the open land stretching between the Arkansas River and the Collegiate Peaks.

To date, GOCO has invested more than $14.2 million in projects in Chaffee County and conserved more than 3,500 acres of land there. GOCO funding has supported the conservation of Steel Ranch, Buena Vista River Park, Ruby Mountain Campground and Salida River Trail, among other projects.

Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces.

GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

The Trust for Public Land creates parks and protects land for people, ensuring healthy, livable communities for generations to come. Millions of people live near a Trust for Public Land park, garden or natural area, and millions more visit these sites every year.

To support The Trust for Public Land and share why nature matters to you, visit http://www.tpl.org.

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust is a nonprofit land conservation organization whose mission is to “…conserve Colorado’s western heritage and working landscapes for the benefit of future generations.” Visit ccalt.org for more information.

Central Colorado Conservancy protects the lands, waters and quality of life of Central Colorado as our communities face pressure and rapid growth.

Through land easements, restoration efforts and connecting our communities to conservation, Central Colorado Conservancy is leading the change to preserve the places and quality of life we all love for generations to come.

Visit http://centralcoloradoconservancy.org for more information.

Video opinion: Battle over San Luis Valley water draws in sandhill cranes — The #Colorado Sun

Here’s a guest column from Max Ciaglo that’s running in The Colorado Sun:

Sandhill cranes have been migrating through the San Luis Valley of Colorado for thousands of years. The Rio Grande River likely attracted the first cranes to the Valley, providing the ideal habitat and abundant food resources that they required to complete their migration.

Early settlers brought agriculture to the San Luis Valley with them. To irrigate fields to grow hay, farmers diverted water from rivers onto the land, mimicking natural wetlands and effectively expanding habitat for cranes to thrive. When wheat and barley farming began in the valley in the 1900s, it also provided a high-calorie food resource that buoyed crane populations that were dwindling throughout North America.

Max Ciaglo. Photo credit: Colorado Open Lands

More than 50% of land in the valley is now publicly owned, but over 90% of existing wetlands are on private farmlands. Although these lands and the water on them are managed as part of private business operations, they provide critical habitat for sandhill cranes.

However, we in Colorado relate all too well to the sentiment that “whiskey’s for drinking; water’s for fighting.”

The battles are fought on many fronts: agricultural versus municipal users; rural towns versus urban centers. Water often flows towards money.

Water in Colorado’s rivers and streams is sometimes diverted from one river basin to meet the demands of another. These exports take water from once-productive agricultural lands and dry them up in the process, and the wildlife that depend on these lands are often left out of the discussion entirely.

In the San Luis Valley declining groundwater and extended drought have already left the land thirsty for water. But even now, as Colorado knocks on the door of a third decade of consistent drought conditions, other interests are eyeing water from the valley’s underground aquifer to export to growing cities on the Front Range of Colorado.

Farmers and ranchers across the valley have been working together with partners like Colorado Open Lands and other local coalitions for decades to protect and conserve their water. As they come together once again to fight the threat of water export, they are fighting to make sure that there is a future for agriculture in the Rio Grande Basin. And as long as there is a future for agriculture there will be a future for sandhill cranes.

Max Ciaglo is the Grain for Cranes Fellow at Colorado Open Lands, a statewide land and water conservation nonprofit. The Grain for Cranes program aims to support sandhill crane habitat by supporting agriculture in the San Luis Valley. Find out more at ColoradoOpenLands.org.

Sandhill cranes. Photo: Scott Helfrich/Audubon Photography Awards

Opinion: Forever means forever. #Colorado’s iconic landscapes require “perpetual conservation easements” protection — The Colorado Sun

From The Colorado Sun (Melissa Daruna):

There has been a lot of talk in the local news lately about perpetual conservation easements. What is this tool, and why should people care?

A perpetual conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government entity to protect land — and its associated natural resources — forever.

The core goal is permanent protection. We need this tool to permanently protect Colorado’s iconic landscapes. It’s therefore critical that we protect the tool.

Melissa Daruna. Photo credit: Keep it Colorado

Since 1965, nonprofit land trusts and their partners have helped Colorado landowners conserve more than three million acres of working lands, wildlife habitat and open spaces that define our state and contribute to our quality of life.

This work is voluntary, collaborative, nonpartisan and local. More than 30 nonprofit land trusts are responsible for the stewardship of nearly 80% of the 2.2 million acres of private land conserved in this state — and they rely on perpetual conservation easements to ensure this activity continues.

To use an example of one well-known area that is permanently protected, let’s look at Greenland Ranch.

Greenland Ranch is an undeniably gorgeous eight-mile span of rolling hills, rugged overlooks and sweeping vistas that drivers see as they travel along I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs.

Sitting on 21,000 acres, it is the oldest-operating cattle ranch on the Front Range. It’s hard to imagine that drive without the open space that, for so many, is iconic of Colorado and everything our state represents — and that draws people here in the first place.

Greenland Ranch. Photo credit: John Fielder via the Conservation Fund

And yet, given all of the growth in Colorado in recent years, it’s also easy to imagine how that view would change if dotted with subdivisions, strip malls and big-box stores. Such development would create a radically different look and feel for our Colorado.

Fortunately, that second scenario will never take place on Greenland Ranch. Urban sprawl will never define that land, thanks to a conservation easement that permanently protects it — and the commitment of land conservation partners and the landowner who shared a vision to keep the area in its natural state.

The list of properties around the state that Coloradans enjoy and that are protected by perpetual conservation easements is long — from peach orchards in Palisade, to Fisher’s Peak in Trinidad, to a mining claim now protected as open space in San Juan National Forest’s Weminuche Wilderness, to publicly accessible recreation trails in Eagle Valley; and the list goes on.

In Summit County, the Fiester Preserve adjacent to the County Commons is an example of an open space in a more urban setting that’s protected by perpetual conservation easements; its original easement was put into place to protect the property’s value as an open space, invulnerable to development.

It’s important to realize that while conservation easements are a tool designed to primarily protect private lands, they offer real public benefits — including access to clean water, unblemished views, preservation of wildlife and in many cases, access to outdoor recreation opportunities.

The rewards are also economic. According to recent studies by Colorado State University, every dollar invested in conservation through Great Outdoors Colorado and the conservation easement tax credit (which landowners can receive in exchange for their land donation) returns between $4 and $12 in public benefits.

Additionally, every dollar that has been invested in perpetual conservation easements through the Federal Farm Bill over the past decade has generated $2 of new economic activity and created more than 1,000 new jobs in Colorado — most of which were in rural areas.

Whether we’re talking about the iconic landscapes that define Colorado, or parks and open spaces in urban areas or mountain towns, it’s critical to uphold the perpetual conservation easement tool.

Without it, Colorado will look very different in the future as our population grows, and sprawl will be Colorado’s defining characteristic.

Melissa Daruna is executive director of Keep It Colorado, a nonprofit statewide coalition of land trusts, public agencies and champions for conservation in Colorado.

Estes Park: Public Invited To Land Trust Event Focusing On The Future Of Land #Conservation

From the Estes Valley Land Trust via The Estes Park News:

On February 13 at 5 p.m., the Estes Valley Land Trust will host the Love Our Land Social at the Estes Valley Community Center. Drop-ins are welcome, refreshments will be provided and this event is free and open to the public.

Since 1987, the Estes Valley Land Trust, along with its partners, has preserved nearly 10,000 acres of land in and around Estes Park. “Our first 30 years were defined by major conservation successes, such as working with landowners to help them preserve Hermit Park Open Space, Meadowdale Ranch, and the Eagle Rock School,” said Jeffrey Boring, Executive Director of the Estes Valley Land Trust. “We want to continue to engage our partners and the broader community to plan the future of land conservation across the region.”

While many acres of land in the valley have already been preserved, there are more than 28,000 acres still available for development. The land trust is hosting a social event to receive public feedback on the types of land that are most important to preserve in the future.

“There is a tremendous amount of support for land conservation around Estes, but we want to know what types of land the community considers the most important to conserve,” Boring said. Lands that protect the most iconic views, lands that are critical for wildlife habitat, new outdoor recreation opportunities, or lands of historic significance are all potential conservation opportunities.

The public will be invited to complete a survey to help prioritize these conservation opportunities.

Results from the survey will be used to develop a regional Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan. The plan will highlight land conservation goals and include partnerships that could be formed to preserve key areas. “The Estes Valley Land Trust Board of Directors will consider the Open Space and Outdoor Plan our strategic plan and will guide our future conservation efforts,” said Boring.

The plan may also help guide the Town’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan and identify where growth and development is appropriate and where it is not. “Consideration of open space and outdoor recreation opportunities is a critical part of developing a good Comprehensive Plan,” said Travis Machalek, Town Administrator, Town of Estes Park. “The Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan will be a valuable source document as the community works to create an updated Comprehensive Plan for Estes Park.”

The communities of Estes Park, Allenspark, Glen Haven, Drake, and residents of unincorporated Larimer County have a long legacy of preserving land and protecting habitat. The Love Our Land Social is an opportunity to continue this legacy and chart the future of land conservation.

The Open Space and Outdoor Recreation Plan is funded by a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and matching funds from the Town of Estes Park, Larimer County, Estes Park Economic Development Corporation and the Estes Valley Board of Realtors.

Aerial view of Lake Estes and Olympus Dam looking west. Photo credit Northern Water.

2020 #COleg: SB20-135, Conservation Easement Working Group Proposals

Saguache Creek

From The Denver Post (David Migoya):

Colorado lawmakers are set to consider [SB20-135, Conservation Easement Working Group Proposals] next week that could refund hundreds of millions of dollars to people who innocently bought into the state’s conservation easement tax credit program, only to see officials dismiss the tax credits as worthless and tag them with hefty bills.

The individuals bought the credits from landowners who had received them after protecting millions of acres of property from future development, or their representatives.

But revenue officials eventually said the land wasn’t worth what the landowners claimed and negated more than $220 million in credits, leaving the buyers on the hook for the tab.

That was a decade ago.

After years of public hearings, focus groups and stakeholder conferences, Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, and Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, seek to undo the mess and ensure those individuals who unknowingly bought into the program are repaid. House co-sponsors include Dylan Roberts, D-Steamboat Springs, and James Wilson, R-Salida.

The bill is largely the result of a task force empaneled from a bill Sonnenberg successfully pushed last year. The leaders of the task force — a landowner caught in the tax-credit debacle and the director of a land trust that managed many easements — were frequently at odds on the issue but worked together to find solutions.

@USDA Invites Input on Agricultural #Conservation Easement Program Rule

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Here’s the release from the NRCS:

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) seeks public comments on its interim rule for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP). ACEP is USDA’s premier conservation easement program, helping landowners protect working agricultural lands and wetlands. The rule – now available on the Federal Register – takes effect on publication and includes changes to the program prescribed by the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Through easements, agricultural landowners are protecting agricultural lands from development, restoring grazing lands and returning wetlands to their natural conditions,” NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr said. “The new changes to ACEP under the 2018 Farm Bill make it stronger and more effective and will result in even better protection of our nation’s farmlands, grasslands and wetlands.”

NRCS is investing more than $300 million in conservation easements for fiscal 2020. NRCS state offices will announce signup periods for ACEP in the coming weeks.

Changes to ACEP for agricultural land easements include:

  • Authorizing assistance to partners who pursue “Buy-Protect-Sell” transactions.
  • Requiring a conservation plan for highly erodible land that will be protected by an agricultural land easement.
  • Increasing flexibility for partners to meet cost-share matching requirements.
  • Changes to ACEP for wetland reserve easements include:

  • Identifying water quality as a program purpose for enrollment of wetland reserve easements.
  • Expanding wetland types eligible for restoration and management under wetland reserve easements
  • “Conservation easements have a tremendous footprint in the U.S. with nearly 5 million acres already enrolled. That’s 58,000 square miles,” Lohr said. “This is a great testament to NRCS’s and landowner’s commitment to conservation.”

    Submitting Comments

    NRCS invites comments on this interim rule through March 6 on the Federal Register offsite link image . Electronic comments must be submitted through regulations.gov under Docket ID NRCS-2019-0006. All written comments received will be publicly available on regulations.gov, too.

    NRCS will evaluate public comments to determine whether additional changes are needed. The agency plans on publishing a final rule following public comment review.

    Applying for ACEP

    ACEP aids landowners and eligible entities with conserving, restoring and protecting wetlands, productive agricultural lands and grasslands. NRCS accepts ACEP applications year-round, but applications are ranked and funded by enrollment periods that are set locally.

    For more information on how to sign up for ACEP, visit your state website at nrcs.usda.gov or contact your local NRCS field office.

    Adam Beh named Executive Director of Central #Colorado Conservancy — The Ark Valley Voice

    Adam Beh. Photo credit: Central Colorado Conservancy

    From the Central Colorado Conservancy via The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Adam Beh has joined the Central Colorado Conservancy as its new executive director, bringing more than 20 years of experience in conservation and rural development to the position. He started the job in late October, relocating from northern Colorado where he served as the Chief Conservation Officer for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies.

    Beh, an active outdoorsman, received his PhD in Human Dimensions of Natural Resources from Colorado State University (2010). He says he is always interested in exploring the social dynamics that influence success in landscape-level conservation. With a focus on applied science, land stewardship and community education, he led the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies land stewardship investments in the Intermountain West, including public-private partnerships among federal, state and nonprofit groups.

    He says Central Colorado Conservancy’s focus on community involvement, including the countywide Envision process, was a strong draw in his decision to take the position. The Conservancy’s support of the agricultural community was another key facet in his decision.

    “I wanted to stay focused on true community-based conservation efforts,” said Beh, adding that he is excited at the prospect of exporting the community-driven model to other places. “Not every organization out there has a rural way of life component as a driver.” He points to the Conservancy’s Hands for Lands volunteer program as a good example of reaching out to the rural community and supplying help with labor-intensive tasks such as spring ditch clearing.

