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Sanders heron rookery saved

Aspen Times Staff Report

Once threatened by potential development at Sanders Ranch, a downvalley great blue heron rookery will be preserved as part of a conservation easement announced by Sanders Ranch Holdings and the Roaring Fork Conservancy last Thursday.

The conservation easement consists of 54-plus acres, and preserves the critical habitat from potential development. The easement centers on the Cattle Creek corridor – which has been heavily impacted by cattle ranching for more than a century – and the Roaring Fork River corridor along the entire length of the Sanders Ranch property.

The agreement also provides for total protection of the great blue heron habitat near the confluence of the Roaring Fork River and Cattle Creek.

“Throughout the process, the developers of Sanders Ranch have exhibited a commitment to environmental protection,” Roaring Fork Conservancy executive director Jeanne Beaudry. “The conservation easement we have created at Sanders Ranch matches our mission statement. What started out in concept to be a seasonally restricted area designed around the rookery, has become a `year-round protected preserve’ that includes not only the rookery, but also all the riparian areas associated with the ranch. This will allow us to create a biologically balanced environment for the herons, as well as for the entire ecosystem associated with Sanders Ranch.”

Rick Lofaro, director of field programs for the Roaring Fork Conservancy added: “Another important part of this agreement is the commitment by Sanders Ranch Holdings to fund an endowment, and monthly stewardship fees to pay for baseline studies, enforcement of the easement, monitoring and development of related educational programs for the citizens of this region.”

Prior to the easement agreement, Sanders Ranch Holdings removed all livestock from the riparian and rookery areas, and with volunteer help, revegetated the neglected areas with 1,500 native plants and trees. And more recently, artificial heron nesting platforms have been constructed on the property to help ensure the vitality of the great birds in the future.

Plans for primitive trails have been included within certain areas of the easement, to insure public access to the river and creek corridor for recreation and fishing activities. The Roaring Fork Conservancy will help coordinate the design and location of these trails; the conservancy will also be involved in reviewing Sanders Ranch construction plans and monitoring activities within the easement.


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