Community Ag Alliance: Working agricultural lands essential for quality of life
Routt County’s agricultural lands have changed a lot during the past 100 years. Look back at old photographs, and you’ll see scattered farmhouses and barns with expansive hay meadows and vast open rangeland. Talk with a Routt County rancher whose roots date back to the homestead days, and they’ll tell you how the county’s landscape looked much different then.
Today, you can still find many of those same hay meadows still in production, some of which can be credited to the Yampa Valley Land Trust’s 26 years of work, with more than 30,000 acres of agricultural lands conserved in Routt County alone. But ranch operations as a whole are generally becoming smaller and fewer. While much of the acreage that has been sold off for another purpose still incorporates an agricultural component, it has resulted in a very different business model for most ranchers from what existed only 30 years ago.
There are various reasons for the general decline in number of agricultural operations and the changes necessary to maintain a viable operation today in Routt County and across the West. We won’t get into analyzing them. But, if you get the opportunity, we suggest having a conversation with one of Routt County’s life-long ranchers to hear their view.
The trend of fewer and smaller working ranches is not all that different from what other western communities that were established from agricultural roots have experienced in that timeframe. However, Routt County is unique in its efforts to keep working agricultural landscapes in our community — for what they contribute to our local economy and to the quality of life we enjoy.
Multiple community surveys have indicated that preserving open, scenic and natural landscapes associated with working agricultural lands are of the highest importance to residents of Routt County. The local economy, to some extent, relies on our western image derived from our working agricultural landscapes. And certainly not least, our agricultural producers rely on these lands for income and a way of life.
Routt County has a robust group of local organizations dedicated to preserving its working agricultural landscapes and western rural heritage. YVLT is among them.
YVLT works with agricultural operators who view conservation easements as a tool to help keep working ranches viable for future generations. Through conservation easements, landowners have the opportunity to be compensated for relinquishing some or all of their development rights — a viable alternative to selling the land. This benefits the landowner as well as the entire community as open space, scenic and productive agricultural lands have proven integral to preserving the quality of life in Routt County.
YVLT is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that works to preserve the western rural character of Northwest Colorado for the benefit of its communities and future generations. We could not accomplish our work without community support and generous donors who value what we do. If you would like to learn more about YVLT’s work, visit yvlt.org.
Ryan Gelling is a conservation associate at the Yampa Valley Land Trust.
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