    He notes that the Conservancy recently began the important Forever Chaffee project. It includes conservation easements of nearly 2,000 total acres for the Centerville Ranch, the Tri Lazy Ranch property (which connects the Centerville land east to Brown’s Canyon National Monument), and the Arrowpoint Cattle Company, which lies north of the Tri Lazy W.

    Beh plans to continue to grow the Conservancy’s existing programs, including restoration of the Sands Lake Wildlife Area. The project serves to restore Sands Lake to enhance the site for both wildlife and citizens of Colorado, using Natural Resource Damages settlement money from the California Gulch Mining Site. The project collaborates with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Southwest Conservation Corps, with volunteer help from Hands for Lands.

    Based on his work with birds, Beh emphasizes the importance of habitat links across the landscape. “Birds need those spaces – from Canada to Mexico. It makes you think differently.” He sees Central Colorado Conservancy as “a different type of land trust” that brings multiple resources to a property to enhance habitat, water quality and other factors that support the long-term health and beauty of the space.

    He can be reached at adam@centralcoloradoconservancy.org.

    @USBR uses #RioGrande high streamflow this year to expand Silvery minnow habitat

    Rio Grande Silvery Minnow via Wikipedia

    From The Albuquerque Journal (Theresa Davis):

    This year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation decided to take advantage of high water levels from a strong spring runoff and create more habitat for the fish on the Middle Rio Grande.

    Doris Rhodes owns 629 acres near San Antonio in Socorro County, and for years she has been advocating for her property to host a Reclamation silvery minnow project. Earlier this year, her work paid off.

    Rhodes’ land is nestled on the Rio Grande near Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, making it an ideal location for restoration and conservation, according to Reclamation project manager Ashlee Rudolph.

    Reclamation crews worked from January to March of this year to lower and widen the riverbank on the southern end of the property. They excavated 46,000 cubic yards of dirt to create water channels where minnows could escape the fast-moving river.

    “What makes this project great is that it is a partnership between a private landowner who wanted to create habitat on her land and the federal and state agencies,” Rudolph said. “It is so rare to have that partnership.”

    Slowing the river flow

    Reclamation worked with the private non-profit Save Our Bosque Task Force, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s New Mexico Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to excavate zigzag patterns on nearly a mile of the river.

    The Rhodes property is one of few remaining historic wetlands in the San Acacia Reach of the Rio Grande, a primary habitat for silvery minnow.

    The property has no levees on the east side of the river, which has helped in the restoration of the area’s natural floodplain, according to Reclamation Albuquerque Area public affairs specialist Mary Carlson.

    Chris Torres, who oversees river maintenance operations on the Middle Rio Grande for the Reclamation Albuquerque Area Office, said the slow-moving side channels are critical for minnow-spawning.

    “Minnows like that edge habitat. It’s worked perfectly,” Torres said. “The water is backing the way it’s supposed to, and we can see fish moving down through there. As the water drops, everything returns back to the main river like it’s supposed to.”

    Rudolph said that since 2016, there have been at least eight silvery minnow habitats constructed in the San Acacia Reach of the river. Reclamation is joined by the Interstate Stream Commission to create these sites and monitor the fish populations.

    The new channels don’t just provide habitat for the small fish, which was listed on the federal endangered species list in 1994. Birds, deer and other wildlife are also drawn to the lowered riverbank…

    Torres said the crews left native cottonwoods intact and planted New Mexico olive trees. Crews also completed the project quickly so as not to disturb the federally-endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.

    Side channels were excavated by the Bureau of Reclamation along the Rio Grande where it passes through the Rhodes’ property to provide habitat for the endangered silvery minnow. (Dustin Armstrong/U.S. Bureau Of Reclamation)

    “Normally we would go through and just clear-cut everything for excavation purposes, but for this project we elected to leave the islands and leave as much of the native vegetation as we could,” Torres said…

    The property has flooded at least four times since 2006 – which Rhodes says is a good thing.

    “The Rhodes Property is a release valve,” she said. “When the river’s running high, water will come on to the property. It protects farmers to the north and south and also protects Bosque del Apache.”

    She said that, after the minnow project is complete, her next step will likely be more removal of the invasive salt cedar and planting of native plant species.

    “The more conservation that happens down here,” Rhodes said, “the more I’m convinced that this property is on the right path.”

    Conservation easement enables former ranch manager to purchase former Pearce ranch on White River — @GreatOutdoorsCO

    Lex Collins purchased the Pearce Ranch, now known as the E Lazy S Ranch, with the help of a conservation easement. The easement permanently protects the ranch’s unique habitat and wildlife. Courtesy photo via the Rio Blanco Herald Times.

    From Great Outdoors Colorado via The Rio Blanco Herald-Times:

    Anyone who has talked to Lex Collins knows how much the E Lazy S Ranch means to him. For years Collins stewarded its landscape with former landowners, Tom and Ruth Pearce, and their daughter Denise. The ranch’s productive hayfields combined with spectacular scenery and a mile of White River frontage make it easy to see why Collins cares so deeply about this landscape. As of July 25, 2019, with leadership from Collins and in partnership with Hal and Christine Pearce and multiple conservation organizations, the E Lazy S Ranch was permanently conserved, ensuring that it will remain undeveloped forever.

    Sandwiched among three existing conserved ranches, the E Lazy S Ranch was one of the largest remaining unprotected properties along the White River in an area known as Agency Park. Conservation of the ranch conserved 562 additional acres and tied together a 4,492-acre block of conserved land in the heart of the valley. The landscape is highly visible from County Road 8, also known as the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, and makes up a portion of the view shed for travelers on State Highway 13.

    The ranch’s meadows and forests provide crucial habitat for local elk and mule deer herds for which northwest Colorado is renowned, as well as coyote, bald eagle, greater sandhill crane and numerous small mammals. The riparian areas along the property contain a box elder-narrowleaf cottonwood/red osier dogwood forest—a forest type unique to the Yampa and White River basins of northwest Colorado.

    While the E Lazy S boasts spectacular conservation values, its story of ownership and generational transfer make it unique. Formerly known as the Pearce Ranch, the E Lazy S Ranch was owned by Tom and Ruth Pearce who purchased the ranch in 1961. Tom and Ruth ran a successful agricultural operation and were honored as the commercial breeders of the year by the Colorado Hereford Association in 1987. For many years, Lex Collins managed the ranch with Tom, Ruth and their daughter Denise. In 2014, after both Tom and Ruth had passed, the ranch was left to their three children: Denise, Hal, and Christine. Tragically, Denise passed away in 2015, but not before leaving her share of the ranch to Collins. It was the goal of Hal and Christine to honor the legacy of their family by keeping the ranch intact as an agricultural entity, and they were able to work together with Collins to develop a plan to allow him to become the sole owner of the ranch, using a conservation easement as the primary mechanism to generate revenue.

    “I’m trying to carry on what Denise Pearce invested her life in: the Pearce Ranch. The conservation easement is the only way that is possible. I thank everyone involved for enabling this ranch to continue forward with its true heritage,” Collins said when asked about the conservation project. Now that the E Lazy S ranch is conserved, he plans to continue to raise cattle and hay on the property, and eventually his daughter, Macy, plans to take over the agricultural operation.

    “GOCO is proud to partner in this project, helping to conserve forever a ranch that contributes to a large block of conserved ranchland in the area, which is important wildlife habitat, and which also protects amazing, wide open views for those traveling along the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, and State Highway 13,” said GOCO Executive Director Chris Castilian. “Our sincere thanks to all who made it possible, especially Lex Collins and the Pearce family.”

    Conservation of the ranch was also supported by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). “Conserving working agricultural lands is one of the NRCS’s highest priorities,” said Clint Evans, NRCS Colorado State Conservationist. “The Agency’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program provides the much needed opportunities to forge and maintain valuable partnerships between organizations and landowners that make it easier for NRCS to help people help the land.” The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited were also important partners for the project, providing funding to help offset the transaction costs.

    “Few people have the opportunity to leave a perpetual legacy,” said CCALT’s Molly Fales, “but that is what Mr. Collins has done here. By conserving the E Lazy S Ranch, he has ensured that the Pearce family’s ranching legacy will remain, and he has cemented his own conservation legacy in the valley.”

    Hal Pearce echoed these sentiments saying: “It may no longer have the Pearce name attached to it, but it’s still home. In the end it’s about the land and is really bigger than any of us.”

    More GOCO news:

    Pearce Ranch Conservation Legacy, $420,000 grant to Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust

    GOCO will help CCALT acquire a conservation easement on the two parcels making up the Pearce Ranch, totaling 620 acres. Proceeds from the easement will enable the ranch’s long-time manager to purchase the property. Conserving the property will continue its ranching legacy, in addition to protecting wildlife habitat and water rights benefiting all of the properties in the Highland Ditch system.

    2019 #COleg: Governor Polis signs HB19-1279 (Protect Public Health Firegfighter Safety Regulation #PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) and HB19-1264 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Modifications)

    Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Marianne Goodland):

    At an Arvada fire station, Polis signed into law House Bill 1279, which bans certain kinds of foam used in firefighting training. Such foam contains so-called “forever chemicals” that have contaminated drinking water in El Paso County and elsewhere…

    The foam contaminated Fountain’s water supply, and it has since installed filters to deal with problem…

    HB 1279 bans Class B firefighting foams that contain “intentionally added” per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS. Such chemicals were used for decades at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs and have been found in the nearby Widefield aquifer, which serves Security, Widefield and Fountain.

    The foam was sprayed on the ground and used in a firefighting training area that was flushed into the Colorado Springs Utilities treatment system, which was ill-equipped to remove the chemicals. The effluent ended up in Fountain Creek, which feeds the Widefield aquifer.

    The Air Force since has replaced that foam with a new version that the military says is less toxic, though it still contains perfluorinated chemicals.

    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    In Salida, Polis signed House Bill 1264, which is intended to resolve some of the long-standing problems with the state’s conservation easement program.

    Landowners say the Colorado Department of Revenue revoked tax credits awarded to those who entered into conservation easements with land trusts, with more than 800 credits revoked from the 4,000 granted in the program’s first 15 years.

    HB 1264 is intended to make the program more transparent, with a warning to landowners that easements are in perpetuity. The bill also requires the Division of Conservation Easements, within the Department of Regulatory Agencies, to set up a committee to determine how to repay those tax credits.

    The committee is to hold its first hearing June 25, an addition to the bill made by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

    Legislative leaders in both parties are to appoint the committee members, and lawmakers say they intend to include representatives for those who have been denied tax credits as well as other program critics.

    From The Ark Valley Voice (Jan Wondra):

    Colorado Governor Jared Polis chose the banks of the Arkansas River in Salida as the ideal location to sign an unprecedented nine bills into law on Monday morning, June 3. The location underscored both the importance of these bills to Colorado’s rural and recreation economies, as well as highlighting Colorado’s growing preference for collaboration to get things done…

    SB19-221 – CO Water Conservation Board Construction Fund Project

    This bill sponsored by Donovan and Roberts, is focused on the funding of Colorado water conservation board projects, and assigns an appropriation to protect those projects…

    SB19-186 – Expand Agricultural Chemical Management Program Protect Surface Water

    Another bill sponsored by Donovan, Catlin, Coram and including Rep. Jeni Arndt, seeks to protect Colorado surface water from contamination by the expansion of agriculture chemical management plans.

    Colorado NRCS now accepting applications for 2019 Agricultural Land Easement and Wetlands Reserve Programs — High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal

    Irrigation sprinklers run over a farm in Longmont in the South Platte River basin. Photo credit: Lindsay Fendt/Aspen Journalism

    From The High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal:

    Clint Evans, Colorado State conservationist for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently announced applications for the 2019 Agricultural Conservation Easement Program—Agricultural Land Easement and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program-Wetlands Reserve Program—are currently being accepted on a rolling basis. Due to the new 2018 Farm Bill, Colorado NRCS will not be announcing an application deadline for either program at this time. A subsequent announcement will be made at least 30 days prior to any established deadline in 2019.

    The purpose of the ACEP-ALE program is to protect the agricultural viability, grazing uses and related conservation values by limiting nonagricultural uses of the land. The purpose of the ACEP-WRE program is to protect and restore wetlands, wildlife habitat, and water quality on agricultural lands. These programs are voluntary and the landowner retains ownership of the land.

    Applicants for ACEP-ALE must be a federally recognized Indian Tribe, state or local units of government, or a non-governmental organization. Individual landowners may apply for ACEP-WRE if their land includes farmed or converted wetlands that can be successfully restored or other eligible wetland type.

    Completed application packets for ACEP-ALE should be emailed to Heather Foley at heather.foley@co.usda.gov or mailed to Heather Foley, easements coordinator, USDA-NRCS, Denver Federal Center, Building 56, Room 2604, Denver, CO 80225. Completed application packets for ACEP-WRE must be submitted to the local NRCS field offices located within USDA Service Centers. Application packets for either program must be submitted based on the 2018 guidelines.

    For more information about NRCS easement programs, please contact Heather Foley at 720-544-2805 or heather.foley@co.usda.gov. You can also visit your local NRCS Service Center or visit the Colorado NRCS website at http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov.

    #Colorado Open Lands and Morgan County rancher ink conservation easement deal for 1,218 acres

    A view of Washington Avenue in Orchard, Colorado. Orchard is in Morgan County. Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.

    From The Fort Morgan Times (Kara Morgan):

    Morgan County resident John Yocam and Colorado Open Lands ended 2018 with a deal.

