San Isabel Land Protection Trust hosts water meeting

July 12, 2014

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 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


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.

The Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas to purchase conservation easement for the Boxcar Ranch

December 26, 2013
Bighorn Sheep Rams via the USGS

Bighorn Sheep via the USGS and Wikipedia

From The Mountain Mail (J. D. Thomas):

The Great Outdoors Colorado board announced Thursday that it has approved a $175,000 grant for the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas to purchase a conservation easement.

“We applied for the grant and it was certified by GOCO,” said Andrew Mackie, executive director of Land trust of the Upper Arkansas. “Now it’s all about closing on the Boxcar Ranch property, which could take a few months.”

The property was highly rated by GOCO, Mackie said. “The land was the highest rated property ranked by GOCO,” Mackie said. “It’s right on the Arkansas River, it has frontage access to the river, and the habitat is riparian. There is also year-round bighorn sheep activity on the land.”

The property also has active agriculture and water rights attached. “That is a big deal here in Colorado,” Mackie said. “On top of all that, the land is surrounded on three sides by public land, some of which is used quite often for recreational activities.”

The $175,000 grant was the final piece of the puzzle for the Land Trust’s attempt to purchase the property. “We had funding lined up before the grant with donations from National Scenic Byway, the Gates Family Foundation, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Society, Chaffee County and the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas,” Mackie said. “The owner of the property also donated part of the land as well.”

“The property has a lot of potential, and this was supported by the high rating from GOCO,” Mackie said. “The conservation value alone is why the property was ranked No. 1. The water and agriculture rights helped too.”

Mackie expects the Land Trust to close on the property by mid-2014.

More conservation easement coverage here.

Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust: Garcia Ranch Conservation Easement Completed!

December 24, 2013
Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

Pond on the Garcia Ranch via Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust

From the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust website:

The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust is proud to announce the completion of a conservation easement on the beautiful Garcia Ranch on the Conejos River. Thanks to the generosity of owners Dr. Reyes Garcia and his daughters Lana Kiana and Tania Paloma, their working ranch will remain intact with its senior water rights in perpetuity. In addition, RiGHT greatly appreciates the funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, through the Rio Grande Basin Round Table, the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area and the San Luis Valley Habitat Partnership Program Committee which all made this wonderful conservation project possible.

Fulfilling the opportunity to conserve this exceptional property has been a labor of love for both the landowners and the land trust over the past two years, with roots that go back much, much further. As a retired professor of philosophy, environmental and indigenous studies, Reyes Garcia is deeply attuned to the legacy of his family’s land and the way of life it has provided for generations. With the Garcia family having originally settled in Conejos County in the 1850’s, he has a long history rooted in the special area between the Conejos and San Antonio Rivers.

In an article for RiGHT’s spring newsletter, Dr. Garcia wrote that he chose to conserve the land in honor of his older brother, Jose, who worked the land for 50 years until his recent passing. “Surely, a conservation easement agreement is a recommitment to a more original contract between humanity and the whole of the natural world …. as a sacred promise to cherish and safeguard one another. Surely, an easement agreement is a prism through which to envision a future much like the past many of us have known during our best years here in El Valle de San Luis – a future also much like the present in which we face so many of the challenges of a period of transition and big changes – a future that will continue as far as possible to be sustainable and wholesome.”

Conserving the land and water is a way “to make my own small contribution to preserving the family legacy of ranching and the land-based culture of the ranchero tradition,” Garcia wrote. “After my brother gave me the responsibility for irrigating in 1983, I came to understand this tradition includes putting into practice ecological values by virtue of an instinctual love of the land that engenders good stewardship and a deep respect for all life forms, the seasonal rotation of livestock and their humane treatment, the acequia irrigation system especially, the transmission of skills which make self-reliance possible, along with an emphasis on cooperation with neighbors and mutual aid.

“How can we not hope that another seven generations will lay up a treasure of similar experiences and memories? How can we not bring ourselves to do what is necessary to make this possible for those who come after us?” Garcia wrote.

“Conserving a spectacular property like the Garcia Ranch truly fulfills the core purpose of the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust,” said Rio de la Vista, Co-Coordinator of the trust’s Rio Grande Initiative. “The rare opportunity to protect such a beautiful confluence of working lands, important water rights and exceptional wildlife habitat is always fulfilling. And this easement is all the more special due to the long-lived legacy of the Garcia family in Conejos County. We are immensely grateful to them for working with RiGHT to provide this ‘gift to the future’, of intact land and water that can sustain life and livelihoods far into the future.”

For a short film about the Garcia Ranch by co-owner Lana Garcia, click this link.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board meeting recap

November 21, 2013
Arkansas River Basin -- Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

Arkansas River Basin — Graphic via the Colorado Geological Survey

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A district committed to keeping water in the Lower Arkansas Valley has joined a network that provides real-time water quality data on the Arkansas River from Leadville to the Kansas state line. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board Wednesday approved spending $34,000 in the next year to help operate stream gauges and gather information from wells below John Martin Reservoir. The information is widely available on the Internet. The district’s contribution will be matched by $17,000 in federal funds from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“The focus is on the reach from Pueblo to the state line,” said David Mau, head of the Pueblo USGS office.

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, Pueblo Board of Water Works and St. Charles Mesa Water District also participate in the program.

Measurements track salinity and temperature of water in the river, as well as groundwater levels. The information provides a baseline that allows water users to track changing water conditions from either natural causes or new uses along the river, Mau said.

Past measurements show salinity increases when water levels are low and as water moves downstream. Crowley County board member Jim Valiant asked if selenium also will be studied. Mau replied that selenium is studied, but not as a part of this project.

Water temperature varies most by the time of year, but can increase when levels are low. Mau said the information is valuable to track fish habitat and to establish the relationship between surface flows and groundwater. Water levels are tracked in 130 wells along the river, some with more than 50 years of data to provide historic comparison.

The board enthusiastically supported the study, and encouraged Mau to provide more frequent updates.

“We need to keep up with the information,” said Leroy Mauch, a board member from Prowers County.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Ponds that feed irrigation systems in the Lower Arkansas Valley are leaking twice as much as farmers are given credit for, a study is showing. But farmers will have to wait another year for the study to be completed before they can even begin to hope for a change in the state’s formula. In the meantime, those who measure the water coming into and leaving the ponds will be able to apply that to state calculations for replacement of water under surface consumption rules.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District is sponsoring a two-year study of pond leakage for farmers who use the ponds to collect water for use in sprinkler systems. There are 26 ponds in the study, but there have been problems with the timing of measurements and malfunctioning meters on some of the ponds. The amount of leakage is complicated to measure, depending on the size of ponds, soil conditions, how often the ponds are filled and lag time for water to return to the river, said consultant Brian Lauritsen.

This year, the state’s model showed leakage of about 8 percent on the ponds, while measurements averaged about 18 percent, said Bill Tyner, assistant division engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources. Individual ponds ranged from 2-40 percent leakage. “We’re giving credit for any pond with a meter,” Tyner said.

Farmers have joined Rule 10 group plans set up by the Lower Ark district that allow them to account for sprinkler systems fed by surface water supplies. The Lower Ark provides replacement water, but farmers must pay to join and use the plan.

They’re not happy.

“It’s ironic that we go through all these numbers and nitpick them,” said Lamar farmer Dale Mauch. “But no one ever looks at flood ground, and the HI model isn’t even close.”

The Hydrologic-Institutional model was adopted as part of the U.S. Supreme Court case Kansas v. Colorado over the Arkansas River Compact.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A conservation easement on the Bessemer Ditch will preserve 105 acres in farmland. The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District accepted the easement Wednesday. The board uses such easements as part of its mission to keep water in the Lower Ark Valley. It is the custodian for more than 50 easements. Typically, property owners pay for the easement, which undergoes periodic inspections, and are eligible for state and federal tax benefits.

The Bessemer Ditch farm is owned by the Wild Rose Ranch Inc., which is a company formed by the Wally Stealey family. It is located on 43rd Lane and has about 35 shares of Bessemer Ditch water, explained Bill Hancock, who manages conservation programs for the Lower Ark district.

Each share of the Bessemer Ditch provides enough water to irrigate an acre in an average year.

Most of the land is a reclaimed gravel pit or used for pasture land and has not fared well during the drought. An area beneficial to wildlife, Six Mile Creek, crosses the property, Hancock said.

Stealey has donated other easements on the Wild Rose Ranch in Fremont County to the Lower Ark District in the past.

The board voted unanimously to accept the conservation easement.

More Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District coverage here.

Say hello to Lucy Waldo the new conservation director of Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas

October 23, 2013
Arkansas River Near Leadville

Arkansas River Near Leadville

From the Leadville Herald-Democrat (Ann Marie Swan):

Protecting productive, hard-won agricultural lands and their natural systems is the life work of Lucy Waldo, new conservation director of Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas. Waldo’s affinity for distinct Colorado ranchlands and the people who work them has moved her to facilitate conservation easements.

“We need to pay attention to protecting the natural resources that we depend on,” Waldo said. She calls this “one of our fundamental goals as humans.”

Before joining the Land Trust, Waldo served as director of the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy for 11 years. There, she helped ranching families complete 25 conservation easements that protected nearly 10,000 acres of productive ranchland. Waldo was also director of the Colorado Water Workshop, a western water policy conference hosted by Western State College in Gunnison. Waldo sees conservation easements on private lands as serving landowners, the surrounding community and, ultimately, humankind. Conservation easements are voluntary, coming from landowners, and another expression of private-property rights.

