Column: Vote yes for measure 1A to conserve Routt County’s water, wildlife, working ranches

Yes for Water, Wildlife, Working Ranches Campaign Committee
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Measure 1A seeks to reauthorize the Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights program to protect our natural resources, open space and working lands.
Yes for Water, Wildlife, Working Ranches Campaign Committee/Courtesy photo

All of us here in the Yampa Valley are bound together by a love for this rich landscape and the communities that reside here. Whether you were born here, moved here 30 years ago or are new to town, it’s the expansive wilderness and open space, recreational opportunities and deeply intact communities that draw us in. This valley is special to us all and therefore ours to steward with great responsibility.

It is under this banner of stewardship that I urge you to please stand with us and vote on Tuesday, Nov. 8, for ballot measure 1A to continue Routt County’s legacy of conservation and agricultural heritage. Routt County’s Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program — one of the most effective conservation tools in Colorado and a model used throughout the country — is about to sunset. A ‘yes’ vote on referendum 1A will reauthorize this invaluable program, maintain its existing funding source without raising taxes, and continue to protect our natural resources, open space and working lands.

Routt County citizens have long stood together to protect our natural resources and agricultural land for current use and in service to future generations. In 1996, voters approved the PDR program and authorized its funding through a 1.5 mill property tax. Since then, the program has conserved over 56,000 acres of land — placing permanent protection over wildlife habitat, water sources, agricultural land, scenic vistas, historic landmarks and recreational opportunities.

Yet, there is still significant work to be done. As Routt County’s population continues to rise, we need to meet the challenges of rapid growth and development in order to maintain the multi-generational lifestyles that make up the fiber in our cultural fabric.

Routt County differs substantially from other scenic areas like Jackson Hole, Wyoming, or Aspen, where the majority of land is permanently protected as public land. Here in Routt, more than 45% of the land is privately owned and at risk of development. This puts the imperative on us as a community — if we don’t work to preserve our water, wildlife habitat and working lands, then who will?

The PDR program offers us a well-rounded solution to this problem — it is a land protection tool in which a property’s development rights are purchased from willing landowners. The transaction places a deed restriction, or conservation easement, on the property, thereby permanently protecting it from subdivision and development. This exchange offers landowners an important alternative to selling land, especially as American family farms and ranches are struggling greatly against the weight of development pressure, market fluctuations and the rising cost of business. Supporting landowners in keeping working lands working is both a stronghold for local economic health and the character of our community.

Third-generation landowners and ranchers Jim and Jo Stanko partnered with PDR to conserve nearly 600 acres of working agricultural land on their centennial farm just south of Steamboat Springs. The Stanko’s dedication ensured the permanent protection of a half-mile of Yampa River, important riparian areas, agricultural lands and undisturbed wildlife habitat. The Stanko’s believe this transaction has enabled them to maintain their ranch and pass it along to the next generation of agricultural producers.

Russ and Clay Garrity are fellow Routt County landowners who utilized the PDR program to conserve their property and transfer it to the town of Oak Creek in 2019 to create the Oak Creek Mountain Park. This park is now enjoyed by thousands of hikers, bikers, runners, skiers and horseback riders year-round.

Whether you live in town or in the country, your days have been enriched by our abundant wildlife population. In the spring, the much anticipated sandhill cranes arrive to the Yampa Valley, and swanson, red-tail and osprey hawks reign over plains and rivers year-round. Our neighbors in the county often wake to the bugling of migrant elk herds in the early fall, and those in town are privy to visits by our great moose, deer and black bear populations.

We all enjoy and benefit from the natural resources, open space and working lands in the Yampa Valley. Now, we have a chance to act on our responsibility to protect these assets by voting YES on measure 1A to reauthorize the PDR program on Nov. 8. Please stand with us and vote to continue Routt County’s conservation legacy for the generations to come.

In addition to voting, visit to get involved and help spread the word. 

This column was provided by the Yes for Water, Wildlife, Working Ranches Campaign Committee, including Co-Chairs CJ Mucklow and Gretchen Van De Carr.

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