    Yocam decided about a year ago that he wanted to conserve his family’s ranchland to make sure it stayed the thriving ranch land and habitat site that they had worked for many years to maintain. He approached Colorado Open Lands, a nonprofit land trust, to figure out how best to ensure the land would continue on as it has…

    Yocam said in the past his land has been a site of interest by outside parties, and he wanted to ensure that it stayed the ranchland it has been. As both Yocam and Farmer explain, the land is both ranchland and an important habitat site for local and migrating wildlife…

    Yocam explained some of the history of his land and why a conservation easement made sense for him.

    “It’s been a long time coming actually. It started back in the ’70s when they were going to put in Centennial Wildlife Refuge here,” he said.

    Yocam said the land has been in his family for about 70 years or so, since the mid-1950s, and he himself has lived there since 1976.

    “Pressure has just got to so much here from different water projects, recharge projects. I’ve been in court about three times and so I just got tired of fighting off everybody,” he explained. “So I donated it into a land trust.”

    […]

    ‘Rare and Unusual’

    Describing the recently conserved land, Yocam said with some pride, “It was deemed rare and unusual and must be protected, was the rating they gave it.”

    Farmer explained how this land is valuable in many ways, more than ranchland.

    “In addition to being highly productive, the ranch also provides excellent waterfowl habitat with its wetland and upland features,” she said.

    The land is located outside of the town of Orchard, Farmer said, and it plays an important role for the wildlife living in the area, especially birds.

    “Occurring within the ‘Golden Triangle,’ an area in Morgan and Weld counties defined by Empire Reservoir, Jackson Reservoir and Riverside Reservoir, the ranch and surrounding agricultural lands provide populations of ducks and geese with important upland/agricultural foraging grounds during their migration and over-wintering in the South Platte Basin,” Farmer explained.

    For bird migration in the area, this location is critical, she said.

    “This region is one of the most important wetland complexes in the South Platte Basin along the Central Flyway Migration Corridor,” Farmer said.

    Yocam painted a picture of the land diversity across his property: “It’s river bottom, into a riparian habitat. I’ve got a large sub-irrigated meadow. It’s got a big chunk of wetlands on it and then it goes into the uplands.”

    Credit Wikimedia.com.

    A look at conservation easements

    Flat Tops Wilderness

    From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Matt Annabel and Sara M. Dunn):

    Sustainable agricultural production requires responsible stewardship and financial stability. Since 1976, Colorado has provided a mechanism for landowners to perpetually protect their lands and associated water rights, while enjoying financial benefits through the grant of a conservation easement. The landowner retains ownership of the property after a conservation easement is conveyed.

    Conservation easements can be created only by a voluntary agreement between the landowner and a government entity or a charitable land trust created for that purpose. The landowner selects the governmental entity, such as Colorado Parks and Wildlife, or a land trust that best suits their goals, objectives and interests to hold the conservation easement. The Aspen Valley Land Trust and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust hold many conservation easements in our area.

    Aspen Valley Land Trust was organized in 1967 and is the oldest land trust in Colorado. To date, AVLT has conserved over 41,000 acres that protect local agriculture, rivers, wildlife habitat, recreational access, and outdoor educational opportunities in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys. Roughly half of AVLT conserved lands lie within the greater Roaring Fork Valley, and half between Glenwood Springs and the Flat Tops north of De Beque.

    The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust was formed in 1995 to help Colorado’s ranchers and farmers protect their agricultural lands and encourage the intergenerational transfer of ranches and farms. CCALT focuses on agricultural easements and encourages traditional activities such as farming, grazing, hunting, fishing and recreation on the land.

    The first step in conserving a property is identification of the property values that the landowner wants to preserve and the rights they are willing to relinquish in order to conserve the property. Landowners have flexibility in selecting which property rights they are willing to give up in exchange for a conservation easement.

    In instances where farming and ranching are identified as the conservation values of a property, easements can be used as a tool to compensate landowners for tying their water resources to the land, defining stewardship obligations and permanently restricting development. This preserves the land for agricultural production while maintaining the scenic landscapes and wildlife habitat that draw recreation and tourism dollars to our communities.

    When an easement is granted, the current use and management of the land is usually maintained resulting in very little impact on daily activities. Public access is not a requirement for conveying a conservation easement, although the property owner is required to grant the land trust access for monitoring visits.

    Conservation easements are typically monitored on an annual basis and visits are coordinated with the landowner. The annual visit to the property is to ensure that the terms of the easement are being met, to continue to build relationships with the landowners, and to resolve stewardship issues that may arise.

    Conservation easements can generate financial benefits for the landowners. Conservation easements are valued through an appraisal process which considers the value of the property without the conservation easement vs. the value of the property in its restricted state subject to the conservation easement. The difference between the two appraisal values is the conservation easement value which is used to calculate how much the landowner will be compensated for conserving their land.

    Most conservation easements are donated, in which case the landowner is compensated through federal and state tax incentives. In some rare situations, grants may be available to compensate the landowner for a portion of the conservation value

    A typical conservation easement takes approximately one year to complete. There are associated fees which vary greatly depending upon the circumstances. The fees cover a baseline inventory report, appraisals, title work, environmental assessments, mineral reports and the drafting of the legal documents necessary to create the conservation easement.

    Landowners interested in more information on conservation easements can contact AVLT at http://www.avlt.org or 970-963-8440. The local Conservation Districts will be holding an Ag Expo on Feb. 2, 2019 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Garfield County Fair Grounds in Rifle where additional information regarding conservation easements can be obtained. Registration is required to attend the Expo. More details can be found at: http://www.bookcliffcd.org/.

    Water Law Basics appears monthly in the Post Independent in cooperation with the area conservation districts. Matt Annabel is communications and outreach director for the Aspen Valley Land Trust, and Sara M. Dunn is district supervisor for the Bookcliff Conservation District.

    Western Rivers Conservancy Land Donation Establishes San Luis Valley Conservation Area in #Colorado — USFWS

    The landscape photo is of the New 13 acre easement, photo by Simi Batra/USFWS.

    Here’s the release USFWS:

    [Friday, September 14, 2018], the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accepted a 12.82-acre conservation easement donation in Colorado’s San Luis Valley from Western Rivers Conservancy. With the donation, the San Luis Valley Conservation Area becomes the 567th unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System, an unparalleled network of public lands and waters dedicated to the conservation of native wildlife and their habitats.

    Western Rivers Conservancy has worked in partnership with the Service, state and local governments, as well as other conservation organizations to connect people and communities to this diverse ecosystem. Their donation of a conservation easement is yet another step in local efforts to conserve important fish and wildlife habitat and increase opportunities for public access. It will ultimately support increased biodiversity and recreational opportunities such as birding and hunting on nearby public and private lands.

    “We are very pleased to partner with the Service to help create the San Luis Valley Conservation Area,” said Dieter Erdmann, Western River Conservancy Interior West Program Director. “The Rio Grande and its tributaries are the lifeblood of the San Luis Valley and we are committed to supporting voluntary conservation efforts that will benefit fish, wildlife and people alike.”

    “By working collaboratively with our conservation partners and local communities to establish the San Luis Valley Conservation Area, we are helping ensure that the San Luis Valley continues to support some of the state’s most important fish and wildlife resources, as well as the people who live here, for generations to come,” said the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Regional Director Noreen Walsh.

    In 2015, the Service approved the San Luis Valley Conservation Area Land Protection Plan, which clarified and guided the Service’s intent to continue working with partners and private landowners to establish voluntary conservation easements in this priority landscape. Easements allow landowners to retain their property rights and continue traditional activities such as livestock grazing and haying within the easement, while prohibiting commercial development. Under the plan, the Service could protect up to 530,000 acres with conservation easements donated or purchased from willing sellers.

    The Conservation Area plan is designed to protect wildlife and wetland habitat in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico. Its limit is defined by the headwaters of the legendary Rio Grande, which begins its nearly 1,900-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico in the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains that surround the San Luis Valley. Runoff from mountain snowpack creates wetlands and riparian areas in the midst of what otherwise is a high-mountain desert, providing important habitat for plants and migratory birds such as greater sandhill cranes, waterfowl and other sensitive or imperiled species. As the Conservation Area expands over time, the Service intends to protect wildlife habitat and maintain wildlife corridors between protected blocks of habitat on public and private conservation lands.

    The new Conservation Area is the fifth unit of the San Luis Valley National Wildlife Refuge Complex and the ninth national wildlife refuge in the state of Colorado.

    The Service’s Refuge System now encompasses 567 national wildlife refuges and 38 wetlands management districts across 150 million acres. Refuges are critical to the local communities that surround them, serving as centers for recreation, economic growth, and landscape health and resiliency. Each state and U.S. territory has at least one national wildlife refuge, and there is a refuge within an hour’s drive of most major cities.

    Learn more about the National Wildlife Refuge System or the San Luis Valley Conservation Area.

    For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/. Connect with our Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/USFWSMountainPrairie, follow our tweets at http://twitter.com/USFWSMtnPrairie, watch our YouTube Channel at http://www.youtube.com/usfws and download photos from our Flickr page at http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwsmtnprairie/.

    The Colorado West Land Trust June News is hot off the presses

    Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Kids learn about conservation and birding on conserved land

    Last month East Middle School 6th graders enjoyed a morning bird-watching hike at Avant Vineyards conserved property on East Orchard Mesa. Thanks so much to Nic Korte from the Grand Valley Audubon Society for leading the hike and Neil Guard at Avant Vineyards for hosting!

    Photo credit: Colorado West Land Trust

    2018 #COleg: Conservation easements on Sonnenberg’s radar during the session

    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    From The Fort Morgan Times:

    The perpetual concerns over the way the state has handled conservation easements also was on Sonnenberg’s radar. There were five bills this year on that issue, including a sunset review of the conservation easement oversight board. The bill, which is awaiting a signature from the governor, made changes to the board, including requiring a conflict of interest policy that would disqualify from serving any member who has a financial interest tied to conservation easements. Sonnenberg initially won support for an amendment that would address one of the program’s most controversial problems: landowners who received conservation easements tax credits from the state and the IRS, only to have those state tax credits yanked away. Hundreds of Coloradans have complained that the appraisal process has been rife with problems.

    Sonnenberg’s amendment would have allowed the landowner to take back clear title to the land placed under easement, with the understanding that they would have to pay back the federal tax credits. That amendment didn’t succeed but the bill does include a requirement that the board come up with a process for making that happen.

    The oversight board was extended for a year, and Sonnenberg said that meant “we kicked the can down the road a year.” But he was pleased that lawmakers got a commitment from the Attorney General’s office that they would figure out a way to “extinguish” conservation easements that have been devalued. Sonnenberg said he will carry that bill next year.

    San Luis Valley wetlands are critical to wildlife

    From The Valley Courier (Helen Smith):

    Wetlands are a critical part of the San Luis Valley. Not only are they a key water resource, but they also provide habitat for numerous bird species and bring tourism dollars to the local economy. They are truly part of what makes the Rio Grande Basin distinct.

    The San Luis Valley has three refuges that are overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the direction of the United States Department of the Interior. They are the Monte Vista, Alamosa and Baca National Wildlife Refuges. The first refuge to be established was Monte Vista in 1952, followed by Alamosa in 1962, and finally the Baca in 2000. These areas make up the San Luis Valley Refuge Complex and are three in a system that consists of over 560 refuges nationwide. The Monte Vista Refuge is 14,804 acres and Alamosa comprises 12,026 acres and the Baca is 92,500 acres. The primary purpose of setting these lands aside is to protect vital wildlife corridors as well as water assets that are key to the well- being of the aquifer system that is crucial to the sustainability of the valley.

    These refuges also serve as prime habitat and nesting grounds for over 200 species of birds as well as other species of native wildlife such as deer, elk, beaver, and coyotes. The Alamosa Refuge is also home to the historic Mum Well which serves as a key data collection point for Colorado and San Luis Valley Water users. The primary purpose, is to protect lands that are important and that make the San Luis Valley a beautiful place. The landscapes seen in the refuges also highlight the distinct regions of the Valley as well.

    The Monte Vista Refuge was established for the purpose of protecting migratory bird species, especially the Sandhill Crane. The San Luis Valley U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office estimates that between 23 and 27,000 Sandhill Cranes make the San Luis Valley a rest stop during their annual migration to and from breeding grounds in the northern US.

    The success of the migration north in the spring from winter habitat in New Mexico and Texas to summer habitat in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Canada and south in the fall is based largely on the birds eating enough food in the SLV to complete the trek, survive winter, and arrive healthy enough to nest and raise the next generation. Grain left after harvest on privately owned fields in the SLV is a major food source necessary to complete a successful migration. Nearly the entirety of the Rocky Mountain Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes passes through Colorado during their migration. The feed from the abundant barley and rest in wetlands that the cranes get in the SLV is critical to the success of the migration and upcoming breeding, and the most important part of the migration in Colorado is the availability of grain and roost sites in the SLV.

    Colorado Parks and Wildlife also protect wetland areas across the San Luis Valley. According to a 2012 report by CPW, “The value of wetlands can’t be overstated. About 125 species that are found here in Colorado are dependent on wetlands for their survival, including 98 species of migratory birds.” The species that benefit include waterfowl and 20 priority non-game species.

    The agency mitigates wetlands based on a set of criteria that include hydrology, vegetation, land use and conservation. To manage the hydrology the goal is to maintain adequate width and depth (4–8 inches deep) for roosting, maintain flowing water to prevent spread of disease. Vegetation goals include monitoring for the availability of vegetation that produces food, controlling woody vegetation where needed, control encroaching coarse emergent vegetation and the use of livestock and controlled burns to maintain grass overstory.

    Land use surveys look at the roosting and feeding sites, provide grit (e.g., pebbles and small gravel) at roost sites if needed, and remove unused fences. Conservation goals include monitoring harvest rates to maintain desirable population numbers and forming and maintaining partnerships between agencies agricultural producers, landowners and the public.