“It’s a win-win solution,” Waldo said. “We need to value the agricultural lands and natural areas that provide food, water, shelter and clean air for people and other creatures.”

Waldo grew up in Maryland, where her father worked with dairy cattle at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. Her mother was a family counselor. Waldo came to Colorado in 1980 to attend Colorado State University in Fort Collins. She earned degrees in agricultural extension education and history.
Waldo found her career path in the early ’90s while working with a community group in Gunnison, focusing on a grand vision for the valley.

“There was a strong consensus to see working ranchlands continue to be a part of the community’s future,” Waldo said.

Despite her years of experience, Waldo is challenged by every conservation easement. Keeping up with ever-changing legal requirements, tax benefits and finding funding is only part of the process. Each parcel of land has unique characteristics and landowners have specific needs and desires.

“I find it especially satisfying to listen to people’s stories of how their families worked diligently to create a productive farm or ranch,” Waldo said.

“Generations have devoted themselves to improving their operations and taking care of their land. You can hear the pride and love in their voices. Helping landowners conserve the land they love is incredibly satisfying.”

Waldo is rooted in the central Rockies, her home for more than 20 years. Her work takes her to Lake, Chaffee, Fremont, Saguache and western Park counties.

“I have great respect for people who work the land in this challenging climate,” Waldo said. “I watch my neighbors haying and see the long hours, sweat and dedication that go into the year’s crop. The lush abundance of the meadows in August depends on the hard work of the ranchers, and the recurring gifts of the water and the soil.”

Waldo spends her free time riding horses, hiking and cross-country skiing.

“I hope that I will always keep this awareness of how blessed we are and how important it is to take care of the world,” Waldo said.

Waldo can be contacted at For information about Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas, visit

More Arkansas River Basin coverage here and here.

Drought news: Governor Hickenlooper is on tour assessing the impacts of Colorado’s drought #COdrought

August 14, 2013


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

It was billed as a drought tour, stretching from Sterling to Springfield with six stops along the way. But Gov. John Hickenlooper spent a portion of the time defending some of his fights this year that he conceded might be unpopular in rural areas: gun laws, temporary clemency for a death-row killer and support for a state law setting a renewable energy standard. He also listened to community concerns. “I want to get out to as many people as I can,” Hickenlooper said. “Each meeting there is some problem pointed out that we can do something about.”

In his opening remarks, Hickenlooper said the small fee for a background check for anyone purchasing a gun is worth it. He claimed more than 3,000 people who had been convicted of crimes, had outstanding warrants or restraining orders were identified in background checks in Colorado last year. “And we only checked half of them,” Hickenlooper said.

He fielded a series of questions quickly, promising to look into easing state regulations on farmers and ranchers who have been hit hard by drought. “There are ways to do what’s fair,” he said.

Hickenlooper also pledged to look into improving the climate for agri-tourism, particularly in the area of landowner liability issues.

The meeting wasn’t all about problems.

Otero County Commissioner Keith Goodwin thanked the governor for state support of cantaloupe growers after a scare hurt sales last year. Hickenlooper praised Agriculture Commissioner John Salazar for taking decisive action and growers for acting proactively.

Bent County Commissioner Bill Long thanked Hickenlooper for signing a bill that repurposed Fort Lyon as a center for helping the homeless after it was closed as a prison. Again, the governor deflected the praise: “Bill Long did more work on that issue than I’ve ever seen a citizen do.”

The tour continues today with stops in Trinidad, Alamosa, Salida, Del Norte and Pagosa Springs. It follows a look at drought areas in the Arkansas Valley Monday by a separate group of state officials.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Hannah Holm):

According to Western Water Assessment at CU-Boulder, the answer is that “short-term drought conditions have eased considerably over the region after a wet July, with lesser improvements in long-term drought conditions.”

Over the past month, it rained more than usual across most of Colorado, Utah and the rest of the Southwest. But it was so dry in June and over the winter that precipitation totals for the 2013 water year, which started in October of 2012, are still well below average for most of the same region. The Colorado River headwaters area is one of the few exceptions.

The longer-term picture is reflected in reservoir storage levels. The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) reports that end-of-July reservoir levels in Colorado averaged 47% of capacity, which is 70% of average — down from 73% of average at the same time in 2012. Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest in Colorado, was at 46% of capacity on Aug. 11.

Downstream, Lake Powell is under half full, and the Bureau of Reclamation reports that unregulated inflows to the lake are predicted to be just 41% of average for the 2013 water year. The bureau also reported a slightly more than 50% chance that Lake Powell will fall enough to trigger a reduction in releases to Lake Mead in 2014, under an agreement negotiated between the states that share the Colorado River.

So while this summer’s monsoon rains are bringing much-needed relief for thirsty plants, streams and people, they don’t spell an end to the long-term management challenges faced by our state and the Colorado River Basin as a whole, both of which are looking at a future where projected water demands exceed projected supplies.

From the Cañon City Daily Record (Brandon Hopper):

Fremont County is on pace for a good month of rain totals. So far this month, the area has received 1.47 inches of moisture according to National Weather Service meteorologist Randy Gray. That’s compared to the 2.23 inches of rain that the area averages in August, according to the Weather Channel. The storm that came through on Saturday evening produced enough quick rain to cause a mudslide on Parkdale Hill, which shut down U.S. 50. The Canon City area received between .05 and .15 inches of rain during the storm. Canon City has received just less than three-quarters of an inch of rain in a six-day span last week…

The latest measurement has the vast majority of Fremont County in a severe drought, listed as D2.

San Luis Valley: Louis Bacon announces a 21,000 acre conservation easement in the southern Sangre de Cristos

June 5, 2013


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

One of Southern Colorado’s largest landowners announced Tuesday that he’s putting 21,000 acres into a perpetual conservation easement. Louis Bacon, who has owned the Tercio Ranch since 1996, struck an agreement to put it under easement with Colorado Open Lands, which has held easements on 11 other properties in the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

Bacon, a billionaire hedge fund manager, put almost all of his Blanca and Trinchera ranches in neighboring Costilla County under easement last year, moves that protected more than 166,000 acres.

As with those easements, Bacon pointed to the need to protect wildlife habitat in the southern Sangres, which, with the exception of a part of San Isabel National Forest, sits in private hands. “We are grateful to Louis Bacon as today’s announcement fills a critical gap between privately and publicly connected lands in this landscape of unparalleled beauty,” Dan Pike, president of Colorado Open Lands, said in a statement.

Bacon also has worked to conserve lands in New York, North Carolina and the Bahamas.

More coverage from Cathy Proctor writing for the Denver Business Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

On Tuesday, Bacon announced he’d reached an agreement with Colorado Open Lands to put 21,000 acres of the Tercio Ranch, about 36 miles southwest of Trinidad, into a perpetual conservation easement. The Tercio Ranch is owned by the Red River Ranch Holdings LLC and Tercio Ranch Holdings LLC — both of which are owned by Louis Bacon.

In September 2012, Bacon donated 77,000 acres of his 81,400-acre Trinchera Ranch to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a conservation easement to promote wildlife habitat. The Trinchera Ranch had been the site of a proposed power line backed by Xcel Energy Inc. and Westminster’s Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.

The latest agreement, involving the Tercia Ranch, creates nearly 800,000 acres of public and privately owned conservation lands stretching from southern Colorado to northern New Mexico.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

San Luis Valley: The BLM proposes expanding the Blanca Wetlands from 9,714 acres to 122,762 acres

May 30, 2013


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to expand the boundaries of the Blanca Wetlands in the hope of qualifying for federal conservation dollars.

The proposal would expand the area, which is managed as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, from 9,714 acres to 122,762 acres.

But the boundary expansion would not give the agency control over either land or water rights in the area that now sit in private hands. The agency does, however, hope to approach willing sellers within the boundary. The BLM hopes to use Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars to make any such purchases in the future and doing so requires the land be inside an ACEC boundary, said Andrew Archuleta, who oversees the agency’s San Luis Valley office.

Money from the fund is issued at Congress’ discretion.

The end goal of the expansion and any potential land or water purchases is to partially restore what was once a string of wetlands that stretched along the east side of the valley.

The agency has issued a preliminary environmental assessment on the expansion that includes alternatives to its preferred proposal.

The Blanca Wetlands initially were designated for its playa and marsh habitats that host large populations of water birds, amphibians and macroinvertebrates.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area handed out $65,400 in grants for preservation projects in a three-county area of the San Luis Valley, area officials announced May 20.

The heritage area, which was authorized by Congress in 2009 to preserve and promote the cultural and historic heritage of Alamosa, Conejos and Costilla counties, gave awards toward seven projects.

Recipients include the SW Conservation Corps for summer youth employment on conservation projects and the Costilla County Economic Development Council for construction documents for the Sangre de Cristo Cultural Heritage Center.

The Sangre de Cristo Acequia Association also earned an award for a handbook and the hosting of the 2013 Acequia Congresso, as did the Rio Grande Headwaters for a conservation easement on the Conejos River. The heritage area also awarded the Adams State University Archaeology Field School for work at Fort Massachusetts, the San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition for the Healthy Habits program at farmers markets and for the stable restoration of the Trujillo Homestead, a recently designated national historic landmark.

