Conservation study places GarCo on endangered list
Garfield County has been identified as one of 12 places where threat of development and inability to preserve open space are greatest in Colorado.A study by the nonprofit Colorado Conservation Trust said Garfield County’s soaring population will gobble about 18,660 of its 1.8 million acres between 2000 and 2030.While other counties, mostly in the Front Range, will see more growth, they also have more groups with more financial resources working on preservation of open space. When development threat is combined with funds available to buy and protect open space, Garfield County ranked as one of Colorado’s 12 endangered counties.The study estimated $8.5 million is needed to buy and preserve about 10,000 of the most endangered acres in Garfield County.Voters there have rejected proposals to raise property taxes to fund open space purchases, but some private conservation groups are starting to direct their attention to the sprawling, largely rural county.The Aspen Valley Land Trust, for example, has conservation easements on about 5,000 acres in Garfield County. That’s about 40 percent of all land the organization is conserving, according to Executive Director Martha Cochran.The Aspen Valley Land Trust moved its office to Carbondale after being located for years in Aspen, and it is eyeing more preservation efforts in Missouri Heights and other places in Garfield County, Cochran said.”That’s where the critical mass of ranches is located,” Cochran said. “Garfield County has 10 times as much private land as Pitkin County.”See Open space on page A8Colorado Conservation Trust Executive Director Will Shafroth said conservation efforts in Pitkin County have been commendable. In addition to organizations like AVLT, public open space groups are active in Pitkin County and Aspen.Almost 19,000 acres of private land have been protected so far in Pitkin County, according to the study. Another 14,000 acres are on the wish lists of public and private conservation groups to buy or acquire easements, which limit development.The groups have $22.38 million for purchases in Pitkin County but are $37.22 million short of taking care of their wish lists, the study said.”The challenge facing a lot of the mountain valleys is the land values,” Shafroth said. High land prices make it difficult for groups in places like Pitkin, Eagle and Summit counties to acquire land or conservation easements.”Our business floats with the real estate market,” Cochran said. Development pressure was significantly less two years ago, so land prices were lower.The Colorado Conservation Trust’s study made it clear the potential changes to the state’s countryside are almost unfathomable. About 80 percent of the private land in the state is held by farmers and ranchers. And about half of them are nearing retirement age, setting the stage for sales of hundreds of thousands of acres.Shafroth said his organization wanted to make Colorado residents aware of the potential changes on a county-by-county basis so they could determine if enough was being done in their areas to preserve open space.Among the recommendations being made by Colorado Conservation Trust are increasing public funding by up to $75 million per year and increasing funding from private sources to up to $25 million per year.”We would like to see the people of Colorado adopt a goal of conserving an additional 2 million acres in the next decade,” Shafroth said.The entire study can be viewed at http://www.coloradoconservationtrust.org.Scott Condon’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
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