    Like the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), US Forest Service (USFS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also work to protect wetland habitats. The Blanca Wildlife Habitat Area, managed by the BLM, serves as a refuge for birds, fish and other wildlife. The wetlands are a key area for birds since they provide habitat for migrating water and shorebirds. The bald eagle and the peregrine falcon also use the wetlands. Other Species of Management Priority that have been documented are American bittern, avocet, common yellowthroat, eared grebe, Forster’s tern, greater Sandhill crane, hen harrier, Savannah sparrow, snowy egret, sora rail, western grebe and yellow-headed blackbird. Shorebirds such as gulls, sandpipers and pelicans are at home in the salty environment, as well as 158 other species including a colony of breeding Snowy Plover. The Blanca Wildlife Habitat is a duck breeding concentration area, with mallards by far the most common, but good numbers of pintail and green-winged teal are also utilizing the area.

    The Valleys farms and ranches also support the areas wetlands and see them as important part of the hydrologic cycle. Wetlands work as a sponge that helps to ensure that working ag lands maintain a water source in lean years and symbiotically rotationally grazed wetland remain healthier due do reduced grass overstory and less noxious weeds. San Luis Valley agriculture producers and water managers are partnering to do timed releases of water from area reservoirs to only supply irrigation water, but to insure river and wetland habitats benefit.

    In the long run, wetlands provide wildlife habitat, grazing opportunities, groundwater recharge and sustainability of water resources.

    Helen Smith is the Outreach Specialist for the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable.

    The Economics of Conservation – Land Trusts Are Economic Drivers — @TaosLandTrust

    Photo credit: Jim O’Donnell via the Taos Land Trust

    From the Taos Land Trust (Jim O’Donnell):

    In some ways, the impact of our work as a land trust is obvious. There is the stunning view of our valley from the overlook south of town. That is something every Taoseño treasures when coming home from a trip to Santa Fe, Albuquerque or further afield. There are the wide vistas to Taos Mountain across the fields north of Overland Sheepskin Company or the rolling forested mesas of Wolf Springs Ranch on the drive to Tres Piedras. Visually, our work protecting Taos’ landscape is kind of hard to miss.

    Perhaps not quite as visible are the economic benefits that come with preserving these lands and building a connection between land and community. As Taos grows and changes Taos Land Trust aims to be a partner in bringing the positive economics of conservation to Taos.

    Even though most conservation easements are placed on private land, there are huge benefits to the community as a whole. These include water supply protection, flood control, fish and wildlife habitat, hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching and other outdoor activities, carbon sequestration, erosion control, agricultural crop production – AND economic growth. HOW?

    Tax Benefits

    For those who have placed land under a conservation easement with a land trust there is an upfront tax benefit. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement typically lowers the property’s market value, which in turn lowers potential estate tax. In New Mexico landowners at any income level can qualify for a tax credit worth 50% of the appraised value of the conservation easement up to a maximum of $250,000. That means money in people’s pockets that can be spent in the community or saved to enhance economic security.

    Property is More Valuable

    When a community protects open space, that community becomes a more desirable place to be. People enjoy vistas, parks, recreational opportunities and accessible natural areas. A trip to Kit Carson Park or Fred Baca Park on any given day will prove this point. These amenities in turn make land surrounding these protected areas more attractive.

    Travel and Tourism

    Tourism is a key component of the Taos County economy. In fact, we are the most tourism-dependent county in the state. There is no mystery as to why people come to Taos. From the wilderness areas in our surrounding mountains to the National Monument in our backyard, the Taos economy is built on open space recreation. All those people coming for our amazing open lands spend money on recreational equipment sales and rentals, special events, food, lodging and so on. Our open spaces and parks attract visitors and locals alike, creating revenue for local businesses.

    Attracting New Businesses

    Increasingly, the American economy is dominated by tech and knowledge companies. These type of businesses are not tied to a specific location as manufacturers are. These businesses have more freedom in choosing where to locate.

    We all know that Taos needs more jobs. A wide range of studies show that when many businesses consider relocating they increasingly take into account the quality of life in the places where they might want to relocate. A number of studies note that these types of businesses (that typically pay well above minimum wage) seek to locate in places with open space, parks and protected lands. It is the same with retirees. Retired people bring money into communities and, again, surveys indicate that they typically to live in a place where recreation opportunities are plentiful. Communities that fail to provide recreation opportunities for retirees tend to see their tax base erode when retirees leave the community.

    Beyond just open spaces and parks both tech business and retirees look for towns that are walk-able or bike-able and while Taos is not quite there yet, we are working with our partners to make bike paths, sidewalks and trails more available to Taoseños.

    Reduced Costs to Town and County

    The fact is that sprawl development is expensive. It costs more to hook people up to vital infrastructure like water, sewer and electricity that more they are spread out. Not to mention the road building and other transportation issues. Compact or focused development reduces state and municipal costs on road maintenance and delivery of services from water to solid waste to transit, to fire and police protection and school buses. Taos needs to protect its most valuable landscapes while increasing its densification.

    Support Farming and Ranching

    Land conservation supports working landscapes on which many in our county depend.

    Farms and ranches are sometimes referred to as “working lands,” because they produce products and value for communities. The category also includes forests that produce timber and other wood products in a sustainable manner. The Trust for Public Land points out that:

    “Lori Lynch, an economist at the University of Maryland, studied what farmers do with the money they earn from selling development rights as part of farmland preservation. Farmers in Maryland who had participated in conservation programs were more likely than other farmers to have invested in their farm over the past five years and to have attended workshops to learn new technologies and enhance their farming skills. According to the research, money paid to the farmers for the easement purchases circulated back into the local economy via debt reduction, savings or farm investment, farm operation financing , or retirement investment. Some bought more land or equipment.”

    Clean Water, Clean Air

    Parks and conserved lands reduce storm water by capturing precipitation, slowing its runoff, and reducing the volume of water that enters the storm water system. Think of our Rio Fernando property and how our work to restore that wetland will increase clean water in our community and better manage the flow of that water.

    Many communities have to build expensive infrastructure like drainage channels and storm sewers to deal with flooding from storms or big winter runoff. There is also the question of how to pay for and deal with nonpoint-source pollution caused when water picks up chemicals and contaminants from parking lots and other impermeable surfaces. As the impacts of climate change become more severe (think of Hurricane Harvey) a resilient community will need to rely on ecosystem services to deal with increased rainfall and other severe weather events.

    Trees and shrubs in parks and open spaces remove air pollutants that endanger human health and damage structures. Trees and other vegetation promote air quality by taking up pollutants through their leaves and diffusing them into their cells.

    Health

    We all know that one key way to incorporate exercise into daily activity is to walk or bike for errands near home. However, many towns such as ours unfortunately do not facilitate easy exercise. As mentioned before, we are working with local governments and citizens to develop land use regulations, mapping and paths to shape our community into one where Taoseños can easily integrate exercise into daily activity. And our conservation work has a role too. Some of the land we have protected can eventually be used for greenways that support hiking, biking, and other human-powered transportation.

    We’re all in this together. Taos Land Trust is a partner and resource in building a resilient and thriving future – and economy! – for our northern New Mexico community.

    2018 #COleg: Governor Hickenlooper signs SB18-066 (Extend Operation Of State Lottery Division)

    The upper Colorado River, above State Bridge. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Governor Hickenlooper’s office via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:

    Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 18-066 into law Monday, reauthorizing the Colorado Lottery through 2049.

    “The Colorado Lottery is the only lottery in the nation that commits nearly all of its yearly proceeds to outdoor recreation or habitat and wildlife conservation,” Michael Hartman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, said in a press release. “Coloradans can rest assured that their lottery game spending will continue to support the incredible resources that make our state so special, including supporting the capital needs of our state’s great school systems.”

    According to the release, in the last five fiscal years, the lottery has distributed more than $670 million to its four beneficiaries — the Conservation Trust Fund, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Great Outdoors Colorado and the Building Excellent Schools Today program.

    Since its start in 1983 through fiscal year 2017, the Colorado Lottery has returned to more than $3.1 billion to its beneficiaries.

    The money is distributed 50 percent to the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, 40 percent to the Conservation Trust Fund, and 10 percent to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. GOCO funds in fiscal year 2018 are capped at $66.2 million and funds that exceed the cap will go to the Colorado Department of Education’s Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund, according to the lottery website.

    The current structure of the primary lottery beneficiaries has been in place since 1992, when the people of Colorado voted to the amend the Colorado constitution and create the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund.

    Lottery funds have been used to create and restore hundreds of miles of trails, protect hundreds of miles of rivers, create thousands of jobs, add thousands of acres to the state parks system, create more than 1,000 parks and recreation areas, and protect over 1 million acres of land.

    Under a reauthorization passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2002, the Lottery division was extended 15 years from 2009 to 2024. The new bill adds 25 years, authorizing the lottery until 2049.

    To learn more about where the funds go, visit http://coloradolottery.com/en/about/giving-back.

    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.

    @COWaterTrust: RiverBank is two weeks away! (June 14, 2017)

    Lulu City with Lake Granby in the distance. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

    Wednesday, June 14th
    5:30-8:30 pm
    Denver Botanic Gardens

    Get your tickets now!

    RiverBank is our annual fundraiser, where our wonderful supporters have a chance to connect with each other, celebrate our partnerships, and spend time with our team.

    We have an amazing evening planned, so we just need YOU!

    Join us for great food, wonderful beverages from our open bar, a fantastic silent auction, and the opportunity to recognize our David Getches Flowing Waters Award winner, Lurline Underbrink Curran! (Read more about Lurline’s accomplishments here.)

    Click here for tickets!

    Environmental Defense Fund looking for win-wins with farmers RE: groundwater depletion

    The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

    [ed. Coloradans know that ranchers and farmers are key stakeholders in the preservation of habitat and water resources, and they grow our food.]

    Here’s an interview with EDF staffers from Matt Weise writing for Water Deeply. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Environmental Defense Fund is launching a new Western water strategy that aims to solve the problems of groundwater depletion and habitat restoration by working jointly with farmers.

    FARMERS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS have often been at odds. Farmers, for instance, rarely want it known that their land might host an endangered species, for fear regulations could come crashing down. Environmentalists are fond of regulations to protect natural resources, but rarely do much to help farmers comply.

    These old patterns are beginning to change as the two camps find they have more in common than stereotypes suggest. One group working along this path is Environmental Defense Fund, which is developing a new Western water strategy aimed at helping farmers cope with scarcity.

    The new policy, still being developed, aims to help farmers and irrigation districts comply with California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). EDF also plans to help create water markets, so farmers can sell or trade water when they have a surplus…

    To get a preview of the new strategy and how it can help both wildlife and farm economies, Water Deeply recently spoke with three EDF staffers: David Festa, senior vice president, ecosystems; Maurice Hall, associate vice president, ecosystems and water; and Ann Hayden, senior director, California habitat and Western water.

    Water Deeply: What region are you focusing on, exactly?

    Maurice Hall: Generally, we think of our problem set as the areas where irrigated agriculture is the prominent water use. That tends to correspond to the area where we have the biggest stresses on water and water scarcity issues.

    Right now, there are two really big opportunities to insert new solutions. One is California, and in large part the opportunity we have now is due to passage of SGMA. Because of the stresses that is going to add to an already stressed system, it will cause us to have do a lot of things differently.

    The second big opportunity is in the Colorado River Basin, especially in the Lower Colorado region. There are clear signs of imbalance on Lake Mead, the big storage reservoir that the Lower Basin states depend on.

    Water Deeply: You’re developing an open-source toolkit to help people comply with California’s SGMA and a series of workshops. That’s kind of unusual for an environmental group, isn’t it?

    Ann Hayden: We recognized that the responsibility SGMA was going to put on local agencies to figure this out was going to be a huge burden. Our strategy is really to target those folks in the Central Valley who seem more willing and better positioned to get out ahead of the far-off deadlines in SGMA, and figure out ways they can be credited for doing those things.

    Specifically, we’re thinking of ways we can help with groundwater recharge and developing a groundwater market. We’re focusing on where those opportunities lie.

    We also recognized that in order for this to be a sustainable solution, we really need to figure out ways in which we can get disadvantaged communities to have a seat at the table, and equip them with tools and resources to engage in decision-making. We’re working with partners on the ground in the Central Valley to establish a Water Leadership Program.

    Water Deeply: And you’re actually working on trying to incubate new water markets. How will that work?

    Hall: Consider, right now, the agriculture water users who have water rights. Because of the way we’ve built our system and the social norms and policies we have established, they have few choices of how they can use their water. They can either grow their crops or not use their water. Because if you don’t use your water, you lose the water right. So there’s an incentive to use the water whether or not it’s really economically viable, or whether it’s really what you want to do most.

    So the value of water markets, generally, is to give those who have the rights some flexibility in how they use water, so they can manage it as an asset, as opposed to just an input of their agricultural production. That opens up a lot of options. Maybe I’m growing a crop I’m barely making money on, and somebody downstream needs some water to supplement their almond orchard. And I can trade my water to them and use less on my land, and we’re both better off.

    One of the problems is that if you do that without the right sideboards in place, you can have some undesirable impacts. For instance, you might reduce the recharge to groundwater in your local areas because you’re not irrigating your field. So building water-trading programs that include those externalities is what is necessary going forward, and why we see the importance of us being involved in making this happen.

    Water Deeply: You sponsored a bill last year, AB 2304, to help launch water markets in the state. What’s the status of that bill, and what comes next?

    Hayden: We started working with the Association of California Water Agencies, which is also coming out with its policy principles on what should and could happen to improve water markets. There was a lot of common ground. Unfortunately, there’s a whole spectrum of perspectives among its members. When it came down to it, it was too challenging to gain full support of ACWA at this point to make movement on legislation. That said, we are committed to working with ACWA on other possible policy improvements, maybe those that don’t require legislation at first.