The heritage area is administered by a nonprofit board of volunteers who represent the three counties.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

The Palmer Land Trust is seeking nominees for conservation awards

May 29, 2013


From The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Palmer Land Trust is seeking nominations for the 2013 Southern Colorado Conservation Awards.

The event, honoring conservation achievements that advance the future well-being of local communities, people, ecologies and economies, will be Oct. 9.

Awards are presented in four categories:

● The Stuart P. Dodge Award, honoring an individual or organization for a lifetime record of conservation achievement.

● The Friends of Open Space Award, honoring an individual or organization for recent efforts contributing to the protection of a significant property or important landscape in Southern Colorado.

● The Stewardship Award, honoring an organization or individual who has positively impacted the land and the way members of our communities understand and respect their relationship to the land.

● The Innovation in Conservation Award, honoring an individual, group, project or program that has advanced the cause of conservation by developing new conservation models, creating new conservation funding mechanisms, or implementing unique conservation partnerships that protect our natural heritage.

Nominations are open through Friday at Palmer Land Trust, 102 S. Tejon St., Suite 360, Colorado Springs, CO 80903. Fax 719-434-3666 or email

More conservation coverage here.

Salida: Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas Wetlands Program and Field Trip, May 14 and 18

April 25, 2013


From email from the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas:

Wetlands Program and Field Trip

Program – May 14, 2013, 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm, Salida Community Center

Field Trip – May 18, 2013, 8:30 am to 11:30 am, location close to Salida, details given the night of the program

Join us for a exploration of wetlands. What are wetlands? Why are they so important? Why should we care? And, what types of wetlands are found in Central Colorado? Bill Goosmann will help us answer these questions. Bill has a Master’s of Science and is certified as a Professional Wetland Scientist. He managed the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado Division of Wildlife wetland programs. Bill has also designed and implemented wetland creation, restoration, and mitigation projects.

We will start with a program on May 14th at the Salida Community Center (corner of Third and F Streets), 7:00 pm. The following Saturday (May 18th) we will go out into the field to a wetland site just west of Salida. In addition to Bill, joining us on the field trip will be the Raquel Wertsbaugh, Wildlife Conservation Biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Raquel manages all the non-game programs in the region Also, Land Trust Executive Director, Andrew Mackie will round out the trip leaders. He is an avid birder and wetland ecologist by training.

The field trip will put into practice what we learned during the program. We will also search for and discuss the many species of wildlife that depend upon wetlands.

You must attend the Tuesday program to attend the field trip on Saturday. The program and field trip are free and open to the public. Please email or call the Land Trust to register at or 719-539-7700.

More conservation coverage here.

The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust 2012 Annual Report is hot off the press

March 22, 2013


From email from the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust:

We had a great year in 2012 and wanted to share our Annual Report with our friends and supporters who made it happen. Click here to go directly to the report on our website.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

‘The U.S. only has 18 percent of the world’s farmland in production, but produces 40 percent of the world’s food’ — Dan Barker

March 19, 2013


This is the second part of a two-part series on a water forum held at Morgan Community College last week, from Dan Barker writing for The Fort Morgan Times. CLick through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Agriculture is Colorado’s No. 2 industry. If that is diminished, it will diminish the overall economy, [John Stulp] said to a room full of producers. It was an economic disaster when 92 percent of Crowley County’s water was bought up, he said…

City leaders complain that agriculture takes the lion’s share of water, but they do not look at all the factors, Stulp said. For example, a good deal of that water goes to cities in the form of food. Ag water irrigates nearly 3.5 million acres of fields, which makes up about 5 percent of the land in Colorado, he said…

Rather than just drying up farms, it is important to plan for the future, he said. A Statewide Water Supply Initiative report says that, by 2050, the population could double and the state will need another 700,000 acre feet of water for the new residents. Essentially, the state will not have enough water. That has encouraged leaders to look at both consumptive and non-consumptive needs, the water supply availability and the projects and methods needed to meet future needs, Stulp said. Even with all the currently planned projects — such as the Northern Integrated Supply Project that Fort Morgan is a part of — there would just barely be enough water to meet that new need, he said…

One alternative is rotational fallowing, which would allow growers to lease their water to cities during a few years out of every 10 years, he said. Other alternatives include interruptible supplies, deficit irrigation, water cooperatives, water banks and water conservation easements, Stulp said. “The devil’s always in the details,” Stulp emphasized…

Planning for water needs is not just looking at the state as a whole or one stretch of a river, Stulp said. Different areas have different needs and situations. Planners need input from areas to learn how to best use water resources. Besides agricultural water needs, planners have to look at what is needed for energy production, and how climate change may affect the state, he said. Hickenlooper recently said the state needs a long-term water plan by 2015, and that any plan should start with conservation, Stulp said…

Those who criticize agricultural practices need to understand them first, [Chris Kraft] said. The U.S. only has 18 percent of the world’s farmland in production, but produces 40 percent of the world’s food.

More infrastructure coverage here.

Williams Fork: A Middle Park Land Trust conservation easement protects the 117-acre Blue Ridge Ranch

February 16, 2013


From the Sky-Hi Daily News:

The Middle Park Land Trust recently accepted its 63rd conservation easement, protecting the 117-acre Blue Ridge Ranch located in the Williams Fork Valley. This conservation easement, like all easements, will protect the property’s scenic and agricultural open space and its quality natural habitat in perpetuity.

Characterized by upland sagebrush, wetlands, riparian habitat, and aspen and conifer forests, Blue Ridge Ranch provides habitat for a variety of wildlife, birds, fish and insects. The easement provides a link between the habitat on the property and that on surrounding public and private lands, as well as connecting adjacent and nearby conservation properties that have already been protected in the Williams Fork Valley…

With the Blue Ridge Ranch Conservation Easement, the land trust now holds 63 easements on 6,954 acres.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here.

CMU: ‘Learn all about water in February’ — Hannah Holm #coriver

January 28, 2013


From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

What better way to spend three cold, dreary winter evenings than immersing yourself in water issues?

You’ll get your chance in February with the Water Center at CMU’s annual water course, which is intended to bring all interested citizens up to speed on how water is managed in our region, with particular attention to recent developments in water policy and management. The course will be held in the University Center Ballroom from 6 to 9 p.m. Feb. 11, 18 and 25 — all Mondays.

Session one will focus on Colorado water law, history and culture. Kirsten Kurath, an attorney at Williams, Turner & Holmes, PC will open the session with an orientation to Colorado water law and what water rights issues are of most concern to Grand Valley water users. Then, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs will take the stage to discuss the culture and history of Colorado water.

In addition to being a judge, Hobbs is also a poet and the author of the book “Living the Four Corners: Colorado, Centennial State at the Headwaters,” which reviewer Tom I. Romero II described as “a collection of poems, oral testimony, multicultural teaching, inspired reflections, robust exchange, and legal reasoning about the great rivers and the varied people who comprise Colorado.”

Session two will focus on cooperative initiatives for water management and river health. These include initiatives for salinity control, riparian restoration, canal hydropower and improving flows for native fish in the Dolores River. John Sottilare of the Bureau of Reclamation with discuss salinity control projects, which seek to keep irrigation water from leaching salt from our valley’s soils into the river, where they cause problems for farmers downstream.

Tamarisk Coalition staff will discuss their efforts to work with a wide variety of stakeholders to remove tamarisk along riverbanks and restore native vegetation. David Graf, with Colorado Parks & Wildlife, will discuss the Lower Dolores River Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Plan for Native Fish, which is the product of several years of discussions among numerous stakeholders.

Session three will focus on current water policy issues. Chris Treese of the Colorado River District will give us a rundown of the water bills introduced in the state legislature this session, which include proposals on agricultural water conservation and the reuse of graywater (that’s water that’s already been used once in your house, somewhere other than the toilet). Then we’ll learn about how the statewide process to figure out how to fill an anticipated gap between water supply and demand from Jacob Bornstein, a staffer for the Colorado Water Conservation Board. We’ll finish off the evening with a discussion of new water quality monitoring requirements for oil and gas drilling.

So come out and join us! We’ll even feed you fruit and cookies while you learn. And keep you awake with coffee.

The cost is $45 for the whole series or $20/session. We will provide certificates of completion for those who attend the whole series, and are seeking accreditation to provide continuing education credits for lawyers, teachers, water system operators and Realtors. Scholarships are available for high school students and K-12 teachers, and admission is free for CMU students and employees. For complete details, go to or call the Water Center at 970-248-1968.

This is part of a series of articles coordinated by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University in cooperation with the Colorado and Gunnison Basin Roundtables to raise awareness about water needs, uses and policies in our region. To learn more about the basin roundtables and statewide water planning, and to let the roundtables know what you think, go to

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dave Buchanan):

Whether it’s simply a coincidence or divine intervention, the water course being offered next month by the Water Center at Colorado Mesa University comes at an opportune time. The three-seminar series on water law, policies and management begins Feb. 11 with other sessions Feb. 18 and 25.

It seems a lot of people last year would have profited from knowing more about how water policy, and specifically the doctrine of prior appropriation, decides who gets water in a year when there isn’t enough to go around.

Bob Hurford, state Division of Water Resources engineer for Division 4 in the Gunnison River Basin, said Thursday many people holding water rights were surprised last summer when the expected irrigation water never arrived. Speaking during Thursday’s Aspinall Unit operations meeting in Montrose, Hurford said it was people who had moved into the region within the past decade and hadn’t gone through a year of
under-supplied and over-appropriated water. “People were saying, ‘But I own water rights, why aren’t I getting any water?’ ” Hurford recalled. “They couldn’t understand why they didn’t have water and yet the farmers did.”

