Efforts to preserve a working ranch — and the big game migration, views and habitat it hosts — received help in the form of a grant from Great Outdoors Colorado.
The Colorado West Land Trust is working with the owners of a Crawford-area ranch to finalize a conservation easement that will protect more than 1,200 acres from development, while allowing ranch work to continue. Late last week, GOCO’s Conservation Easement Transaction Costs program awarded the trust $50,000 to help move the easement to completion.
The property has not been publicly identified because closing has yet to take place. The land is adjacent to Gunnison National Forest land and includes 500 acres of irrigated ground, along with wetland habitat created by two creeks flowing through the property, which is along a scenic byway.
“It’s a beautiful route. Anybody driving in Western Colorado enjoys our scenic byways. This would help protect the view shed. That’s a way all of the public can enjoy that property,” said Ilana Moir of Colorado West Land Trust.
Moir also took note of the habitat the land provides for deer and elk, both of which migrate to winter range through the ranch land.
“It’s a great property to keep animals moving and their populations viable,” she said.
Further, the ranch produces beef cattle, which has a broader public benefit. Protecting the property through a conservation easement ensures that use can continue, she said.
“We also like to see working ranches in the hands of ranchers,” Moir said.
Conservation easements through the land trust are voluntary on the part of landowners, who agree not to develop a property, but they can continue to own and operate it.
Moir said the ranch’s owners reached out to the land trust after learning about it from friends who already had conservation easements on their properties.
“They (owners) really see the benefit in keeping the working landscape in ranching,” she said.
Colorado West Land Trust’s application for the competitive grant underwent staff and peer review, Alex Castino, GOCO program officer, said.
“Some of the things that stood out is that this property seemed to be a keystone property in its ability to protect this landscape,” Castino said.
The land is surrounded by other protected properties and public lands, making it “an important hole to fill” in connecting wildlife habitat and movement corridors, she also said.
“We’re always really trying to achieve landscape-scale conservation, because we understand how important that is for wildlife and the water bodies that flow in and out of lands. This seemed to really hit that on the head,” Castino said.
GOCO looks for projects that protect rivers and streams, because so much wildlife relies on these waters. The ranch also has “significant junior water rights” and 2.5 mi. of creeks, Castino said.
GOCO’s transaction cost program assists people who want to have a conservation easement, by covering such expenses as paperwork and reporting that needs to be completed before donors can qualify for tax credits. Because the ranch is going into a perpetual conservation easement, the parties want to ensure everything is in order and properly documented, Castino said.
GOCO’s $50,000 comes with a $5,000 match from Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s habitat protection funding and, as is typical for easements, a contribution from the landowners, she said.
The transaction won’t close for a few more months, Moir said. The parties will negotiate the easement document and conduct and review due diligence reports. A formal announcement, with more details, will come once the transaction is complete.
The land trust has conserved thousands of acres in Mesa, Montrose, Delta, Ouray, San Miguel and Gunnison counties. As a nonprofit, it accepts donations and pursues grants and other funds to help it conserve everything from fruit farms and ranches to public access.
“We work with landowners to help conserve their properties in Western Colorado. Everything we do is voluntary. We’ve conserved about 120,000 acres, ” Moir said.
GOCO has participated in conserving more than 4,000 acres of land in Montrose County, where it has invested more than $5.7 million in projects, including the Connecting the People to their Parks and Recreation trail project with the City of Montrose. GOCO’s funding comes from investing a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds.