Conservation easements explained |

Conservation easements explained

Dear Editor:Every four minutes, an acre of agricultural land in Colorado is converted to development. Conservation easements – private, voluntary, legally binding agreements that limit certain types of development – are one of the West’s most important tools in slowing and ultimately reversing this trend. With the recent discussion of easements, we at The Nature Conservancy want to share our experiences with these vital conservation tools. Agricultural and other privately owned lands are critical for wildlife because they often comprise the lower-elevation habitats that provide forage, breeding grounds, and natural corridors for important processes like migration. The Nature Conservancy uses conservation easements to protect ecologically-important lands and waters as habitat for native plant and animal species. At the Conservancy, we have used conservation easements to protect nearly 3 million acres of lands and waters across the United States. Conservation easements have successfully protected millions of acres of critical wildlife habitat and open space, keeping it in private hands while generating significant public benefits. Tourist-attracting vistas, water-purifying soils and grasses, and hard-to-measure benefits like watching a herd of bighorn sheep, are all promoted by this essential conservation tool. In Colorado, 915,000 acres are under easement. For more than 25 years, ranchers, farmers and other private landowners have worked closely with The Nature Conservancy to help them protect their land and Colorado’s heritage, with the tool of conservation easements. One hundred miles north of Aspen, the Conservancy recently completed a second conservation easement on Wolf Mountain in the Yampa Valley, near Steamboat Springs. A golden eagle flying over the Maroon Bells could easily reach this sister site in half a day, as could many of the other 90 bird species that depend upon Colorado habitat. Ten miles of the Yampa River and close to 5,000 acres are now protected by conservation easements. This is good news for sandhill cranes, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and the second largest elk herd in the state.Strategic partnerships with ranchers and farmers help maintain the balance of ranching and wildlife habitat that characterizes so much of Colorado. The long-term thinking and assurances for the future that conservation easements provide often go hand-in-hand with other important management actions, from scientific studies to wildlife-friendly fencing. In this way, conservation easements have proven to be much more than just specific land protection tools for single property owners. The Nature Conservancy uses conservation easements with the keen awareness that they are at heart a tool that enables our children and grandchildren to experience many of the same natural amenities that we in Colorado enjoy today. Fragmentation of the rural landscape for residential development together with soaring land values, constitute the greatest challenges facing wildlife and agriculture in much of the state. Used correctly, conservation easements can help keep our landscapes whole. The Nature Conservancy strongly supports conservation easements and targeted tax incentives designed to encourage their use.Charles E. Bedford, directorAlbert J. Slap, Colorado River Headwaters project director The Nature Conservancy of Colorado

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