Hurford said the water shortages appeared much earlier than most people expected. “If you didn’t take your water before May 1, you probably weren’t getting it,” he said. “The Uncompahgre Valley was on call by May 2.”

It was particularly severe in the North Fork Valley, which Hurford called “extremely, highly over-appropriated,” where water rights dating to 1882 take precedence over those coming later. That means those using the Fire Mountain Canal, with 1934 water rights, saw its water dry up after mid-July. “People were outraged,” Hurford said. “But it’s because they didn’t understand how prior appropriation works.”

With this year’s water year shaping up as challenging or more so than 2012, the Water Center’s seminar series is bound to help. Information is available at (, click on Water Center.

More education coverage here.

Eagle County: Two parcels along the Colorado River protected from development #COriver

January 6, 2013


From the Vail Daily (Scott N. Miller):

The certainty of closing came this week to two big parcels of open space along the Colorado River north of Dotsero. One — a 228-acre parcel owned by the Nottingham family — was purchased outright. The other parcel, the 1,017-acre Colorado River Ranch was protected via a contract — called a “conservation easement,” that prohibits the land owners from any future development on the land.

Those contracts come at a price — land owners essentially sell the rights to any future development.

In the case of the Colorado River Ranch, the cost of the deal was about $6 million. The cost of the deals for both parcels was shared, roughly equally, by Eagle County’s open space fund and Great Outdoors Colorado, which uses money from the sale of lottery tickets to help fund open space and parks projects…

Under the deal for the Colorado River Ranch, the water rights now owned by the ranch can never be sold or transferred. The same is true for the smaller parcel.

While the Colorado River Ranch will remain in the hands of its current owners — and will remain a working cattle ranch raising organic beef — both pieces of property have preservation contracts attached. Those contracts will be managed and enforced by Colorado Open Lands, a Denver area-based land trust.

More conservation easements coverage here.

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Designation of Critical Habitat for Southwestern Willow Flycatcher

January 3, 2013


Here’s the ruling from the USFWS published in the Federal Register:

We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), designate revised critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus) (flycatcher) under the Endangered Species Act. In total, approximately 1,975 stream kilometers (1,227 stream miles) are being designated as critical habitat. These areas are designated as stream segments, with the lateral extent including the riparian areas and streams that occur within the 100-year floodplain or flood-prone areas encompassing a total area of approximately 84,569 hectares (208,973 acres). The critical habitat is located on a combination of Federal, State, tribal, and private lands in Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Ventura Counties in California; Clark, Lincoln, and Nye Counties in southern Nevada; Kane, San Juan, and Washington Counties in southern Utah; Alamosa, Conejos, Costilla, and La Plata Counties in southern Colorado [ed. emphasis mine]; Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Maricopa, Mohave, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz, and Yavapai Counties in Arizona; and Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, Mora, Rio Arriba, Socorro, Taos, and Valencia Counties in New Mexico. The effect of this regulation is to conserve the flycatcher’s habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The designation covers about 208,000 acres of riparian habitat along 1,227 miles of rivers and streams in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Some of the critical habitat is along the banks of well-known rivers, including the Rio Grande, Gila, Virgin, Santa Ana and San Diego.

The flycatcher is a small, neotropical, migrant bird that breeds in streamside forests. It was first listed as endangered in 1995 in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Protection of critical habitat for this tiny, unique bird could make a crucial difference to its survival, and also gives urgently needed help to the Southwest’s beleaguered rivers,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “For all of us who love our desert rivers, this protection is great news.”

The USFWS initially designated 599 miles of riverside habitat in 1997 but was challenged by the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association. That led to a revised designation in 2007 that protected more stream miles.
But that was not enough to ensure recovery of the species, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which challenged the rule, pointing out that it failed to consider hundreds of miles of rivers identified in a scientific recovery plan for the flycatcher.

“Like so many desert plants and animals, southwestern willow flycatchers have suffered from the wanton destruction of rivers by livestock grazing, mining, urban sprawl and overuse,” Greenwald said. “We have to take better care of our rivers.

This week’s designation still excludes hundreds of miles of river habitat that was identified in 2011 plan. Greenwald said his organization will take a close look at these the exclusions to determine if the recovery of the flycatcher was properly considered.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

Federal wildlife officials designated just over 9,000 acres in the San Luis Valley Tuesday as critical habitat for the southwestern willow flycatcher. While the move excluded all of the endangered bird’s habitat on private and state­owned land, it designated an 11.4 ­mile stretch of the Rio Grande through the Alamosa National Wildlife Refuge and another 12.7­ mile segment that sits downstream under Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction.

The bird, which also received habitat protection from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in five other southwestern states, makes its home in the dense streamside cover often provided by willows, cottonwood trees and tamarisk.

Mike Blenden, who oversees the Alamosa refuge for the service, said the designation would change little about how the refuge is operated but added that activities such as ditch cleaning and prescribed burning would involve more discussion with others in the agency.

Likewise, Denise Adamic, a BLM spokeswoman, said little would change for how the agency manages its land along the Rio Grande, save for a stricter consultation process with the service to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

The official rule designating the habitat said 11 miles on the Rio Grande and 64 miles on the Conejos River were excluded because of work by the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and other local governments to set up a conservation plan for the bird.

The ruling also noted that the flycatcher’s habitat had benefited from the establishment of conservation easements on nearly 9,000 acres of private land lining the Rio Grande and Conejos.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

‘The goal is to help young farmers while tying water to the land’ — Jay Winner

December 17, 2012


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A conservation easement that will keep water on the land while preserving the ability to lease water was approved last week by the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District board. The board voted unanimously to accept a conservation easement donated by Wes and Brenda Herman in exchange for paying about half of the purchase price for a neighboring farm. The Hermans, who already farm in the area, are buying the farm now owned by Ray and Susan Pieper at the end of the High Line Canal. About one­ third of the 320­acre farm is irrigated. The Colorado Water Conservation board is funding up to $270,000 toward the purchase under a program proposed by the Lower Ark District that would allow a municipality to reimburse the state for the cost at a future date. In return, the city would be able to have certainty that the water rights of the farm Jay Winner General manager, Lower Ark District — 12 shares of the High Line Canal — would be available for future leases. A High Line share irrigates 10 acres.

“The goal is to help young farmers while tying water to the land,” said Jay Winner, general manager of the Lower Ark District.

Winner said the Lower Ark’s idea is gaining traction in the South Platte basin, and has been used on at least one farm in the Rio Grande. “What people like about it is that it ties the water to the land in perpetuity, while giving municipalities some certainty of a stable water supply in the future,” Winner said.

Meanwhile, the Lower Arkansas Water Conservancy District has approved their 2013 budget. Here’s a report from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District approved a $2.5 million budget for 2013 at its meeting last week. The district, formed in 2002 to protect water in the Arkansas River basin, gets most of its money from a 1.5 mill levy on property in Bent, Crowley, Otero, Prowers and Pueblo counties. Roughly 75 percent comes from Pueblo County.

About $638,000 of the budget goes to administration of the district, half of that for salaries for the five employees of the district. Most of the district’s expenses are for the enterprise fund, with about $962,000 going toward support services for programs such as Super Ditch and group plan that helps farmers comply with state surface irrigation rules. Another $1 million goes toward water rights acquisition, including the purchase of conservation easements, water storage and water assessment fees.

More conservation easements coverage here and here.

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

December 5, 2012


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

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

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

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

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

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

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

CCLT webinar on the findings of the state audit of the conservation easement program to be held Wed. 24th

October 21, 2012


From email from the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts:

CCLT will be hosting a webinar at 10:00 on Wed. 24th of Oct. with Jordan Beezley on the state audit results, which were made public a few days ago. Jordan will spend about 1 1/2 hrs. explaining the implications of the results and taking questions. To sign up for the free webinar, please email There are only a few spaces remaining, so please let us know as soon as possible if you want to attend.

In other conservation easement news Colorado Parks and Wildlife has added a new conservation easement near Maybell. Here’s the release:

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission has approved the acquisition of a 15,000-acre Perpetual Conservation Easement on the Tuttle Ranch in Moffat County. The purchase will help preserve critical habitat and winter range for wildlife while allowing ranching operations to continue.

Consisting of sagebrush steppe, foothills grassland and pinyon-juniper woodlands, the property is home to greater sage-grouse and provides critical winter range for elk, mule deer and pronghorn.

The conservation easement was purchased from the RSH Land Company LLC, with a combination of funds from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado.

“When habitat is preserved, wildlife benefits, and all of us benefit, too,” said Bill de Vergie, Area Wildlife Manager in Meeker. “There are plenty of challenges out there to wildlife habitat – all kinds of development that can raise issues – but the cooperative approach of conservation easements is a way we can work with landowners to protect habitat.”

Because habitat loss is considered a primary cause for the decline of many wildlife species in Colorado, its preservation is critical, especially during winter months when big game animals are in search of any available forage at lower elevations.

“Preserving wildlife habitat is just one of our management challenges, but is among our most important,” said Ron Velarde, Regional Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “With acquisitions like this one, we ensure that we will continue to have viable wildlife populations for our future generations.”

