Routt County’s ranch preservation program closes in on 50,000 acres conserved
Steamboat Springs — Routt County’s tradition of leveraging dedicated tax dollars to conserve working agricultural landscapes was nearing a landmark as 2017 began, and with the closing of another five pending conservation easements this year, the county’s Purchase of Development Rights program will have surpassed 50,000 acres conserved.
Beginning in 1997, when voters in Routt County approved a 1.5-mill increase in their property taxes with the funds dedicated to protecting rural landscapes, the PDR program has provided money to help leverage conservation easements that remove development rights from the conserved acres in perpetuity. Voters reaffirmed their support for the tax in November 2005, extending its term through 2025.
When the next five easements close, the PDR tax will have contributed about $24.7 million to the conservation of more than 50,000 acres.
PDR easements are evaluated by a board of citizens including Chairwoman Claire Sollars, Vice Chairman Tarn Dickerson, Treasurer Carl Vail, Mary Alice Page-Allen, Mary Kay Monger, John Ayer and Dean Rossi. Helena Taylor serves as the board’s executive secretary.
The other essential partners in the conservation easements are the conservation organizations like the Yampa Valley Land Trust and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, which hold and oversee the conservation easements to ensure standards are being met.
“We had a great year last year and closed four more easements (in Routt County),” Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Director of Stewardship Megan Knott said, bringing her organization’s number of conservation easements here to 22.
Yampa Valley Land Trust Executive Director Susan Dorsey told the Routt County commissioners Tuesday that her organization was especially pleased to have helped, along with Great Outdoors Colorado, to conserve Pam and Steve Williams’ Glas Deffryn Ranch. The property is located just upstream on the Yampa River from Stagecoach Reservoir State Park where large numbers of passing cars and cyclists can admire the oxbows of the upper Yampa River.
The Land Trust also helped to conserve Stillwater Ranch south of the town of Yampa. It contains significant sage grouse habitat and was conserved with the help of the Vernon Summer Revolving Loan Fund.
Typically, the landowners involved in a PDR-funded easement forego a little more than 50 percent of the land’s appraised value. PDR provides on average 25.8 percent of the property’s value, and other federal, state and local agencies have contributed just under 23 percent of the value of the conserved lands.
A significant number of the owners of the conserved lands have used the proceeds to acquire additional land to keep their agribusinesses viable for succeeding generations.
The conservation easements do not come with any public access to the land but provide public benefit by assuring the wide open Yampa Valley will remain that way in perpetuity, preserving views and character.
Most of the conservation partners working here, including representatives of The Nature Conservancy and the city of Steamboat Springs, appeared before the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday to affirm their ongoing stewardship of the land.
Commissioner Tim Corrigan said it was important to him to receive assurances from each easement holder that their reserve funds were sufficient to support their annual site inspections of the conserved lands.
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