    Hall: There have been really bad examples of what ill-planned water trades can do. A dramatic example happened on the Front Range of Colorado, where pretty significant communities have been dried up through purchase of agricultural land and the water rights that go along with them – so-called “buy-and-dry” transitions that have been in the news for decades. So we recognize we have more education to do.

    Water Deeply: You also want to incentivize farmers to idle land for environmental purposes. Is this a kind of land trust?

    Festa: What we’d like to do is create the economic systems that will allow farmers and ranchers to look at the environment, essentially, as a crop. They can manage their lands in ways that produce a very specific environmental benefit and get paid to do it. The concept is a cousin to things like conservation easements and land banks, where land is taken out of production. But in a lot of those cases, not much, oftentimes, is actually done to manage it for a particular environmental outcome.

    Hayden: In the groundwater context, it is one area where we may have a nice linkage with land restoration. We’re probably going to see more land that has to go idle in order for farmers to adjust to how water supply is going to change under SGMA. We want to get out ahead of that and help farmers design good habitat on their land – and have them be paid for that. There also could be opportunities for farmers to do on-farm groundwater recharge, and ways we can design those activities that are also beneficial to creating habitat.

    Water Deeply: Any examples on the ground now?

    Hayden: We have a number of pilot projects where we have been able to test our habitat quantification tool. It’s a tool to be able to measure a habitat function on a parcel of agricultural land. It allows you to plug in different practices a farmer could implement to improve that function for a suite of at-risk species.

    The one site where we’re about to launch a restoration project is called Elliott Ranch in West Sacramento. We were able to get Proposition 1 funding from the Delta Conservancy to be able to compensate that landowner to make some changes in agricultural practices and direct deliberate restoration on the property. We’re about to start on the actual project and get shovels in the ground in the next couple of months. That’s a project that’s really focused on Swainson’s hawk.

    Groundwater movement via the USGS

    SLV projects receive $1.4 million in GOCO grants

    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust
    Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    From Great Outdoors Colorado (Rosemary Dempsey) via The Crestone Eagle:

    The Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board awarded three grants totaling more than $1.4 million to projects across the San Luis Valley. San Luis Valley Inspire, a valley-wide coalition breaking down barriers for kids to get outside, received $1 million in funding as part of the GOCO Inspire Initiative; Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) received a $376,500 grant to permanently conserve the La Garita Creek Ranch near Del Norte; and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) received a $25,000 habitat restoration grant for Rio Grande State Wildlife Area.

    The $1 million grant is part of GOCO’s Inspire Initiative, which will invest in places, programs, and pathways to get kids outside in communities across the state. This innovative framework is being looked at as a national model, and each coalition’s approach to the unique challenges of their community will serve as examples to other rural, urban, suburban, or mountain communities across the country.

    Youth have led the charge for the San Luis Valley Inspire coalition; this funding will put their plans into action over the next three years. San Luis Valley Inspire will put GOCO funding to work in Antonito, Creede and Saguache, building the Antonito Outdoor Education Center and investing in the creation of the Antonito Adventure Program, improving connections along Creede’s Willow Creek Corridor, the Headwaters Youth Conservation Corps, the Saguache Backyard to Backcountry Program, and the Saguache Youth Conservation Corps.

    RiGHT’s grant for La Garita Creek Ranch was part of GOCO’s open space grant program, which funds public and private land conservation. Projects sustain local agriculture and economies, give outdoor recreationists a place to play (or simply enjoy the view), protect wildlife habitat, and safeguard the state’s water supply.

    La Garita Creek Ranch is a 460-acre guest ranch outside of Del Norte near Penitente Canyon, an international climbing, hiking, and mountain biking destination. The ranch is also adjacent to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and the Rio Grande National Forest.

    Conserving La Garita will protect critical water access and habitat for a variety of wildlife species as well as Ute pictographs and other archaeological evidence of early Native Americans. The conservation project will also create new climbing and bouldering access.

    CPW’s grant is part of GOCO’s habitat restoration grant program. In 2016, GOCO doubled funding for the program, which restores habitat through projects that remove invasive plant species, protect Colorado’s water supply, mitigate fire fuels, and perform other critical restoration work.

    Restoration of the Rio Grande in Rio Grande State Wildlife Area will protect water infrastructure, local agriculture, and wetlands that support threatened and endangered amphibians, fish, birds, and mammals.

    To date, GOCO has invested $42 million in San Luis Valley projects and has conserved more than 90,000 acres of land in the valley. GOCO funding has supported Alamosa’s ice rink and Rio Grande Farm Park, Faith Hinkley Memorial Park in Monte Vista, and Center’s Town Park, among other projects.

    Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a Constitutional Amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 4,800 projects in urban and rural areas in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.

    Dugan Ranch – Conserved! — Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

    Rio Grande River corridor near Del Norte.
    Rio Grande River corridor near Del Norte.

    Here’s the release from the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust:

    In 1999 the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) was founded as the community‘s land trust, dedicated to serving the entire San Luis Valley. In 2007, RiGHT launched the Rio Grande Initiative, the landscape scale effort with many partners to protect land and water along the Rio Grande and its tributaries. One of the first ranches they protected under the Initiative is owned by Bob and Carol Lee Dugan on the river on Swede Lane, just west of Monte Vista. Now, nearly ten years later, RiGHT is proud to announce that the Dugans have protected yet another nearby ranch with a conservation easement.

    This 316-acre ranch, which combines parcels previously known as the James Ranch and the Stephens Ranch, is just south of the river between Monte Vista and Del Norte. Between the two ranches, the Dugans have now protected a total of 670 acres with conservation easements. In doing so, they have also protected the water that goes with those ranches, the wildlife habitat, the beautiful views, and the important agricultural productivity. Clearly, this represents a strong commitment to conservation by Bob and Carol Lee Dugan and they continue to recommend conservation to others, saying, “We suggest that other land owners consider preserving their ranches for the future generations of this state.”

    “We are immensely grateful to the Dugan family for their dedication to their properties along the Rio Grande,” said Nancy Butler, RiGHT’s Executive Director. “Their land ethic has helped RiGHT and our partners protect more than 26,000 acres along the Rio Grande and its tributaries. That legacy will continue far into the future and that land, water and wildlife habitat will remain intact for all to enjoy.”

    The conservation of the 2016 Dugan Ranch project was made possible through the generous support of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Gates Family Foundation, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (via funding supported by the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable) and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s San Luis Valley Habitat Partnership Program Committee. Invaluable support has also been provided by individual donors who ensure that RiGHT’s conservation work can continue.

    As an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the NRCS’s mission is to help people help the land. Colorado’s NRCS State Conservationist Clint Evans stated that, “Protecting vital agricultural landscapes is a top priority for NRCS. Through the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Agricultural Land Easement (ACEP-ALE), the natural resource benefits we all enjoy derived from prime agricultural lands can be preserved.”

    “This project is an important contribution to the corridor of conservation in this area of the river, with nearly 1,500 acres already conserved nearby,” said Butler. “RiGHT has conserved four other spectacular ranches in this area, providing excellent wildlife habitat and maintaining the beautiful scenery that we all love in the San Luis Valley. Carol Lee and Bob Dugan have demonstrated immense dedication to preserving these lands in perpetuity and we are grateful that RiGHT was able to help them achieve their dreams for these special places.”

    Preserving the prairie — The Greeley Tribune

    Lower South Platte River
    Lower South Platte River

    From The Greeley Tribune (Dan England):

    Bruce Sikich didn’t like it when his boss put the land they cared for in the hands of Colorado Open Lands.

    Sikich went to school with Clyde Abbett’s son. Sikich wasn’t very nice to Abbett’s son — Sikich was a macho punk before the U.S. Navy straightened him out — but they got along. One day, while Clyde Abbett watched Sikich work next door on his stepfather’s property, Abbett asked Sikich if he wanted to farm, too. That was 30 years ago.

    Abbett became Sikich’s best friend. Sikich visited him many days in the home, trimmed his trees at his Greeley house and misses him dearly now that he’s gone.

    Sikich was upset at Abbett’s decision to put the land in a conservation trust. It seemed to go against everything they’d worked for as farmers. Farmers, he said, don’t like to be told what to do, and the organization put restrictions on the land, even beyond the obvious ones that promise to leave the land untouched by development. He can’t ride his race bike out on the farm. Workers came around and sniffed out noxious weeds on the land.

    And yet, because Sikich loved Abbett, he understood. His land abutted the South Platte River, and that drew bald eagles and a heron rookery and places full of pasture where Abbett could rest his arms on his tractor wheel and look out into the flowing water. He buried his dogs on a nearby hill.

    At times people would offer Abbett money. They said they just wanted to build a farmhouse on his land. Sikich himself advised Abbett to take the money. It was good money. Yet Abbett never trusted them. More often than not, the person secretly wanted to mine the land for gravel, and Abbett didn’t want anyone to gouge a hole in his land.

    “This farm isn’t great,” Sikich said. “The soil isn’t that good, and it lays poorly. But it’s a beautiful place.”

    It’s the kind of place Colorado Open Lands hopes to keep protected. The organization, which recently merged with the Colorado Conservation Trust, considers Weld County land — like the tract owned by Abbett’s estate and farmed by Sikich — to be some of the most important land in the state. It also appears to be coveted by developers. And now there’s a race to control it.

    “While we work statewide, I believe that Weld County is under the greatest resource pressure,” said Sarah Parmar, director of conservation of Colorado Open Lands. “We have a unique moment in time to conserve those lands in the country that are most critical to habitat, food production and community character.”

    Weld County faces three distinct development pressures that could further change the way it looks, even breathes, Parmar said, in the next decade. Many counties face one of those pressures. Weld faces all three: Mining, both gravel and oil and gas; an exploding population; and nearby municipalities thirsty for water.

    The new organization hopes to show its renewed commitment to Weld by opening an office in northern Colorado. The organization is even considering Greeley for its location, although Fort Collins also is in the mix.

    WHERE RESOURCES ARE VALUABLE

    Although it will talk to any landowner about conservation, Colorado Open Lands does not hope to conserve every piece of farmland from development. The organization maps out areas where it believes resources are the most valuable. Those resources include wildlife habitat, prime soil on agricultural land and water rights. Many areas of Weld have all those, and those pressures that Parmar mentioned above all threaten them in some way.

    Two of those pressures won’t surprise anyone who’s lived in Weld the last few years. Oil and gas development and population growth both demand a lot from our county.

    The oil and gas boom is no longer, although there are indications that it could pick back up again. But Weld still has double the next highest county’s number of active wells. And though population projections do depend a bit on oil and gas, many still have Weld doubling its residents in the next 25 years.

    The last is a bit more complicated, but it’s still important, and it shows how hot spots such as the South Platte River can be impacted even when developers don’t necessarily want to build subdivisions on its banks.

    The organization’s worked with 15 landowners in Weld County to conserve more than 18,000 acres of land and the associated water rights. Those water rights are just as important as habitat, Parmar said, because municipalities in the Denver area appear to be targeting Weld for its water. Those cities, to feed their growth, will purchase the water rights and leave the land in what many call “buy and dry” deals. Though that can still create habitat for some wildlife, the deals also leave thousands of useless acres surrounding small or mid-sized municipalities.

    Water rights often support both agricultural production and wildlife habitat. Weld has some of the best soils in Colorado, but those soils are considered prime only if they are irrigated, Parmar said. And the habitat in Weld is more valuable than many of its residents may realize.

    “The juxtaposition of native prairie and the riparian and wetland habitats, which are often created by irrigation, harbors an amazing array of species,” Parmar said. “In other words, it is the land and water together that create these stacked economic benefits and habitat values.”

    It’s already happened in Weld, and it happened long ago, in 1986, when the city of Thornton purchased nearly 20,000 acres of irrigated farmland in Weld and Larimer counties. Pierce and Ault still feel the effects of its stagnated growth from that purchase.

    The South Platte Basin is expected to take the biggest hit to irrigated agriculture in order to meet that projected water gap, Parmar said. That’s why Colorado Open Lands hopes to target more land along the South Platte such as the tract Sikich farms as well as other key areas of Weld, such as the protection of private lands surrounding the Pawnee National Grassland.

    “The South Platte is incredibly important, as all waterways are in Colorado, because they create a convergence of resources valued by people and wildlife,” Parmar said. “The development along these waterways can have a disproportionate impact on species and can create greater problems for communities when major flood events happen, as we saw in 2013.”

    Those who hope to protect those water rights — Parmar refers to her organization and others like it as the “conservation community” — do need to show the same kind of flexibility they want from municipalities and landowners, Parmar said. One way to compromise may be to tie water rights to farms but allow some leasing for municipal needs.

    REAL AND LASTING ECONOMIC BENEFITS

    Even as Parmar insists there are real and lasting economic benefits from wildlife habitat and agriculture, there’s no doubt Weld’s also benefited from the recent growth boom and the one that occurred in the early 2000s. Oil and gas filled our coffers: At one point, the county had a $100 million reserve fund. Gravel mining’s also an important part of that.

    There is some concern that conservation easements will attempt to stop oil and gas development and gravel mining. There’s already a lot of mining along the South Platte corridor, said Tom Parko, director of planning services for Weld County.

    Conservation easements naturally place restrictions on use once they’re in place, as the idea is to preserve the land in its most pristine state. Those restrictions usually include subdivisions and residential structures, and they almost always prohibit the sale of water rights.

    If an owner has the mineral rights, the organization may ask the landowner give up the right to sell them or mine them on the surface. Lateral drilling is permitted, Parmar said.