For more information, please visit:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages 42 state parks, more than 300 state wildlife areas, all of Colorado’s wildlife, and a variety of outdoor recreation. For more information go to

GOCO is the result of a citizens’ initiative passed by the voters in 1992. As the recipient of approximately half of Colorado Lottery proceeds – $57 million in Fiscal Year 2012 – GOCO awards grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Since 1994, nearly 3,500 projects in all 64 counties have received GOCO funding. Visit for more information.

More Yampa River Basin coverage here and here.

Animas River: Wetlands project helps offset wetlands reduction in the Animas River Valley

October 21, 2012


From The Durango Herald (Dale Rodebaugh):

The Colorado Riparian Association has awarded Patti and Ed Zink its Excellence in Riparian Management award for 2012…

The Zinks in 2006 enrolled 80 acres of their land in a permanent open space conservation easement and created a 50-acre wetlands at their Waterfall Ranch in the Animas Valley north of Durango. The project improves water quality, provides a corridor for bird migration and conserves the aesthetics of wetland open space. The Animas River Wetlands will provide habitat for wildlife and serve as a local educational facility.

Projects elsewhere in the county that invade sensitive areas can use the Zink wetlands to offset their impact. One recent example occurred when La Plata County used ¾ acres to improve the intersection of County Road 311 and Colorado Highway 172.

More Animas River Watershed coverage here and here.

Conservation easements monkey business: Colorado state audit staff recommends wholesale fixes to program

October 16, 2012


From The Denver Post (David Migoya):

In a 107-page report, Auditor Dianne Ray said legislative efforts to fix the program since abuses were uncovered in 2007 haven’t been enough to ensure millions of dollars in tax credits are actually valid.

The Department of Revenue administers the program, which is intended to compensate individuals who donate their land to protect it from future development, but the agency hasn’t been able to prevent additional abuses, the report noted.

The agency’s tax examiners “do not sufficiently document their reviews of conservation easement tax credit claims and uses,” the report says. “More changes need to be made to strengthen the administration (of the program) to ensure that tax credits being claimed and used by taxpayers are valid.”

Agency officials agreed with 12 recommendations for change, saying the bulk of them would be in place by July 2013.

More conservation easements coverage here and here.

USDA and Colorado Announce Rio Grande Basin Water Conservation Project Agreement

September 21, 2012


Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture John Salazar today announced that Colorado and USDA have agreed to the terms of a new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to help conserve irrigation water and reduce ground water withdrawal from the Rio Grande Basin. The project will enhance water quality, reduce erosion, improve wildlife habitat and conserve energy in portions of the Rio Grande watershed in Colorado. Vilsack and Salazar made the joint announcement at the 2012 Colorado Water Conservation Board Statewide Drought Conference.

“USDA is proud to work with the state of Colorado to enroll up to 40,000 acres of eligible irrigated cropland in an effort to address critical water conservation and other natural resource issues within portions of the Rio Grande watershed,” said Vilsack. “USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program continues to be one of our nation’s most successful voluntary efforts to conserve land, improve our soil, water, air and wildlife habitat resources—and now producers in Colorado have even greater incentives to enroll in efforts to protect the Rio Grande Basin.”

This agreement is for the establishment of permanent native grasses, permanent wildlife habitat, shallow areas for wildlife and wetland restoration on up to 40,000 acres of eligible irrigated cropland with a primary goal of reducing annual irrigation water use by approximately 60,000 acre-feet.

The sign-up date for this voluntary conservation program is expected to be announced soon after an agreement is formalized later this year. Farmers and ranchers in portions of Alamosa, Rio Grande and Saguache counties will then be able to apply for this program at their Farm Service Agency (FSA) service center. FSA will administer the Colorado Rio Grande CREP within these counties, working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the state of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources through the Division of Water Resources, Subdistrict Number 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District, and other state and local CREP partners.

After the agreement is formalized, participants will (1) voluntarily enroll irrigated cropland into specialized 14-15 year Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) contracts, and (2) enter into water use agreements with Subdistrict Number 1 of the Rio Grande Water Conservation District. An additional perpetual irrigation water retirement agreement also will be an option for producers to help achieve long-term water savings.

The following national CRP conservation practices will be made available for eligible land focusing on water resource conservation:

- Establishment of Native Grasses and Forbs – CP2
- Establishment of Permanent Wildlife Habitat, Non-easement – CP4D
- Establishment of Shallow Water Areas for Wildlife – CP9
- Restoration of Wetland Habitat – CP23 and CP23A

CREP is an option under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that agricultural producers may use to voluntarily establish conservation practices on their land. The project will provide land owners and operators financial and technical assistance. Under this CREP, participants will receive annual irrigated rental payments, cost share and incentive payments for voluntarily enrolling irrigated cropland into contracts and installing the approved conservation practices. USDA also will pay up to 50 percent of the cost of installing the conservation practices. Additional special incentives and cost share will be provided by the WAE for land enrolled within a designated focus area within the project area. Additional incentives will be provided by the subdistrict’s WAE to producers who elect to retire water permanently. Participants will establish permanent vegetative covers on enrolled land according to CRP conservation plans developed by NRCS.

To be eligible, cropland must meet CRP’s cropping history criteria, which includes cropping history provisions, one-year ownership requirement, and physical and legal cropping requirements. Marginal pastureland is also eligible for enrollment provided it is suitable for use as a needed and eligible riparian buffer. Producers who have an existing CRP contract are not eligible for CREP until that contract expires. Producers with expiring CRP contracts who are interested in CREP should submit offers for re-enrolling their land into CREP during the last year of their existing CRP contract.

In 2011, as a result of CRP, nitrogen and phosphorous losses from farm fields were reduced by 623 million pounds and 124 million pounds respectively. The CRP has restored more than two million acres of wetlands and associated buffers and reduces soil erosion by more than 300 million tons per year. CRP also provides $1.8 billion annually to landowners—dollars that make their way into local economies, supporting small businesses and creating jobs. In addition, CRP is the largest private lands carbon sequestration program in the country. By placing vulnerable cropland into conservation, CRP sequesters carbon in plants and soil, and reduces both fuel and fertilizer usage. In 2010, CRP resulted in carbon sequestration equal to taking almost 10 million cars off the road.

In 2011, USDA enrolled a record number of acres of private working lands in conservation programs, working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, and prevent soil erosion.

For more information about the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program or CRP, contact the local FSA service center or search online at

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Donation of nearly 77,000-Acre Easement by Louis Bacon establishes Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area

September 16, 2012


Here’s the release from the U.S. Department of Interior (Blake Androff/Leith Edgar):

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar today announced the formal establishment of the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area as the nation’s 558th unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System, thanks to the donation of a nearly 77,000-acre conservation easement in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains bordering the San Luis Valley by noted conservationist Louis Bacon.

“Following in the footsteps of our greatest conservationists, Louis Bacon’s generosity and passion for the great outdoors is helping us to establish an extraordinary conservation area in one of our nation’s most beautiful places,” Secretary Salazar said. “This newest treasure in our National Wildlife Refuge System links together a diverse mosaic of public and private lands, protects working landscapes and water quality, and creates a landscape corridor for fish and wildlife unlike any place in the world.”

Bacon, a longtime advocate and proponent of landscape and wildlife conservation, is donating a conservation easement on nearly 77,000 acres of his 81,400-acre Trinchera Ranch. Today’s action builds on his previously announced intention also to donate a perpetual conservation easement on the 90,000 acre Blanca Ranch, bringing the total amount of permanently protected land to nearly 170,000 acres. When completed, the two easements will represent the largest donation ever to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). The Blanca Ranch easement donation is expected to be finalized later this year.

“We are too quickly losing important landscapes in this country to development– and I worry that if we do not act to protect them now, future generations will grow up in a profoundly different world,” said Bacon. “This motivates me and is why I am proud to place Trinchera Ranch, Blanca’s adjoining ranch, into a conservation easement forever protecting it with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I am also honored to help Secretary Salazar and the US Fish and Wildlife Service create the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area in Colorado’s San Luis Valley. It is an area widely known for its cultural, geographic, wildlife and habitat resources, and this conservation area provides another opportunity to conserve it in perpetuity.”

Trinchera Blanca Ranch is the largest contiguous, privately owned ranch in Colorado and features breathtaking vistas of high desert shrubs and mountain grasslands, combined with alpine forest and alpine tundra. The area stretches up to the top of one of the highest peaks in Colorado, Blanca Peak at 14,345 feet above sea level. It falls in the center of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the longest mountain chain in the United States, and borders the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

Joined by Service Director Dan Ashe and Dan Pike of Colorado Open Lands, Salazar and Bacon signed the conservation easement on the Trinchera Ranch to formally establish the new refuge. They also signed a memorandum of agreement to complement an existing Colorado Open Lands easement agreement already in place on the property.

Colorado Open Lands will jointly monitor and support the conservation efforts with the Service. The agreement marks one of the first cooperative arrangements of its kind among the federal government, a private land trust and a private landowner.

“Trinchera is such a spectacular property and the creation of the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area allows us to protect this landscape, something that is truly special,” said Colorado Open Lands Executive Director Pike. “It has been an honor to hold the conservation easement on Trinchera for nearly a decade. We look forward to being able to share best practices with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and are extremely excited about this innovative collaboration in land conservation.”

“We’re excited to see the results of this collaborative conservation effort come to fruition, thanks to the generosity of Louis Bacon and the strategic and inclusive planning efforts that serve the conservation needs of fish, wildlife and plants across the San Luis Valley landscape,” said Director Ashe. “The Service has been working with landowners in the San Luis Valley on a locally-led voluntary cooperative partnership effort to conserve wildlife habitat and keep working lands working.”

