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

Organic Daily Cows
Organic Dairy Cows

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

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

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

CCA Foundation Banquet

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

Awards presented by Colorado CattleWomen, Inc.:

Cattle Woman of the Year

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

Rookie of the Year

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

Awards presented by Colorado Cattlemen’s Association:

Law Officer of the Year

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

Brand Inspector of the Year

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

Outstanding Commercial Producer of the Year

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

Outstanding Seedstock Producer of the Year

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

Affiliate Rate-of-Growth Contest

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

Top Membership Recruiter

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

Champion Commercial Female

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

Colorado Cattlemen’s Foundation presentation of Endowment Trust Memorial honorees

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

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

Saguache Creek
Saguache Creek

From the Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping water down on the farm — The Pueblo Chieftain

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

And Pueblo County should be on guard.

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

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

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

Two projects last year moved the effort ahead:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colorado Open Lands and Acequia Institute Complete Major Conservation Easement Project

From TaosAcequias.org (Devon G. Peña):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saguache Creek

From The Pueblo Chieftain editorial staff:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The designation would help,” Skorman said.

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

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

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