    However, most of the time, a third party owns the mineral rights in Weld County, and in that case, a conservation easement can’t prohibit oil and gas development, and the land trust works with the owner to limit the impact if any mining takes place.

    “We are not against oil and gas development, or residential development,” Parmar said. “Our goal is to work to see it done well and in the most appropriate places.”

    A GOOD FIT

    The organization does make some inquiries, but it doesn’t try to convince landowners to move into conservation easements. Not all of the land is a good fit, and it’s a commitment and a financial sacrifice, even with the tax benefits an easement provides. Landowners need to be sure it’s a good fit for them.

    But just as the old adage that once one house pops up, others follow, that can also be true of conservation easements, Parmar said. Once you get that first conservation easement, it’s easier to get others. That’s true in part because the organization does do some limited outreach to landowners, just like developers might.

    “But it’s the neighbors and others who do most of the marketing for us,” Parmar said. “Word of mouth is our best resource.”

    Still, she looks at those three pressures that Weld faces, the growth and oil and gas and the prospect of our water going to other cities, a situation unique to our county, and sees it as an opportunity for residents.

    “I’m not saying that any of these things are inherently bad, but they are all pressures on resource conversion,” Parmar said, “and for a county whose identity and economic drivers have been largely agricultural, these combined pressures provide an opportunity for the residents of Weld County to think about their vision for its land and water.”

    Sikich’s knees and hips hurt, and he recently watched his grandkids play hockey in Minnesota and enjoyed that. He misses that now. He’s 62. He probably could do another five years, maybe even seven, but he’s not sure he wants to do that. He misses his family, and he misses Abbett as well.

    “He was my purpose,” Sikich said of his close friend and boss, “and now he’s gone. Honestly without him, it’s just no fun anymore.”

    Maybe he’s now reflecting on his career, but he’s happy with Colorado Land Trust and the work it does.

    He doesn’t know how long he’ll be around to work the land. But he’s satisfied knowing Abbett would have liked knowing it will be around after he’s gone.

    Ranch on Conejos River conserved — The Valley Courier

    Rainbow Trout Ranch photo credit DudeRanchcom.
    Rainbow Trout Ranch photo credit DudeRanchcom.

    From the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust via The Valley Courier:

    Over a mile of the upper Conejos River is now protected forever, thanks to the commitment of the VanBerkum family. As of last week the beautiful Rainbow Trout Ranch was preserved in perpetuity through a conservation easement with the community’s Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT).

    “On behalf of Linda, David, Jane and myself, we would like to express our appreciation to RiGHT and to the many individuals who have helped us in our journey to preserve this beautiful stretch of the Conejos River,” said Doug Van Berkum. “We are blessed to live in the spectacular Conejos Canyon and are honored to share the traditional western lifestyle with our guests, and to know that the natural and unspoiled beauty will be preserved for generations to come.”

    The 591-acre Rainbow Trout Ranch is a historic guest ranch that has been in operation for over 85 years. Largely surrounded by public lands, the entire ranch, including the impressive rock outcrops above the main lodge, can be seen from the scenic overlook on Highway 17 as it climbs the Cumbres/La Manga Pass. Highway 17 is designated as a Los Caminos Antigos Scenic and Historic Byway and the views of the Conejos Canyon and the ranch from the overlook are spectacular. With few privately owned parcels protected along the Conejos, the preservation of this historic and picturesque ranch is an important conservation accomplishment. “We are immensely grateful to the Van Berkum family for their dedication to this beautiful property and to the Conejos Canyon,” said Nancy Butler, RiGHT’s executive director. “As the owners of Rainbow Trout Ranch since the early ’90s, they share the ranch with over 700 guests every summer who come from across the United States and overseas to enjoy the beauty and serenity of the Conejos River valley. Protection of the ranch will help ensure that legacy continues far into the future and that the land and wildlife habitat will remain intact for all to enjoy.”

    The conservation of Rainbow Trout Ranch was made possible through the generous support of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the Gates Family Foundation, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. Rainbow Trout Ranch was featured by RiGHT in their 2014 “Save the Ranch” campaign, and a total of 57 individual donors also contributed to make this project a success. RiGHT would especially like to thank: Forrest Ketchin, Duane and Susan Larson, Chris and Christy Hayes, Michael and Andrea Banks’ Nature Fund, Jim Gilmore, Tom and Pat Gilmore, Barbara Relyea, Nancy Starling Ross and Wayne Ross, and Bonnie Orkow and many others for their generous contributions to this exceptional conservation effort.

    “This project exemplifies the power of partner- ships,” said Katherine Brown, RiGHT’s development coordinator. “The support of these funders, from state and federal programs and private foundations, along with contributions from so many individuals and the Van Berkum family all came together to make this possible. We hope that everyone who drives up Forest Service Road 250 to the Platoro Reservoir or who stops at the Highway 17 overlook to take in the majestic view of the Conejos Canyon will appreciate the spectacular landscape that will remain open and connected through this conservation project.”

    As part of RiGHT’s Rio Grande Initiative to protect the land and water along the Rio Grande and Conejos Rivers, Rainbow Trout Ranch is the first conservation easement on the upper reaches of the Conejos. Bordered by the Rio Grande National Forest on three sides and La Jara Reservoir State Land Trust land to the north, the permanent conservation of the property will enhance and maintain the overall landscape. This is vital for wildlife movement as well as the preservation of the scenic beauty of the area. The property features large intact areas of Douglas fir forest and extensive riparian habitats, both important wildlife resource areas for large mammals including the federally-threatened Canada Lynx, elk, and black bear as well as migratory birds that rely on high altitude river corridors and the important fisheries of the Conejos River.

    Nearby landowner, former RiGHT board member, and renowned artist who draws great inspiration from the scenic beauty of the upper Conejos area, Jim Gilmore said of the completed easement, “I feel the Conejos Canyon is one of the most beautiful spots in Colorado. And the Rainbow Trout Ranch is one of the largest and most desirable properties along the river. It is great news that RIGHT and the Van Berkum family worked together to conserve this beautiful piece of land.”

    Conservation of this historic guest ranch also protects the history of western recreation and the cultural importance of a natural playground that generations of guests have enjoyed. First known as the Rainbow Trout Lodge, the ranch opened to guests in 1927, mainly as a fishing retreat, with horseback riding, backcountry pack trips and hiking also offered. In 1993 the Van Berkum family converted it to a full-fledged guest ranch complete with youth programs, evening activities and recreational and fishing access to the beautiful Conejos Canyon. With an emphasis on the western traditions and lifestyle, the Rainbow Trout Ranch will continue to be a place for families to experience the beauty of nature far into the future.

    For more information about the conservation work of RiGHT please visit www. riograndelandtrust.org or contact the land trust office in Del Norte at 719-657-0800 or info@riograndelandtrust.org.

    #COWaterPlan: Conservation easements are being used to protect water

    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth
    Arkansas River Basin via The Encyclopedia of Earth

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Conservation easements have figured prominently in the Arkansas River Basin as a way to offer landowners incentives to retain water rights rather than selling them off the land.

    They also underpin Colorado’s Water Plan, mainly through statements in several of the basin implementation plans which fed into the final product.

    Conservation, as a term in the water plan, is often described as reducing water demand, either for urban or agricultural use, in order to protect stream flows.

    But the continued use of water on farms is an important element of the water plan in maintaining the environmental and recreational landscape that makes the state so attractive. Preserving agricultural water requires incentives to prevent it from being sold for uses that, on the surface, appear more lucrative. That’s how conservation easements fit in.

    The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, formed in 2002 to protect water in the Arkansas River basin, considers conservation easements one of its most valuable tools in preventing water from permanently leaving the land.

    But it’s taken a while for groups that promote conservation easements to come to the roundtables.

    The Pueblo Chieftain asked Ben Lenth, executive director of the San Isabel Land Trust, and Matt Heimerich, conservation director for the Palmer Land Trust’s Lower Arkansas Valley programs, to reflect on how their organizations will connect with Colorado’s Water Plan.

    How do we fill the gap in the Arkansas River Basin within the Colorado Water Plan and Basin Implementation Plan?

    Lenth:

    1. Financially incentivize temporary and intermittent water sharing and leasing agreements for landowners with water rights.
    2. Incentivize efficiency improvements for irrigation without penalizing the water rights holder.
    3. Prioritize water projects that have multiuse functions to benefit as many water users as possible.
    4. Continue to incentivize and/or regulate water conservation measures by municipalities and industry.

    Heimerich:
    It is important to consider that the Colorado Water Plan recognizes the importance of balancing the water needs of municipalities, agricultural and non-consumptive uses, such as recreation, and watershed health.

    As a regional organization, Palmer Land Trust is committed to preserving open spaces, outdoor recreation, and working farms and ranches. Our goals as a land trust are well-aligned with the working tenets of the Colorado Water Plan.

    Past solutions to solving water supply problems at the expense of working farms and ranches and the environment are no longer acceptable. As the state’s largest basin, it is imperative that the identified water supply gap in the Arkansas not create winners and losers over the equitable distribution of this precious resource.

    What projects do you plan to fill the gap?

    Lenth:

    1. Planning and implementing land and water conservation projects to have maximum flexibility for leasing/ sharing water over time.
    2. Water reallocation projects which benefit agriculture, municipalities, recreation and wildlife habitat.

    Heimerich:

    After an in-depth study, Palmer Land Trust made the decision to open an office in Rocky Ford with the purpose of exploring economic-based alternatives to large-scale water transfers from irrigated agricultural to municipalities. Palmer’s conservation easements use language that, in addition to tying the water rights to the land in perpetuity, allow for short-term leasing opportunities when an extended drought threatens the viability of municipal water providers.

    Palmer Land Trust is also an active participant in a coalition of farmers, water providers, locally elected officials and research institutions examining strategies on how to ensure the long-term sustainability of farming under the Bessemer Ditch as farmers face increasing competition for land and water in eastern Pueblo County.

    How do we keep the gaps for agriculture and municipalities from becoming bigger?

    Lenth:

    Integrate landuse planning and water planning. Do not allow subdivisions to be permitted without proven sources of water.

    Heimerich:

    Palmer believes that one of the ways to avert conflicts between municipalities and agriculture is to engage the urban/suburban citizen in a dialogue regarding the importance of irrigated farming to the region’s economy and cultural identity. The demand for locally-grown foods is increasing at a rapid pace.

    Drying up farms along the Arkansas River is counterproductive on many levels. Our visibility in the greater Pikes Peak Region affords Palmer a unique opportunity to help close this gap between agriculture and municipalities.

    Colorado Water Trust: RiverBank 2016 – 15th Anniversary Celebration, June 14, Denver Botanic Gardens

    Click here for all the inside skinny.

    denverbotanicgardens

    Walker Ranch conservation easement: Black-footed ferrets are dancing amongst the cholla

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

    Walker Ranch now is home to a 1,315-acre conservation easement in partnership with the Department of Defense, furthering its protection of Fort Carson and wildlife habitat, The Nature Conservancy announced Friday.

    The addition brings the Walkers’ total conservation easements to about 22,292 acres, conserving land next to Fort Carson through money from the Army Compatible Use Buffer program.

    The Walker Ranch conservation is one of the largest, most successful such projects, creating a buffer against development along more than 20 miles of the Fort Carson boundary, The Conservancy said in a news release.

    Gary Walker’s family has worked with the Conservancy and the U.S. Army since 2005, ensuring continued military use of a key installation and economic driver for the Colorado Springs area.

    The easement protects not only the post, but also habitat for the ferruginous hawk, scaled quail, burrowing owl, Cassin’s sparrow, mule deer and pronghorn antelope…

    The ranch also became the first restoration site in eastern Colorado for the endangered black-footed ferret in 2013.

    “I hope to have all our lands under a conservation easement in my lifetime,” Walker said in a Conservancy news release. “This ranch is meant to be protected, and there is nothing more destructive to this fragile ecosystem than subdivision. Build up, not out.”

    Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Photo © Kimberly Fraser/USFWS
    Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes). Photo © Kimberly Fraser/USFWS

    No “Buy and Dry” and sprawl for Berthoud area farm

    Berthoud Auto Storage back in the day
    Berthoud Auto Storage back in the day

    From the Berthoud Surveyor (John Gardner):

    The property will continue to be farmed by a lease agreement with proceeds going back to the county’s Open Lands Department. This deal satisfies the sister’s dream of keeping the property a working farm.

    “We just couldn’t stand to see it developed,” [Peggy] Malchow Sass said. “Knowing that it’s going to stay a farm is really satisfying to us.”

    The water for the property fills the Handy Ditch that gets water from the Big Thompson River, Malchow Sass said, adding that it’s positive to keep the water with the land, not only for the farm, but for all the other nearby ranches and farms that utilize the Handy Ditch water.

    “By leaving the water in the ditch enables many farmers along the way to get their water more easily; the more water there is in the ditch the more easily it is for farmers to get their water,” she said. “That’s a benefit directly to the Berthoud area.”

    Per the agreement, the water will continue to be used on the property seven out of 10 years but will also be available to local municipalities during times of drought. Acquiring the water rights is an innovative aspect of the purchase, according to Larimer County Commissioner Tom Donnelly.

    “I think this is a great opportunity to really talk about what we want to do with water and how we want to see water addressed,” Donnelly said. “The last thing we want to see is a lot of irrigated farm land bought then dried up. We want to make sure that we keep some of those resources with the land so that they can be used in perpetuity.”

    Craig Godbout, program manager for the Colorado Water Conservancy Board’s Alternative Transfer Methods grant program, agreed with Donnelly, saying the CWCB’s mission is to help preserve irrigated Ag land. And this is one of the first agreements that will have the water available for use by municipalities during time of drought.

    “[Agriculture] is our second biggest industry contributing to our economy here in the state, and this project fits in really well with the state water plan because it helps close that municipal-industrial gap without permanent Ag dry-up,” Godbout said.