Costilla County Commissioner Crestina Martinez, noted photographer and author John Fielder, and Executive Director of Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts John Swartout also joined today’s signing ceremony.

“Mr. Bacon’s donation of this incredible conservation easement is welcome news for Coloradans who treasure this area and can now rest assured that it will be protected for generations to come. I want to commend him for the example he is setting for other landowners in Costilla County and across the state interested in protecting the wildlife and natural resources that sustain our local economies and way of life,” Udall said. “This announcement reflects a first-of its kind partnership in this part of Colorado, where a private landowner and a federal agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, have made a shared commitment to conservation of one of the most pristine private landholdings in the southern Rockies. It has been said that we don’t inherit the earth from our parents — we borrow them from our children. The establishment of the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area ensures that this scenic gem will be here for future Coloradans to enjoy.”

Under President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation and outdoor recreation agenda, the Interior Department has spearheaded a series of voluntary partnerships with landowners to conserve rural landscapes while ensuring ranching, farming and other traditional ways of life remain strong. Conservation easements are only acquired from willing landowners.

These initiatives include new units of the National Wildlife Refuge System, such as the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area in Kansas, the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area of South Dakota and North Dakota, and the Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area in Montana.

For more information about the Service’s partnership work in the San Luis Valley or the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area, please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Mountain-Prairie’s homepage at:

More coverage from the Associated Press (Thomas Peipert) via The Denver Post. From the article:

Bacon, a hedge fund manager, is adding a conservation easement to protect nearly 77,000 acres of his 81,400-acre Trinchera Ranch from development. He announced plans in June to add a perpetual conservation easement on his 90,000-acre Blanca Ranch if the federal government moved ahead with plans to create a new 5 million-acre conservation corridor in Colorado and New Mexico…

It creates “a contiguous mosaic of privately held and publicly protected lands that will stay in perpetuity in creating one of the longest migratory wildlife corridors in America,” stretching from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve to New Mexico, Bacon said. He added that he hopes his decision to put the land under a conservation easement will inspire other landowners to do the same.

Bacon’s land, which Salazar’s office said is the largest contiguous, privately owned ranch in Colorado, includes three 14,000-foot peaks—Mount Lindsey, Blanca and Little Bear peaks—in the Sangre de Cristos. The mountain range is one of relatively few in the United States that that still allows unobstructed migration by wildlife.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

Conservation easements: ‘The laws were meant to help ranchers and farmers keep their land’ — Alice Madden

September 16, 2012


Here’s an in-depth look at the origins of the conservation easement monkey business from a few years ago. The Denver Post reporter David Migoya also reports on the current investor lawsuits over the deals. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

Easements were usually very simple: Donate the land, and earn a tax deduction or credit equal to the drop in land value up to a certain amount. The maximum credit was the same no matter the size of the property.
But [Denver lawyer Rodney Atherton] had a new idea — he testified he was not alone in devising it — to maximize the tax benefits of an easement. He’d do it by slicing the donation into pieces, then sell the parts to investors.

Then, with drawings indicating the subdivided property was destined for a housing development, each owner would donate the land into a conservation easement. The rub: Appraisers would value each lot as if development were a done deal, increasing the tax benefit by millions of dollars.

The idea would be the basis for nearly every easement Atherton created thereafter — even property in the most remote parts of eastern Colorado where housing starts were miles away. It was the root of about $37 million in tax credits diverted from the Colorado treasury, most since disallowed.

More conservation easement coverage here and here.

Alamosa: Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust ’2nd Annual Headwaters Hoedown’ September 16

August 20, 2012


Here’s the webpage with all the inside skinny:

2nd Annual Headwaters Hoedown!

Sunday, September 16th, 2012
1:00pm to 6:00pm
Gilmore Ranch, Alamosa (Directions)

For tickets, sign up to support RiGHT as an annual Conservation Partner – click here. Your donation includes a ticket to this year’s Headwaters Hoedown!
Kids 12 & under free with adults

Join RiGHT for the biggest conservation celebration of the year! Come enjoy delicious local food, fine wine & beer, ranch tours, a fabulous silent auction, and dance to live music by local favorites Don Richmond & The Rifters and Sweet Radish.

We will also gather to honor the landowners who protected their land with RiGHT last year and recognize Paul Robertson of The Nature Conservancy for his outstanding contributions to conservation in the San Luis Valley.

More Rio Grande River Basin coverage here and here.

The Rio Grande Basin Roundtable approves conservation easement request for the Haywood Ranch

July 15, 2012


From the Del Norte Prospector (Stan Moyer):

More than 37 percent would be put up by a combination of $25,000 from the local Roundtable and $400,000 from the CWCB’s Water Supply Reserve Account (WSRA).

Focusing on the 400-acre Haywood Ranch, it was noted that the owners “contribute through a charitable portion of the value of of their conservation easement — in this project, an estimated value of $400,000.

“The land and water are available for the long term, and the environmental and recreational water benefits are sustained in perpetuity,” according to the application submitted by the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT). Nancy Butler is executive director of the Del Norte-based organization…

The potential catch in the creation of the conservation easement is that the Roundtable proposal for funding is contingent on receipt of about $300,000 in funding coming from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), to meet the total estimated purchase costs of $1.125 million…

Among theses benefits are the “U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recently produced habitat maps that show the Haywood Ranch as being within a zone of irreplaceable habitat,” including quite likely the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and the Yellow Billed Cuckoo, which are in the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD)’s effort to create a “Habitat Conservation Plan.”

The application emphatically details the importance of the success of the easement in protecting wildlife:

The project parcel submitted is within the Rio Grande’s floodplain and includes approximately 2/10 of a mile of the river, 160 acres of important wetlands and the No.1 senior water right on the river that sustains them. Riparian areas and wetlands along the river corridor provide highly important habitat for Haywood Ranch wins Roundtable nodall the area’s wildlife and several endangered species.

More IBCC — basin roundtables coverage here.

Larimer County, et. al., score $5 million from Great Outdoors Colorado

June 19, 2012


From the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Larimer County and its partner cities of Fort Collins, Greeley, Windsor and Timnath will receive $5,098,150 for the Poudre River Corridor and Regional Trail Initiative, according to a press release from Kerri Rollins, Open Lands Program manager for Larimer County.

The grant will move the partners closer to completing their decades-long goal of “a regional swath of open spaces and connected trails along the river corridor,” the release said.

The money will fund the purchase of almost 1,000 acres of land along the Poudre and the construction of a trail overpass over Interstate 25 near Harmony Road in Timnath.

With the completion of the lottery-funded work, less than five miles of trail construction will remain in the 45-mile corridor from Bellvue northwest of Fort Collins to Island Grove Regional Park in Greeley, according to the release.

Here’s a list of GOCo grants for Southern Colorado from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain:

Seven Southern Colorado projects were awarded $1.6 million by the Great Outdoors Colorado board Tuesday. A total of $37.3 million went to 42 projects throughout Colorado this grant cycle. Money comes from state lottery proceeds.

Mendenhall Ranch open space, Nature Conservancy, Otero County, $310,500.

Pritchett basketball court, Baca County, $28,215.

McClave Park improvements, Bent County, $161,377.

Conejos River Ranch open space, Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, Conejos County, $420,000.

Los Caminos Farm open space, Colorado Open Lands, Costilla County, $420,500.

Lookout Mountain Park land acquisition, Del Norte, Rio Grande County, $132,350.

Ski-Hi Park Pavilion, Rio Grande County, $179,990…

A package of four projects along Fountain Creek won $2.52 million in state funds Tuesday. The Great Outdoors Colorado board awarded the money as part of its highly competitive River Corridor Initiative. Eight projects were awarded $24 million this year under the initiative. Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Fountain and El Paso County applied jointly for the funds, in a show of regional cooperation. The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District joined as well, because the projects also are included in various Fountain Creek improvement plans the district supports.

More restoration/reclamation coverage here.

The Wineinger-Davis ranch in Lincoln and Crowley counties receives the 2012 Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado

June 4, 2012


Here’s the release from the Sand County Foundation:

Sand County Foundation, in partnership with the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. and Peabody Energy, is proud to name the Wineinger-Davis Ranch as the recipient of the 2012 Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado.

“The Davis family views conservation as a lifestyle, going the extra mile to educate those on and off of their ranch about the importance of sustainable agriculture,” said Dr. Brent Haglund, Sand County Foundation President. “Russell, Tricia and their family are true representatives of a land ethic and their commitment to sharing their story through a remarkable amount of agricultural education and outreach is exceptional and important.”

Russell and Tricia Davis’ Wineinger-Davis Ranch was established in 1938. It currently consists of over 12,000 acres and is located in Lincoln and Crowley Counties. The ranch successfully integrates not only the needs of a successful and productive beef operation, but also the habitat needs of a suite of shortgrass prairie wildlife species. Among other conservation achievements, in 2004, Russell and Tricia placed perpetual conservation easements on the ranch through the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Colorado Species Conservation partnership program. This easement protects 12,245 acres of intact native shortgrass prairie and riparian ecosystems. This agreement focuses on proper livestock grazing to benefit all short grass prairie and plains riparian wildlife species.

The $10,000 Leopold Conservation Award will be presented to the Davis family on June 12 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in Loveland.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Colorado is sponsored by Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, Peabody Energy, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Credit.

