Routt County approves $696K to complete Smith Rancho conservation
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Routt County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved $696,000 of funding to complete a conservation project on a ranch west of Steamboat Springs during a meeting last week.
The project will protect 4,080 acres of the Smith Rancho from development, adding to previous easements that have conserved 12,112 acres of land on the ranch, according to Claire Sollars, chair of the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights program.
“This is the final piece of a very significant and substantial conservation easement effort by Smith Rancho,” Sollars told the commissioners.
As she explained, the area of protected land provides important habitat for a variety of wildlife and a corridor for big game animals to travel through. Elk and deer are among the most commonly seen game. Avian species, such as greater sage grouse, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and greater Sandhill cranes nest in the area. Mountain lions and black bears also have been reported on the land, Sollars said.
The county’s contribution represents about 12.5% of the total cost of the easement. The Nature Conservancy is footing $500,000 of the bill, and Great Outdoors Colorado is contributing $930,000. The landowners are donating the remaining $3.29 million, or 61% of the total cost, according to Sollars.
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“We highly commend the landowners’ dedication to planning for the future with this particular project and their overwhelming dedication to ensuring we have a very significant piece of property for preservation of the wildlife and the habitat in that whole area,” she said.
Commissioner Doug Monger underscored the hands-off approach of the project. The county and contributing agencies are not taking ownership of the land, and the landowners plan to continue using portions of their property for ranching, including the raising of sheep and cattle.
“The ideal thing about this for me as a rancher is knowing the land is staying productive (for agriculture),” Monger said. “That is something we really like to brag about.”
Conserved land may be sold or transferred, but the deed restriction remains in place.
Commissioner Beth Melton voiced her support for the project, considering it a poster child of the Purchase of Development Rights program’s mission.
“I think this is exactly what this funding is meant for,” Melton said.
The program has been in place since 1997 as a way to preserve land and concentrate development in municipalities. A local tax, which was renewed in 2005 for another 20 years, provides funding for the program.
Since its founding, the program has helped fund the conservation of more than 50,000 acres in the county, according to the program’s website.
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