    This is only the second alternative transfer of water agreement that’s been completed, according to Godbout, and it also creates a new mechanism that can be used as a model for future projects. It’s also an innovative way for the county to explore partnerships with municipal partners and some local farmers, Donnelly said.

    “I think we’re doing some groundbreaking work here,” Donnelly said.

    The property consists of high quality agricultural soils, with approximately 188 irrigated, 18 pastures and five farmstead acres, according to a natural resources department report. Two homes remain on the property; one built in the 1860s and the other built in 1947. There’s also the scenic red barn, once used to milk cows, located at the farm’s entrance, and a beat shack that was built in the late 1800s.

    This land adds to the county’s open space catalog. The county’s interest in this particular parcel grew from its updated 2015 Open Space Master Plan that included citizens’ request for preserving irrigated farm and agriculture land according to Kerri Rollins, Open Lands Program manager.

    “When we looked at our inventory across the board, we’ve done a whole lot of ranchland, we’ve done a really good job with ranchland; we’ve bought a few irrigated farms and conservations easements that we own, but they are certainly much smaller,” Rollins said. “So this opportunity happened to come along at the right time and at the time of updating our master plan. We’re excited to be moving forward with it.”

    Donnelly credited the county’s Agricultural and Natural Resources Department for its work on making this deal happen and said that this deal has a wealth of opportunities. One of those opportunities could include an educational site for the Thompson School District’s resurrected Future Farmers of America program, where students who could use the land for a hands-on approach to agriculture, or using the farm as an incubator for organic farmers.

    The Malchow family has worked with the Berthoud Historical Society to preserve some of the property’s historic features, including the beet shack and a pioneer grave.

    One of the oldest ditches in Larimer County, the Eaglin Ditch, is located on the property. And the property also is located within the medium-to-high regional trail priority area for the Berthoud to Carter Lake Regional Trail Corridor…

    The county’s Open Lands Department is actively pursuing grant funding to reimburse a portion of the county’s investment to the conserve this property and has already received a $178,425 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to develop the Alternative Transfer Mechanism and water-sharing agreement.

    The county will pay $8.4 million for the land and its water shares with the intent of keeping it an active farm and making the water available to municipal providers in drought years. The land is valued at $1.6 million while the water rights are valued at nearly $6.9 million.

    Rollins attended Tuesday’s Berthoud Board of Trustees meeting and requested a $100,000 contribution from the town’s Open Space Tax Dollar fund to help pay for the land acquisition. Trustees advised town staff to see what could be done to participate in this partnership.

    The county is also seeking contributions through Great Outdoors Colorado and a private foundation, according to a report from the Department of Natural Resources. The land purchase will be finalized in April.

    2016 #coleg: HB16-1174 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Landowner Relief) update

    Saguache Creek
    Saguache Creek

    From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

    Jiliane Hixson, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting over conservation easement tax credits with the Department of Revenue, left the Statehouse in tears last week. Lawmakers had watered down a bill she hoped would help her recoup some of her money.

    Thirteen years ago, Hixson converted parts of her Lamar farm into a conservation easement, what should have been a win-win deal.

    Colorado’s conservation easement program works like this: Landowners create a contract with a land trust. The land trust holds the deed to the property and blocks housing projects, oil and gas wells, solar or wind power farms or any other kind of development. The landowner gets a hefty tax credit and still owns the land: Farmers continue to grow crops, ranchers keep grazing cattle, and homeowners keep living there.

    At least, that’s how the programs are supposed to work.

    But four years after entering into an agreement, the Department of Revenue rejected Hixson’s tax credits. She still does not have control of her land and has agreed to a settlement with the Department of Revenue. She will be paying back those tax credits for the next 20 years.

    Hundreds of other Coloradans, like Hixson, have been fighting the Department of Revenue over those tax credits.

    A bill in the House was originally going to set a January 1, 2016 deadline for the Department of Revenue to resolve the conservation-easement tax credit disputes that still plague roughly 55 families. For those families whose property is now controlled by land trusts, if the Department of Revenue rejected those tax credits, the easement would be canceled and the deed to the land would return to the homeowner.

    The Department has a four-year statute of limitations to accept or deny tax credits issued on the conservation easements.

    But the department has ignored the four-year limit, fighting with hundreds of landowners over the tax credits, some from more than 13 years ago.

    It has cost 800 Colorado families, many of whom are farmers and ranchers, tax credits totalling in the millions of dollars. Some have declared bankruptcy after fighting the department, which has alleged some appraisals were overvalued by incompetent appraisers or property owners who committed fraud.

    The Department of Revenue’s spurious allegations of mass fraud have not been substantiated in the courts. Only one case has been prosecuted in the program’s 16-year history.

    The measure, House Bill 16-1174, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan, thinly skated out of the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee a month ago. It won the support of one Democrat on the committee, Rep. Max Tyler of Lakewood, who said the discussion on the issue must continue.

    Last week, the House Finance Committee, which deals with bills about tax issues, took up the bill, which by then had garnered opposition from the governor. That put Becker to work with Democrats to save the bill.

    Becker reached an eleventh hour deal Tuesday with Democrats to completely rewrite the bill. The new version substantially reduced the cost from its initial $11 million price tag. But more importantly, it took out the language that would have given Hixson and hundreds like her control of their land.

    The rewritten bill only applies to those 55 cases still in dispute, and only cancels out any further interest or penalties on the tax credits while the cases are being settled.

    Becker put the Department of Revenue and the Attorney General’s office that has backed the Department on notice during the hearing, warning if they don’t speedily resolve the remaining cases, he’ll be back next year and “It won’t be nice…Moving forward shows the departments we are serious.”

    The decision to gut the bill was clearly emotional for Becker. “Fighting the state shouldn’t come to the point where families are destroyed,” he told the committee.

    Lawmakers aren’t supposed to become too emotionally vested in their bills, but that has been the case for Becker with HB 1174. He pledged to keep the issue in the public eye and said he will continue to try to find solutions to help people like Hixson, who won’t be aided by the revised bill.

    The bill now goes to the full House for debate, and if successful, to the Senate. Another bill to address the conservation easement issue, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, was killed by the Senate Finance Committee two weeks ago. Sonnenberg requested the action, stating he knew the bill would not have been passed by the committee.

    Conservation Excellence 2016 — #Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts

    Join us at
    Conservation Excellence 2016!

    March 14 – 16, 2016

    Driscoll Student Center & Sturm College of Law
    University of Denver
    2055 E Evans Ave, Denver, Colorado 80210

    CCLT’s Annual Conservation Excellence Conference is the place for the land conservation community across the Rocky Mountain region to share knowledge and network. With more than 250 attendees annually, CCLT’s conference helps define and influence the future of land conservation in the Intermountain West.

    Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts is seeking session proposals for inclusion in the 25th anniversary event, Conservation Excellence 2016.

    CCLT has a working agenda for the three-day conference.

    REGISTER FOR CONFERENCE!

    Saguache Creek
    Saguache Creek

    #COWaterPlan: Colorado Cattlemen’s’ Association Mid-Winter Conference recap

    Organic Daily Cows
    Organic Dairy Cows

    From the Colorado Cattleman’s Association via the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal:

    Members of the Colorado Cattlemen’s’ Association gather twice a year to gain knowledge about their industry, create policy that drives their trade association and present awards to those who have served the state’s beef industry in an exemplary fashion.

    [Last] week’s Mid-Winter Conference, held in Denver, focused on the agriculturally-related issues that will be addressed during the 2016 session of Colorado’s General Assembly. In addition, committee meetings were held that help to establish the organization’s policies and stance on a wide range of legislative and regulatory topics that will be impacting the beef industry in Colorado. Topics ranged from the Colorado Water Plan and state lands grazing fees to federal lands management and the Endangered Species Act. “Members gathering to discuss issues and reach consensus on a course of action is the purpose of the organization,” says Bob Patterson, president of Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. “This is the time when members have a chance to gather facts and engage in the policy development process that drives our organization.”

    CCA Foundation Banquet

    On the evening of Jan. 19 during the Colorado Cattlemen’s Foundation Banquet, awards were presented to individuals who have made a significant impact on the industry.

    Awards presented by Colorado CattleWomen, Inc.:

    Cattle Woman of the Year

    Cattle Woman of the Year, Nancy Carlson, has been a very active member of the Black Mesa CattleWomen for five years. Through her engagement with the Western Slope CattleWomen Council, she discovered the need for good educational material for the general public. She began developing material, which is a talent that came naturally because of her background as an educator. As a result, she wrote a book, has served as the Colorado CattleWomen’s education chairman and is currently serving as the working group manager for the youth development K-12 group for the American National CattleWomen.

    Rookie of the Year

    Kacie Burns of Paonia was selected as Rookie of the Year. Even while attending the University of Wyoming, Burns has made her commitment to Black Mesa CattleWomen a priority. She has made many trips between school and home to be a part of her local’s meetings. Her enthusiasm and passion for promoting the beef industry has generated several new ideas and programs for her affiliate. She led the charge to sell brands to sponsor a 5K race. Burns also understands the importance of educating the public and has developed and manages the Facebook page for Black Mesa CattleWomen. Burns is a fourth generation member of the REW Land and Cattle operation and plans to come back to be a part of her family’s ranch to carry on the tradition of ranching in the west.

    Awards presented by Colorado Cattlemen’s Association:

    Law Officer of the Year

    Deputy C.J. Fell was selected as the Law Officer of the Year for 2015. During his two years in the Yuma County Sheriff’s Department, Fell has become an integral connection between the agricultural community and the Sheriff’s Department in Yuma County. He worked with the local brand inspector to conduct a series of public meetings to educate livestock owners on best practices to protect their livestock from theft and harm. Fell has worked diligently to build relationships between the agricultural community and local and state law enforcement.

    Brand Inspector of the Year

    Chad Moore was named Brand Inspector of the Year for 2015. Serving as the supervisor of Southwest Colorado, Moore took a pivotal role this year during the Animas River spill relaying information between state government and livestock producers in the region. The ranchers he serves appreciate his willingness to provide livestock and fence law training to law enforcement agencies throughout southwest Colorado. The beef producers in his region value highly Moore’s professionalism and dedication to the livestock industry.

    Outstanding Commercial Producer of the Year

    Karney Land & Cattle is owned and operated by Pat & Robin Karney, near Las Animas. Three generations are actively involved with the daily operation of the ranch, and in order to preserve for the future generations, the family has placed a conservation easement on the ranch. The herd consists of 500 head of Angus cross commercial cattle and about 400 head of replacement heifers. A unique part of their operation is their heifer development enterprise. In addition to raising heifers from their own herd, the Karneys buy high-quality heifers from select ranches to develop and sell as bred heifers. They implement a 100 percent AI breeding program for heifers, with strict criteria for staying in the herd. All calves leaving their premises are marketed at a premium as non-hormone treated and age and source verified.

    Outstanding Seedstock Producer of the Year

    Curtis and Susan Russell, along with their family, operate the Reflected R Ranch, near Sugar City. Their purebred Simmental operation focuses on producing moderate-framed, heavily-muscled seedstock. Their Simmental-influenced cowherd emphasizes calving ease and fertility; they also place a heavy emphasis on disposition, only retaining cattle rated “gentle” for their family operation.

    Affiliate Rate-of-Growth Contest

    Chaffee County Cattlemen’s Association achieved the highest rate of growth this year. Their tremendous recruitment efforts earned them a $5,000 certificate which may be used toward the purchase of a piece of equipment (turret, alleyway, chute, etc.) produced by Moly Manufacturing. This generous prize was donated by Gene Dubas with Dubas Cattle Company in Fullerton, Nebraska.

    Top Membership Recruiter

    This year’s membership recruitment contest was a race to the finish and Kacie Burns of Paonia, beat out another contender by just two members. Signing up an incredible 20 members, Bruns earned herself a brand new working chute generously donated by Troy Piper with Priefert Manufacturing.

    Champion Commercial Female

    CCA President Bob Patterson presented the Tuell family of Tuelland Cattle Company of Eckley, Colorado, with a belt buckle for their Champion Pen of commercial females

    Colorado Cattlemen’s Foundation presentation of Endowment Trust Memorial honorees

    A permanently-endowed trust within the Colorado Cattlemen’s Foundation was established to be maintained and enhanced by contributions of various kinds. Over the years, the trust has grown, and now realizes a steady and stable income stream. Annually, that income earned is paid to CCA to be used to finance its operations. If memorial donations of a single person exceed $1,000, the Foundation honors that person’s memory by inducting them into the Endowment Trust. This year’s honored in 2015 were John “Doc” Cheney and Ceborn “Cebe” Hanson.

    #coleg: SB16-044, Sonneburg’s conservation easement bill hearing, February 9

    Saguache Creek
    Saguache Creek

    From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

    Senate Bill 16-044 is scheduled for a hearing before the Colorado Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 9, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

    The bill would require the state to stop trying to collect back tax credits, penalties, and interest from landholders whose conservation easement appraisals have been summarily labeled “fraudulent” by the Department of Revenue. In an interview over the weekend, Sonnenberg said the largest obstacle the bill faces is the fiscal impact.

    “The DOR has to compile those numbers and come up with a fiscal note, that is, what is the cost to the state of enacting that bill,” Sonnenberg said. “What that fiscal note will tell us is just how much we’ve screwed the people by breaking our contract with them.”

    Across Colorado more than 700 conservation easements, most of them donated between 2003 and 2007, were created under a state law that for years had no oversight. Thousands of landowners set aside millions of acres of land in return for state tax credits they could use against their own income taxes or could sell for cash to others to help pay their income taxes. At last report, the state had lost as much as $220 million to those tax credits.