Thanks to the La Junta Tribune-Democrat for the heads up.

More conservation coverage here.

Routt County: The Board of Commissioner’s pony up $1 million in tax dough for two conservation easements

May 6, 2012


From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The first property is Elkhead Ranch, where 1,560 acres of agricultural land will be conserved in the foothills of the Elkhead Mountains about 16 miles north of Hayden. The ranch is visible from Routt County Road 56.

The second is the Agner Mountain Ranch, where 1,337 acres of conserved agricultural land and wildlife habitat will be added to the 1,237 acres already under easement. The southern two-thirds of the ranch is typified by rolling hills covered in a mix of gambel oak and sagebrush. Calf Creek runs through the valley below, and Buck Mountain is a nearby landmark.

The Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust will hold the conservation easements.

Funding for the county’s purchase of development rights program comes from 1.5 mills of voter-approved property taxes that were renewed most recently in 2006. The purchase of development rights program is intended to give landowners an economically attractive alternative to selling land for development by instead compensating them for the development rights they agree to put under a conservation easement. By giving up those future development rights, the owners typically donate more than half of the appraised value of the land.

More Yampa River basin coverage here.

The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust 2011 annual report is hot off the press

February 21, 2012


Here’s the link to RiGHT’s annual report. Here’s an excerpt:

Thanks to the generosity of our landowners, funders, volunteers and Conservation Partners, 2011 was our busiest year yet! We completed eight conservation projects that will permanently protect 3,400 acres of land and over four and a half miles of the Rio Grande river corridor. This brings the totals for the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) to 20,555 acres of protected land and 19.9 miles of river corridor. We appreciate the many landowners who have chosen to conserve their lands with RiGHT!

We had a strong community engagement effort in 2011 that included seven events focused on connecting people to the land and the role of conservation. As a part of this overall effort, we launched our brand new “Conservation Partners” program aimed at involving more people in our work and sustaining our organization by increasing individual support. In November, we were honored to be recognized for our successful partnership with The Nature Conservancy with their “Phil James Award.” We are the first organization to receive this special award.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here and here.

The Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas River to screen the documentary ‘Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time’ February 17

February 16, 2012


From email from the Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas:

The Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas is pleased to invited you to the showing of “Green Fire: Aldo Leopold and a Land Ethic for Our Time”. The documentary will be screened from 6:00 – 7:30 Friday, February 17th at Salida Mountain Sports, 110 N. F Street.

The documentary explores Leopold’s life in the early 20th century and the many ways his land ethic ideas continue to this day. It also deals with the influence his ideas have had in shaping the conservation movement as we know it. The film was produced by the Aldo Leopold Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service and the Center for Humans in Nature.

Please join us in watching this documentary. Cost will be $ 3.00 for adults and children under 12 are free. For more information give us a call at the Land Trust, 539-7700.

More conservation coverage here.

Denver: The Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts presents ‘Conservation Excellence 2012′ March 12-13

February 16, 2012


Here’s the announcement from the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts:

The Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts is pleased to invite you to join us for Conservation Excellence 2012. With over 40 sessions to choose from and CE credits available for attorneys, real estate professionals and appraisers, we’re confident that this is a “must attend” conference for:

Land Trust staff and volunteers
Local Government Open Space staff
College students and faculty
Others interested in Conservation in Colorado

Date: March 12-13
Location: The Cable Center (map)

More conservation easements coverage here and here.

Colorado Water 2012: The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust continues to protect water resources in the San Luis Valley

February 16, 2012


Here’s this week’s installment of the Valley Courier’s Water 2012 series. Here’s an excerpt:

RiGHT grew out of the Citizens for San Luis Valley Water, who were seeking a tool for the community to help keep water in the basin. One of the co-founders, Cathy McNeil, along with her husband Mike of the McNeil Ranch and neighboring ranchers on the Rock Creek corridor south of Monte Vista were among the first to conserve their own lands with conservation easements.

They did this for a number of reasons, ranging from overall estate planning to their real desire to keep their land and water intact for agriculture and not allow it to be broken into the proverbial “ranchettes” that are fragmenting far too much of Colorado’s historic ranchlands, and thereby converting agricultural water rights to domestic and other uses.

In response to the intense pressure for land development and conversion of water from agriculture to other uses, the interest in conservation has grown steadily across Colorado. RiGHT has led the nation in providing support and incentives for private land conservation, including the lottery funded Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). GOCO also serves as a model for the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, with Secretary of the Interior Salazar as a key proponent of that effort. Colorado has also passed significant tax benefits to encourage voluntary conservation easements.

While RiGHT continues to work throughout the entire San Luis Valley, after the drought of 2002, protecting the Rio Grande river corridor and its water resources emerged as the clear priority for San Luis Valley residents. RiGHT found that, in contrast to the highly fragmented ownership of many of Colorado’s river corridors, there is still a substantial amount of relatively intact land along the Rio Grande corridor, much of which has senior water rights associated with it. With the help of partners at The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited and many willing landowners, RiGHT launched the Rio Grande Initiative in 2007.

Since 2007, RiGHT has been able to triple the pace of conservation along the river. As of the end of 2011, more than 22,000 acres and 36 miles of the river are protected,thanks to the significant investment of many funders and landowners. A recent Trust for Public Land study indicated that every dollar invested in conservation generates six dollars of economic return in communities, meaning that those funds serve as a substantial economic driver in this rural, agricultural region.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

Udall Bill Would Help Farmers, Ranchers Hand Down Lands Intact Through Conservation Easements

November 24, 2011


From U.S. Senator Mark Udall’s blog:

Last week, Mark Udall reintroduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to help rural families avoid the pressure to sell, break up or develop their property, keeping farms and ranches intact and in the family when handing it down to the next generation. The American Family Farm and Ranchland Protection Act would help families permanently protect their lands for agricultural and conservation use by changing the estate tax code to incentivize permanently conserving the land under easement.

A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that permanently limits certain development on the land while allowing farming and ranching to continue. Under current law, if a property is placed in a conservation easement, 40 percent of the value of the land can be exempted from the taxable estate, but the amount is capped at $500,000 – despite rising land prices. For example, if an estate included a property in a conservation easement worth $2 million, $500,000 could be exempted from the taxable estate, but if the property were worth $1 million, only $400,000 could be exempted. Udall’s bill would raise the exclusion rate to 50 percent of the total value and cap it to $5 million, giving families tax relief when they choose to preserve portions of their lands for agricultural and conservation use.

“Colorado’s farmers and ranchers are the custodians of our rural and natural heritage, but outdated exemptions in estate tax law are sometimes forcing the loss of valuable agricultural lands,” Udall said. “My bill would make a simple fix to our tax code to help make it more consistent and fair, while encouraging more robust conservation of our open spaces. More important, it will encourage families to permanently protect the natural value of their lands through conservation easements so that they can be handed down to the next generation.”

The bill has broad local support, including from the American Farm Bureau, U.S. Cattlemen Association, Defenders of Wildlife, Land Trust Alliance and the Nature Conservancy. Udall introduced similar legislation last year.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain.

More conservation easements coverage here and here.

The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust recently put 800 acres in the San Luis Valley under conservation easements

September 28, 2011


Here’s the release from the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust via The Del Norte Prospector:

In the last two months, RiGHT protected the Rocky River Ranch west of Del Norte, the Howard Lester Ranch outside of Monte Vista and the Clark Ranch south of Alamosa.

These projects are a continuation of the local land trust’s Rio Grande Initiative, an ambitious effort to protect private land along the river corridor through voluntary, incentive-based conservation easements.

Collectively these ranches contain irrigated fields, wet meadows and prime farmland soils. Their protection helps keep land and water dedicated to agriculture, one of the core pieces of our local economy and the way of life we enjoy here in the Valley. These ranches also protect the cottonwoods and willows along the banks of the Rio Grande, which provide vital habitat for migratory songbirds, raptors, waterfowl and waterbirds, mule deer, elk and many other wildlife species. Equally as important, conservation of these lands protects the scenic views that both residents and visitors treasure here in the San Luis Valley…

Funding for these projects came from a variety of resources, including lottery-funded Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, the Conservation Resource Center and the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife’s San Luis Valley Habitat Partnership Program Committee.

These projects would not be possible without the dedication and generosity of the landowners who are protecting what they love about the San Luis Valley for future generations. “Thanks to their vision and commitment to conservation, we are helping ensure that the San Luis Valley we love today will still be here tomorrow,” commented RiGHT’s Executive Director, Nancy Butler.

While RiGHT works with landowners throughout the entire San Luis Valley, they have a special focus on protecting land and water resources in the Rio Grande corridor through the Rio Grande Initiative. RiGHT began the Initiative in 2007 in partnership with Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy. At the outset, there were 6,000 acres protected between 1986 and 2006.

More Rio Grande River basin coverage here and here.

South Arkansas River: Fish habitat, riparian habitat and water quality improvement landowner meetings scheduled

September 20, 2011


From the Salida Citizen:

Landowner meetings will be at the Chaffee County Fairgrounds on Thursday, September 22nd at 5:30pm and Sunday, September 25th at 3:00pm. In attendance will be representatives from Trout Unlimited and the [Land Trust of the Upper Arkansas], a meeting facilitator, and aquatic experts. Snacks and beverages will be provided. To insure adequate handouts and materials please register by calling the Land Trust office at 719-539-7700 or emailing

More restoration coverage here.

