Conservation Easements: Water Conservation in Northeast Colorado — High Plains Public Radio

August 21, 2014

mallardducktakingflight

From High Plains Public Radio (Dale Bolton):

When Denver physician and sportsman Kent Heyborne bought land in northeast Colorado, his intent was to leave it undeveloped as bird habitat.

But working with Ducks Unlimited along the South Platte River, he created a water-conservation project resulting in neighboring farms gaining additional irrigation credits. By putting the land under perpetual easement, he created a development-free zone spanning from one wildlife park to another, ensuring a corridor of waterfowl habitat several miles long. Plus, he earned state and federal tax credits along the way.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.


San Isabel Land Protection Trust hosts water meeting

July 12, 2014

Sangres-a2-Coaldale,CO
From The Mountain Mail:

San Isabel Land Protection Trust will host an informational meeting on the future of agricultural land and water in western Fremont County at 6:30 p.m. July 24 at the Coaldale Community Building, 13607 CR 6 in Coaldale.

The meeting will include a presentation about the tools the trust uses to protect land and water.

For more information visit http://sanisabel.org or call 719-783-3018.

More conservation easements coverage here


The Spring 2014 newsletter from the Rio Grande Land Trust is hot off the presses

May 4, 2014

riograndelandtrustspring2014newslettercover

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

… there is nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment we experience at the closing of a conservation easement.

Conserving land and water is really our core function. And it gives us the chance to work with some of the most committed and generous people here in the Valley who deeply care about the future of their ranches. This is so evident in the heartwarming story in this newsletter from Eveyln Buss about conserving the ranch that she and her brother Doug Davie inherited from their parents. We are grateful to them for protecting that beautiful ranch on the Rio Grande, and its exceptional water rights forever.

Likewise, we were able to complete the conservation easement on the lovely Garcia Ranch on the Conejos River in December of 2013. Along with his daughters, Lana and Tania, Reyes Garcia was committed to protecting the legacy of his family on that land. His article expressing the deep meaning of this was featured in our Spring 2013 newsletter (you can find that issue on our website).

Both of these ranches were featured properties in RiGHT’s 2012 and 2013 “Save the Ranch” campaigns. In so many ways, these projects were community projects, and we could not have made our way through the many challenges that easements inherently present, without the generous support of our many friends and neighbors who contribute to RiGHT’s work, with donations of time, funds, and so much more. I hope you will share in our deep sense of accomplishment, that together, we are leaving a lasting legacy of conserved land and water for future generations.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here.


Conservation easements are helping to keep water in agriculture

March 9, 2014
Lake Fork Gunnison River

Lake Fork Gunnison River

From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

John McClow is general counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and a member of Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy, which focuses its efforts solely on agriculture.

“We broker conservation easements to maintain working agriculture,” McClow said.

In the Upper Gunnison area, the organization has helped place easements on about 18,000 acres, which McClow said is a substantial percentage of the total area. Most of the easements have a financial incentive for the landowner, he said.

“Often, they will use the money to invest in more land,” McClow said, adding that it helps keep the ranch operation financially stable.

“Our easement activity has slowed a little bit,” he said. “We’ve pretty much picked all the low hanging fruit.”

The organization is getting into more complicated easements on lands that are more valuable and take more money, many being larger and closer to Crested Butte.

Gunnison County directs some funds from its 1 percent sales tax toward purchasing development rights, about $300,000 per year, according to Mike Pelletier.

“Typically, we’re able to fund what’s requested,” said Pelletier, who is the county contact for the program. “We have limited funds, and people just don’t ask if they don’t think we can fund it.”

The tax dollars were reauthorized in 2012, he said, and are used to match dollars from elsewhere…

“For every dollar we give to local land trusts, they attract $12 from outside” the county, he said. “By doing that you leverage a lot of outside money.”’

From Steamboat Today (Michael Schrantz):

George is working on his third easement with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust. He’s donating the value of the development rights in return for a state tax credit he will sell for 82 cents on the dollar, but his previous two easements went through Routt County’s purchase of development rights program, which pairs tax dollars with other funds to buy the right to develop the land and places the property under an easement dedicated to conservation.

“The benefit was we were able to keep the family ranch in the family,” George said about the easements, especially one in 2012 that was valued at $2.56 million.

The PDR program contributed $825,000 toward that transaction, about 31 percent of the total cost.

That money helped buy out other family members while George’s other easements allowed him to buy more land and pay down debt on parcels he’d already purchased.

“If I die or if we sell the ranch, it cannot be subdivided,” he said. “All these parcels will stay their size.”

George thinks more ranchers should look into easements on their property.

