Year-end brings gift of land protection, agriculture, wildlife, recreational values
Reading a bit like a birth announcement, La Plata County Open Space Conservancy’s website boasts, “Newly Saved Land!” As it should. The 472 acres of land, which will be protected with conservation easements as announced last week, is part of the legacy the Slade and Sauer families are leaving their children and La Plata County, protecting our quality of life through open space. They and the conservancy deserve our thanks.
Putting land in a conservation easement is a permanent, and not often easy, decision. It requires dedication and determination and is indeed a labor of love. There is ample reason then to celebrate these two new easements being finalized since the average easement takes about 18 months to complete, Elaine and Gilbert Slade have been at it a bit longer. They started working with the conservancy eight years ago. The new 439-acre easement will help them keep their Dryside family ranch land producing cattle and hay, protect scenic open space and wildlife habitat and preserve 1.2 acres of prime riparian area along the La Plata River. Just in time, it seems, as also last week, Colorado’s agricultural income was reported to be in a free-fall from $1.3 billion in 2015 to $444 million in 2016 caused by a decline in cattle prices.
What is gained in income- and estate-tax benefits may only help a ranching family remain economically viable. It is certainly not a lucrative proposition and comes at a cost, typically $50,000 to $75,000 in up-front expenses and the long-term development potential (and value) of the property.
Though some landowners negotiate easements to retain the right to develop several building envelopes as the Slade’s did, Maggie and Bob Sauer did not. Their 33-acre easement at Hidden Valley brings the total of permanently protected lands near Turtle Lake to 140 acres. It will protect a critical corridor and winter habitat for elk and other wildlife and scenic open space so important to our local community and recreation economy.
In 2017, the Conservancy will be celebrating 25 years forever protecting the values Southwest Coloradans hold dear. Thanks to all current and future donors.