Finalists named for the annual ‘Leopold Conservation Award’

April 26, 2011

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From the Ag Journal:

In celebration of Earth Day, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA), the Sand County Foundation, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., and Peabody Energy will present the Leopold Conservation Award to a landowner in Colorado. Each of these organizations believes in working lands conservation as it yields measurable conservation enhancements that benefit livestock production as well as wildlife species and habitats.

The Leopold Conservation Award, named in honor of world-renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, is comprised of a $10,000 cash award and an Aldo Leopold crystal. The award is presented annually in eight states to private landowners who practice responsible land stewardship and management…

The 2011 Leopold Conservation Finalists are: The Fox Ranch; Wineinger-Davis Ranch; Pipe Springs Ranch; and the, Wagon Wheel Ranch…

The 2011 Leopold Conservation Award recipient will be honored Tuesday, June 21st at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association’s Annual Convention in Steamboat Springs, Colo. The 2011 CCA/CCW/JCCA Annual Convention will be held at the Steamboat Sheraton in Steamboat Springs, Colo., June 20th-22nd. Individuals may register for this “must attend” event by referring to the April issue of Cattle Guard, visiting

More conservation coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1300 (Conservation Easement Tax Credit Dispute Resolution) passes the state House Finance Committee

April 23, 2011

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From the Colorado News Agency (Debbie Brazale):

House Bill 1300, sponsored by Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, would allow disputes over the validity of conservation-easement tax credits to go directly to court rather than forcing landowners to await a ruling by the Colorado Department of Revenue.

The measure would also allow those who buy and sell the tax credits granted to the original owners to be a party to disputes in court, and it offers deadlines for resolution of the 600 or so cases currently pending: July 2014 for the donor and 2016 for related parties.

Today’s action by the House Finance Committee represented the second time this month that the panel was asked to dissect aspects of the complex program, which has drawn scrutiny from the media and state regulators in recent years amid allegations of abuse. Earlier this month, the committee also heard House Bill 1208, by Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, and its fate has yet to be decided. McKinley’s bill seeks administrative remedies for current easements that are in dispute
Looper said her bill’s aim is to provide options for landowners and tax-credit buyers who have been snared in red tape over challenges by the Revenue Department over the validity of conservation-easement tax credits.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Restoration: Rio de la Vista (Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust) wins the Environmental Law Institute’s ‘National Wetlands Award for Conservation and Restoration’

April 20, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):

The Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C., gave its National Wetlands Award for Conservation and Restoration to Rio de la Vista on Monday for her work in helping conserve more than 27,000 acres of wetlands. De la Vista has done a big portion of that work as a coordinator for the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust, which since 1986 has protected more than 19,000 acres along the Rio Grande that include ranch land, wildlife habitat and senior surface water rights.

More restoration coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: HB 11-1300 — Conservation Easement Tax Credit Dispute Resolution

April 19, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

Under HB1300, easement donors whose claims are being disputed by the Colorado Department of Revenue could forego hearings before the Department of Revenue and take their cases straight to court in a jurisdiction close to home. The bill includes a provision that would remove the surety bond requirement that is presently necessary to take a conservation easement case to court. The prohibitive sum of those bonds has been a barrier to challenging easements in dispute for some landowners in the past…

One aim of HB1300 would be resolution of easement challenges that are pending. To that end, it calls for suspending interest and penalties against donors who willingly participate in resolution of their cases through district court. The bill’s primary sponsors are Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, and Sens. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, and Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk. Its first hearing will be in the House Committee on Finance.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here.

Conservation: The Mesa Land Trust adds 115 acres of orchard land to their ‘Fruitlands Forever Initiative’

April 17, 2011

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From the Grand Junction Free Press (Sharon Sullivan):

“We feel for our children, and our children’s children, we really don’t want this valley to be totally without fruit farms,” Guy Parker said. “We feel the ability to grow food in western Colorado is too important to leave to chance, or the economy.”

The Parkers joined three other family farms in conserving 115 acres of peach and wine grape producing lands, as part of the Land Trust’s Fruitlands Forever Initiative, which seeks to conserve a critical mass of farmland sufficient to support fruit growing into the future. The families sold their development rights, but retain ownership and may continue to live on and farm the land. They can even sell the property, although it can never be subdivided or developed.

Sons of longtime farmer Harry Talbott agreed to conserve their 37-acre Riverview Vineyard which sits atop a Colorado River bluff, and which buffers the Tillie Bishop Wildlife Area. Talbott was one of the original founders in 1980 of the Mesa County Land Conservancy, whose name later changed to Mesa Land Trust. “We were first in the United States to conserve agricultural land,” Talbott said.

Meanwhile the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust has completed a conservation easement for the Soward Ranch near the headwaters. Here’s a report from Toni Steffens-Steward writing for The Mineral County Miner. From the article:

The first easement of 580 acres on the land was through the Wetland Preserve Program and set aside much of the “moving water” on the ranch. Then they started to look at a way to preserve at least some of the lakes. After a great deal of planning and negotiations, they now have 268 acres under a conservation easement with the Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust.

The project was made possible through funding through Great Outdoors Colorado, the Gates Family Foundation, The Brown Family Foundation and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and a donation from the Soward Ranch, LLC.

More conservation easements coverage here and here.

Silverthorne: Conservation easements seminar March 29

March 19, 2011

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From Summit Daily News:

A water rights and land conservation educational seminar, “Water on the Land, Keeping Water Local: Protecting Water Rights through Land Conservation,” is scheduled for March 29 from 12:30-5 p.m. at the Silverthorne Pavilion. Presented by the Continental Divide Land Trust and the Colorado Water Trust, the seminar is $65 for Realtors, attorneys and CPAs seeking Continuing Professional Education credits and $15 for those not looking to earn credit. Admission includes handouts, refreshments and a complimentary ticket to Peter McBride’s evening presentation on his new book, “The Colorado River: Flowing through Conflict.”

More Blue River watershed coverage here.

2011 Colorado legislation: SB 11-050 (Value Of Condemned Conservation Easement)

March 15, 2011

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Patrick Malone):

On Monday, a bill that aimed to compel fair-market values for easements was retooled, and now calls for a task force to study the issue in the months between legislative sessions. Hundreds of conservation easements ceded to the state for tax credits are being challenged by the Colorado Department of Revenue on grounds that appraisers overvalued the parcels…

The 12-member interim task force that SB50 proposes would be appointed by Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch. It would include two landowners who have placed easements on their property…

Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, asked the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, whether the task force would be seated with respect to regional representation. Roberts said she hoped so, but that would be up to the Senate president and the House speaker. Legislative Council is studying the feasibility of the interim effort, and will report back to the Legislature.

More 2011 Colorado legislation coverage here. More conservation easements coverage here and here.

Conservation easement review in the offing

November 9, 2010

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Update: From The Denver Post (Jessica Fender):

Lawmakers in the 2010 legislative session added $1.1 million to the Revenue Department’s budget to hire staff and contract third-party appraisers to resolve the backlog. That money became available at the start of July, department spokesman Mark Couch said. His agency welcomes an audit, he said. “We hope it will help resolve concerns about these tax credits,” Couch said. “These are very complicated tax returns. They take a lot of review when they go through the process of being disputed and protested. We didn’t have the funding until the beginning of the fiscal year.”[...]

An unknown number of landowners and tax-credit buyers around 2005 began getting notices from the Revenue Department advising them they had claimed a larger break than they were entitled to and questioning the appraised value of the land that determines the size of the credit. Of 2,847 conservation easements the state has considered between 2000 and 2008, about 500 have been denied or are in question, Revenue Department figures show. Letter recipients are given a month to appeal the decision. Many do.

And that’s where the bottleneck starts, according to J.D. Wright, president of Landowners United. The group advocates for about 90 landowners entangled in easement disputes. He said some property owners have erroneously had wages garnisheed. Others live in uncertainty about their financial futures.

From the Associated Press (Stephen K. Paulson) via Bloomberg Businessweek:

The Legislative Audit Committee on Monday said it will consider whether to audit the state Department of Revenue later this year to find out if landowners are being treated fairly and disputes are resolved in a timely manner. State Rep. Marsha Looper, a Republican from Calhan who requested the audit, says it could take 10 years at the current rate to resolve disputes from 355 landowners who claim over $90 million in tax credits. Those credits have been challenged by the state. Lawmakers first want to find out how much information is available because it involves confidential state and federal tax records. “Some of these property owners only have 30 days to protest denial of their appeals that could lead to foreclosure, and they’re not even getting a certified letter. Credit buyers are already getting liens on their loans. The state is going after the credit banks,” Looper said.

More conservation easements coverage here and here.

The Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District approves conservation easement rules

August 23, 2010

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

The district has more than 60 conservation easements throughout the Arkansas River basin, and uses them to protect water resources. The state is adopting new policies after abuses of a tax-credit law led to improper valuations on some properties, many in Southeastern Colorado. In one Weld County lawsuit, landowners who claimed $160,000 in tax credits are facing repayment of $250,000, said Jay Winner, Lower Ark general manager. The new policies would make sure the easements are valued properly and executed according to standards that align with the new state policies. They also spell out legal actions to deal with violations of easement agreements…

“We’re doing this already, but have not adopted these specific measures,” said attorney Bart Mendenhall. “This gets our policies in line with state policies.”

More conservation easements coverage here and here.


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