“They lack the knowledge,” he said. “They’re scared of them.”[...]

As early as the 1980s and during the push for major development in Pleasant Valley south of Steamboat, residents banded together in support of open-space conservation.

In the mid-1990s, these efforts gained momentum with Routt County ranchers placing conservation easements on their property and new county policies being enacted to preserve open space.

The effect of this work can be seen in the absence of development.

The drive down Rabbit Ears Pass into Steamboat Springs shows an open south valley floor where hay meadows still dominate the view. Colorado Highway 131 cuts through working ranches in South Routt County, and traffic on county roads still sometimes pauses to accommodate cattle being moved to greener pastures.

Preventing the fragmentation of agricultural land through subdivision and development keeps more land in production and helps maintain the working order of the landscape.

Splitting large tracts of agricultural land into ranchettes and subdivisions means introducing new neighbors to rural Colorado.

“They just don’t have a clue to what’s going on in the ranching world,” Routt County commissioner Doug Monger said about some people who live near land he’s leased for his cattle. “No one fixes their fence.”

Colorado is a fence-out state where landowners are required to maintain a lawful fence if they want to keep cattle out of their land. The cattle owner is not responsible for trespassing by his livestock if a fence isn’t maintained…

Gunnison County, another Western Slope county with a long ranching heritage, has seen the effects of agricultural fragmentation that arise from subdividing working ranchland.

“What happens is when they put in the road and building sites then turn over management of the property to someone who has no experience in the area, it disrupts the irrigation system within that drainage,” said John McClow, general counsel for Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and member of Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy.

The Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy brokers easements for ranches in Gunnison County.

“It’s a disruption in the process that makes shortages much more frequent,” McClow said. “It’s not collaborative anymore.”

With flood-irrigated pasture, such as in Routt County, ranchers depend on water returning from their neighbors’ fields back into the river or ditches. Turning an upstream ranch into a subdivision or 35-acre parcels takes away return flows for the ranches below it.

Subdivisions downstream and closer to towns also pose challenges as the managers might be unfamiliar with how the river was managed in the past and place a call on the river if they aren’t getting their full allocation. Under Colorado’s prior appropriation system, when a senior rights holder places a call on a river, upstream junior appropriations must stop diverting water until the senior right has its full allocation.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Michael P. Dowling/Chris West):

There is a nice bonus for Colorado in the Farm Bill that President Obama signed last month (Feb. 7). Senate Conservation Subcommittee Chairman Michael Bennet, D-Colo., fought hard for programs that will enable Colorado conservation organizations and local governments to partner with landowners to keep our state’s unique ranches and farm lands in agriculture. The new Agricultural Lands Easement program will provide grants to purchase conservation easements that permanently restrict development on important ranches and farm lands. These voluntary agreements will ensure that land stays in agriculture and continues to be an important — and growing — part of our state’s economy.

The predecessors to this program have already conserved more than 1 million acres of economically and ecologically important agricultural lands. The new program will easily double that total.

Senator Bennet joined Senate Agricultural Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan in leading the effort to pass this bi-partisan bill, working with other Colorado leaders, including Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

Senator Bennett also changed the law to allow the agriculture secretary to waive a local cash-match requirement. This waiver will allow the program, at no additional cost, to protect the most important ranches and farmlands, even if they are in rural counties that don’t have the funding to match the federal grants.

But the question is: Why should this land conservation matter to the vast majority of Americans who are neither farmers nor ranchers?

While producing crops, livestock and other agricultural commodities for all Americans, properly managed working ranch lands and farms protect important habitat for our wildlife and fish; maintain cherished scenic vistas; and safeguard our water supplies and the water quality of our rivers. In addition, conserving these farms and ranches keeps farmers and ranchers on the land, and is protects an important part of our state’s economy.

Colorado has 29 land trusts that are members of the Land Trust Alliance, and they have protected more than 1.1 million acres using conservation easements alone. For example, more than 150 years of Colorado history — and a part of its future — were preserved when the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land completed an effort to protect 650 acres of the Hutchinson Ranch in Chaffee County. Protection of the Hutchinson Ranch was made possible by funding from the Farm Bill programs that Senator Bennet just improved, along with lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado and Chaffee County.

Though these lands — including such unique resources as the Hutchinson Ranch — are productive and important for agriculture, without action they are very much at risk. Non-agriculture development overtakes two acres of productive agricultural land every minute. But conservation easement programs ensure that our state’s most beautiful and productive ranches and farm land will continue into the future.

Near Rocky Ford in Southeastern Colorado, 12,200 acres of the Mendenhall Ranches were protected using Farm Bill conservation funding last summer. The Mendenhalls used the easement to secure the future for their ranch, which is almost entirely native shortgrass prairie, home to cattle and increasingly rare grassland wildlife.

