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

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Billie Stanton Anleu):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Berthoud Surveyor (John Gardner):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saguache Creek
Saguache Creek

From The Colorado Independent (Marianne Goodland):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conservation Excellence 2016 — #Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts

Join us at
Conservation Excellence 2016!

March 14 – 16, 2016

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

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

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

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

REGISTER FOR CONFERENCE!

Saguache Creek
Saguache Creek

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

Organic Daily Cows
Organic Dairy Cows

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

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

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

CCA Foundation Banquet

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

Awards presented by Colorado CattleWomen, Inc.:

Cattle Woman of the Year

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

Rookie of the Year

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

Awards presented by Colorado Cattlemen’s Association:

Law Officer of the Year

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

Brand Inspector of the Year

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

Outstanding Commercial Producer of the Year

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

Outstanding Seedstock Producer of the Year

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

Affiliate Rate-of-Growth Contest

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

Top Membership Recruiter

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

Champion Commercial Female

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

Colorado Cattlemen’s Foundation presentation of Endowment Trust Memorial honorees

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