    Subsequently, state officials summarily deemed hundreds of the land appraisals those credits are based on as fraudulent and the donated land as worthless. No one has ever been charged with fraud, let along convicted of it, in relation to any of those land appraisals.

    Sonnenberg’s bill would forbid the DOR from “contesting certain claims for conservation easement claims unless the valuation of the easement is supported by an appraisal from an appraiser convicted of fraud or misrepresentation in connection with preparing the appraisal.”

    The bill also calls for a refund of “tax, interest, or penalty paid by a taxpayer” in connection with a contested appraisal that otherwise would meet the bill’s requirements.

    Sonnenberg acknowledged that the impact on the state’s coffers could be in the millions of dollars beyond what the DOR is already trying to collect…

    The bill is scheduled for a Finance Committee hearing at 7 a.m. Feb. 9 in Room LSB B in the Capitol. Sonnenberg said anyone who wants to attend the hearing or even testify on its behalf can contact his office for assistance.

    Keeping water down on the farm — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Bessemer Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain
    Bessemer Ditch via The Pueblo Chieftain

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Palmer Land Trust: Pueblo County, Lower Ark Valley at risk

    Keeping farms and ranches productive is more than just a quaint notion for the Palmer Land Trust, which sees agriculture as the thread that holds together the fabric of the Lower Arkansas Valley.

    And Pueblo County should be on guard.

    “This doesn’t work unless the larger community makes an investment and says, ‘We want to save this,’ ” said Matt Heimerich, coordinator for Palmer’s initiative in the Lower Arkansas Valley.

    Heimerich and Executive Director Rebecca Jewett met Wednesday with The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board to discuss progress with a two-pronged program to keep irrigation water on farms and to improve sustainable ranching methods.

    “We’re at the front end of our initiative to protect farmland in the Arkansas Valley,” Jewett said. “This is just a starting point.”

    Two projects last year moved the effort ahead:

    • Palmer is working with the Nature Conservancy on turning around the 25,000-acre BX Ranch in eastern Pueblo County. A conservation easement and a trial program to better manage grasslands aim at eventually finding a buyer for one of the region’s oldest ranches.
    • Palmer also is helping to preserve farms on the High Line Canal near Rocky Ford in a demonstration project the trust believes can be used as a model for other ditches, including the Bessemer Ditch in Pueblo County.

    “The Bessemer is closer to Pueblo and the prices of farms increase dramatically. The water rights and soil are good, and we want to work there before it’s too late,” Jewett said.

    It’s not an easy process, mainly because conservation values for water rights typically reflect actual value rather the potential for future sales to cities.

    Heimerich knows all too well the potential side of the equation. As a Crowley County farmer and former commissioner, he has seen the devastating effect of dewatering thousands of acres of productive farm ground when the water was sold to Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Aurora.

    He’s optimistic that cities won’t be able to practice the same sort of buy-and-dry tactics of the past, but said Pueblo County is not immune and should be doing everything it can to protect agriculture.

    “Think of Pueblo Chiles, that’s a great start. There’s no reason Pueblo can’t be thought of in the same way as Sonoma or Bourdeaux,” Heimerich said. “Look at what they did with Rocky Ford melons.”

    In addition to branding, Heimerich wants to encourage food-processing industries to locate here in order to increase the value of local products, another area Palmer is pushing communities to act.

    Finally, he thinks the newly adopted Colorado Water Plan will provide a barrier for cities to carry out the sorts of water raids which decimated Crowley County.

    “Crowley County in the 1960s had the highest percentage of people who claimed agriculture as their primary source of income. I think that’s what got me interested in the land trust,” Heimerich said.

    “The municipalities need water, but know that under the state water plan it will be an uphill political fight. The Palmer Land Trust is part of a way to manage water so that farmers can continue to farm.”

    Colorado Open Lands and Acequia Institute Complete Major Conservation Easement Project

    From TaosAcequias.org (Devon G. Peña):

    Colorado Open Lands and The Acequia Institute are pleased to announce the completion of a project establishing a conservation easement on the Institute’s 181-acre acequia farm in Viejo San Acacio, Colorado.

    The easement will also protect water rights on the oldest ditch in Colorado. The San Luis People’s Ditch (La Acequia De La Gente) is a gravity-fed irrigation system which was dug by hand and draught horses in 1851 and later widened and extended by plow. It was eventually awarded the first adjudicated water rights in Colorado, nearly a quarter of a century before Colorado became a state.

    The Acequia Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting acequia research and community knowledge, purchased one of the varas, which was originally owned by Dario Gallegos, a founding member of the town of San Luis. The Institute worked to convert the property from a center pivot back to the historic flood irrigation methods practiced by acequias.

    Devon G. Peña, founder of the Acequia Institute, is a leading scholar on acequia history and culture, and is a passionate practitioner of acequia irrigation. Alfalfa is grown on the property and the Acequia Institute has been working on a seed saving and exchange that focuses on re-establishing the integrity of local heirloom varieties of corn and beans.

    Not only does the property support agricultural production, but it has incredible wildlife habitat as well. The Rio Culebra runs through the property and supports a blue ribbon fishery. The farm contains 77 acres of wetlands and serves as a winter concentration area for bald eagles. Located just west of the town of San Luis, near the community of San Acacio, the farm is visible to travelers on the Los Caminos Antiguos National Scenic Byway.

    This project was made possible by funding from The Gates Family Foundation, Great Outdoors Colorado, and the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area. The Acequia Institute matched the grant with an investment of $18,000.

    Conservation easements: The best way to protect Southern Colorado’s land and water from being dried up by urban development — The Pueblo Chieftain

    saguachecreek
    Saguache Creek

    From The Pueblo Chieftain editorial staff:

    THE BEST way to protect Southern Colorado’s land and water from being dried up by urban development is the strategic use of conservation easements to preserve both environmental quality and the local economy.

    Conservation groups already are investing wisely in preserving the environment, land and water in the San Luis Valley.

    In the early years of this century, the Nature Conservancy, a national conservation group, supplied the impetus to permanently protect the Baca Ranch from greedy water speculators by jump-starting the $30 million purchase of the ranch. Congress followed by establishing the nearby Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, thus preserving the valley’s great natural asset forever.

    Other large ranches in the San Luis Valley are being protected by similar conservation efforts.

    On Nov. 3, the Del Norte-based Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, Colorado Open Lands and the Western Rivers Conservancy announced creation of a $2 million San Luis Valley Conservation Fund. The goal is to take care of the land and water, as well as fish and wildlife habitat along the Rio Grande, through the valley.

    Conservation will have a positive lasting effect on the San Luis Valley.

    Now conservation groups need to cast their eyes east and north to the Lower Arkansas Valley. This agricultural region is living proof that farmers have been the first human contributors to conserving land and water of irreplaceable value to the economy, food production and natural wildlife habitat.

    We appreciate the Palmer Land Trust’s promising plan that, in the trust’s own words, “focuses on a 1.75-million acre landscape in the western Lower Arkansas Valley. Delineated by the Arkansas River and its southern tributaries, the planning area extends from Canon City in the west to Rocky Ford in the east, and from the city of Pueblo in the north to Colorado City in the south.”

    The Lower Arkansas Valley looks to Palmer Land Trust success and also needs others, such as the Nature Conservancy and Colorado Cattlemen’s Trust, to add their considerable weight to more extensive conservation easements.

    Remember, farming and ranching are the most time-tested contributors to conservation of the environment — wildlife habitat, recreation and scenic vistas — that draw people to the beautiful state of Colorado.

    The advantages of conservation easements are numerous, extending to farmers and ranchers, especially. They can receive outside income to commit to staying on the land in irrigated agriculture in perpetuity. It’s a great disincentive to settling for a one-time payoff from selling their permanent water rights to be transferred north to urban areas.

    Conservation easements are a win-win proposition. Now we need the conservation experts to pitch in and help save the future of the Lower Arkansas Valley.

    Rio Grande Basin: Nash Ranch next in line to be conserved — The Valley Courier

    From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

    Additional vital riverfront property is in the works to be permanently conserved along the Rio Grande.

    Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT), which has already conserved more than 25,000 acres along the Rio Grande and its tributaries , is currently working with Wayne and Sharon Nash on a conservation easement for the 200-acre Nash Ranch near Del Norte in Rio Grande County.

    RiGHT Executive Director Nancy Butler presented an initial proposal to the Rio Grande Roundtable, which will be followed by a formal proposal in January, for funding support for the Nash Ranch conservation easement. RiGHT is seeking $100,000 towards the estimated $560,000 easement total from local and statewide Water Supply Reserve Accounts, funds derived from severance tax funds set aside for water projects throughout the state. Of the $100,000 request, $10,000 would be requested from the Rio Grande Roundtable basin funds and $90,000 from water funds administered statewide through the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB.)

    The remainder of the funds for the easement would come from landowner donation, about $200,000, and $100,000 grants each from the Gates Foundation, which has already been secured, and from Great Outdoors Colorado, which has not yet reviewed or approved funding.

    “We have been really fortunate to bring a good match to our projects,” Butler said.

    CWCB staffer Craig Godbout shared the amounts of funds available in the basin and statewide accounts and estimated how much would be added to those accounts in January. He said the Rio Grande Basin’s fund balance currently is more than $318,000, and this basin roundtable should receive $120,000 additional funding in January, if the severance tax is fully funded. The statewide account currently contains about $1.9 million and will double in January if the severance tax trust fund is fully funded.

    Godbout added that the CWCB will consider the next round of requests from around the state in March and he knows of more than $1.8 million worth of requests that will be coming before that statewide water board at that time.

    Butler reminded the Rio Grande Roundtable group of the multiple benefits generated through conservation easements on properties like the Nash Ranch and others that have been conserved already, such as the Gilmore, 4UR, Rainbow Trout and Garcia ranches.

    These easements protect working farms and ranches, which are permitted and encouraged under the easements to continue with their historic uses. The landowner still owns and manages the property but complies with some stipulations laid out in the conservation easement.

    The easements provide wildlife habitat, preserve scenic landscapes and protect water, one of the primary focuses pertinent to the Rio Grande Roundtable’s mission. The easements also protect the land from development.

    Butler explained that all of the easements completed through RiGHT have been voluntary and incentive based. The Nashes approached RiGHT with a desire to protect their land and water, Butler added.

    Natural arch in lava flow near Del Norte via the USFWS
    Natural arch in lava flow near Del Norte via the USFWS

    Fountain Creek District board meeting update: Trail system from Colorado Springs to Pueblo?

    Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District
    Fountain Creek photo via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

    Sure, Fountain Creek is going to flood from time to time.

    But one landowner says that’s inevitable, and a district formed to improve the creek should be looking at using conservation easements to build a trail system from Pueblo to Colorado Springs.

    “You could create an easement to connect the two cities,” said Jerry Martin, a Pueblo West Metropolitan District board member who owns property on Fountain Creek about 5 miles north of Pueblo. “It doesn’t solve flooding, but it helps mitigate the damage.”

    Martin spoke at Friday’s meeting of the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District board.

    Martin’s idea is for the district to secure easements, either through donations such as he is willing to do or by purchasing them. Martin, who chose to live in Pueblo West after working in Colorado Springs, said state funding is more likely if Pueblo and Colorado Springs can pull together for a common goal.

    “My whole point is that we have a sow’s ear, but you can make a silk purse,” Martin said.

    The district was receptive, and in fact already on the case.

    Already, the district has secured Great Outdoors Colorado funding for trails in both El Paso and Pueblo counties, as well as recreational activities such as the wheel park on Pueblo’s East Side, slated to open in November.

    Executive Director Larry Small noted that recreation has always been a purpose of the district, and is included in the strategic plan and corridor master plan.
    Board member Richard Skorman added that the district is working to include the Fountain Creek trail as part of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s recently announced $100 million critical connections program for hike and bike trails.

    “The designation would help,” Skorman said.

    The idea of connecting Pueblo to the Front Range Trail via Fountain Creek goes back to then-Sen. Ken Salazar’s “Crown Jewel” vision in 2006. Skorman was a staffer for Salazar at the time.

    “What can I do?” Martin asked. “I know it’s not a new idea, but one that I hope gets to the top of the list.”

    “We’ve always felt we’ve been a stepchild,” Skorman said. “Colorado Springs and Pueblo need to push together. If we could get that (critical connection) designation, it could go a long way. We’re on a roll here if we can get this to work.”

    The latest newsletter from the Continental Divide Land Trust is hot off the presses

    Moon set over the Tenmile Range via The Summit County Citizens Voice
    Moon set over the Tenmile Range via The Summit County Citizens Voice

    Click here to read the latest newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

    Full Moon Tour under September’s Harvest Moon Moon

    Come enjoy an evening with CDLT under September’s Full Harvest Moon. September’s moon is also the largest supermoon of the year and even graces us with a total lunar eclipse.

    Date: Sunday, September 27, 2015
    Time: 6p.m.-8p.m.
    Place: Cobb & Ebert Placer
    Price: $10 Suggested Donation
    Naturalists: Rachel Winkler, and Kim Dufty
    Register: Call (970) 453-3875, or email info@cdlt.org

    Directions to Cobb & Ebert Placer:
    From County Road 450 or Wellington Road proceed east to French Gulch Road. Continue east for about 4 miles to the parking area with USFS Trailhead signs.

    Trail Info:
    This is an easy to moderate hike. Families are welcome, although it is not necessarily recommended for children under 10. Sorry, no dogs on this outing please.

    What to Bring and Additional Info:
    -Please bring water, snacks, hiking shoes, layers of clothes, walking poles (if you want)
    -Dress warmly. Temperatures will drop as the night progresses.
    -If we cancel due to weather, we will try to let everyone know by noon that day.

    For more information contact Rachel at info@cdlt.org, or (970) 453-3875