That is why the Farm Bill’s Agricultural Lands Easement program makes both economic and ecologic sense for Colorado and for America. And that is why we should all thank Senator Bennet for his leadership in making the conservation programs in the Farm Bill work for ranchers and farmers.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.


The Colorado Water Trust is coordinating and facilitating a number of sessions at CCLT’s Conservation Excellence Conference

March 2, 2014

Saguache Creek

Saguache Creek


Click here for the pitch, to view the session descriptions, and register. Here’s an excerpt:

The Colorado Water Trust is coordinating and facilitating a number of water sessions at the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts’ Conservation Excellence Conference in Denver in March.

The Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts (CCLT) promotes and supports land conservation at a state level and serves as the collective voice for land conservation in Colorado. CCLT’s annual Conservation Excellence Conference offers conservation professionals opportunities for learning and networking in Denver on March 17, 18, and 19.

Because water is often crucial to the conservation values of conserved lands, the Colorado Water Trust has worked closely with CCLT and the land conservation community over time. We provided general guidance, technical assistance, and educational programming specific to land conservation transactions to help professionals make informed decisions about water rights.

This year, the Colorado Water Trust is coordinating and facilitating a number of sessions and workshops at CCLT’s Conservation Excellence Conference as part of our continuing efforts to assist the land conservation community in understanding water issues.

More education coverage here.


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

February 25, 2014
Purgatoire River

Purgatoire River

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More conservation easements coverage here.


The Nature Conservancy passes 1 million preserved acre mark in Montana

December 31, 2013
The Nature Conservancy has been involved in protecting a million acres in Montana, including lands along the Rocky Mountain Front such as the Rappold ranch near Dupuyer, where conservation easements restrict development. / Courtesy photo/Dave Hanna

The Nature Conservancy has been involved in protecting a million acres in Montana, including lands along the Rocky Mountain Front such as the Rappold ranch near Dupuyer, where conservation easements restrict development. / Courtesy photo/Dave Hanna

From the Great Falls Tribune (Karl Puckett):

…combined with another recent easement on the Rocky Mountain Front, this one 14,000 acres, it put the The Nature Conservancy over a million acres of land protected in Montana. That’s about an acre protected for every resident.

“To me it’s unbelievable we’ve reached that size,” said Dave Carr, a Nature Conservancy program manager in Helena and a 24-year employee. “That’s a very large amount of land we have helped protect and conserve, and many of those lands are what I call working lands. They’re still being used. They just won’t be subdivided.”

It took 35 years for TNC to reach the million-acre milestone, which the group announced earlier this month. The largest conservation organization in the world, TNC opened its doors in Big Sky Country in 1978 when it secured its first conservation easement in the Blackfoot River Valley, one of the state’s first private conservation easements, Carr said.

Today, the organization has had a hand in protecting 1,004,308 acres of land statewide, from ranches in the Rocky Mountain foothills of northcentral Montana in grizzly bear habitat to unbroken native prairie on the northeastern plains to forested land in the river valleys of western Montana.

Lands TNC works to protect often are privately owned ranches that feature native habitat and wildlife, but the aim isn’t to end agricultural uses.

“We very much like to see lands stay in some productive use,” Carr said. “We feel that for long-term conservation, if the community is not part of that decision or doesn’t buy into that, it won’t be lasting.” [ed. emphasis mine]

Conservation easements are tailored to the needs of the landowner, but generally speaking they restrict development rights and preclude subdivisions, drainage of wetlands, plowing of native prairie and commercial gravel pits.

Easements The Nature Conservancy works on allow the landowner to continue to ranch. In some cases, harvesting timber to manage trees for beetle kill or fire hazards is allowed.

Sometimes The Nature Conservancy purchases the easements from landowners, other times they are donated. The recent 14,571-acre easement on the Rocky Mountain Front that helped push the group past the million-acre mark was an anonymous donation.

Meeting rising costs is a challenge for ranching families, and landowners, particularly those on the Rocky Mountain Front and Blackfoot River Valley, are using easements as a planning tool to keep the family ranch in business, Carr said. Money they received from The Nature Conservancy, for example, can be used to buy adjacent lands…

Almost half of TNC’s protected acreage falls within western Montana, in a geographic region called the Crown of the Continent, but some 200,000 acres (including TNC’s partnership with other land trusts, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and The Conservation Fund) is now conserved along the Rocky Mountain Front and another 66,000 acres is located on northern Montana prairies. Another 320,000 acres won’t be developed in southwest Montana.

More conservation easement coverage here.


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