Conservation gives landowning families a choice

By Erik Glenn and Jordan Vana

This reprints a guest column in the Sterling Journal-Advocate.
POSTED 06/08/2016 07:02:09 AM MDT

Erik and Jordan are board members of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts.

Like much of Colorado, the Eastern Plains has a rich heritage of productive farms and ranches, many of which have been owned and operated by the same families for generations. These working lands grow our food, provide habitat for wildlife, and give residents and visitors spectacular views of Colorado's treasured landscapes.

These working lands face mounting pressures as Colorado's population continues to grow. By 2050, experts predict that more than 9 million people will call Colorado home, nearly doubling our current population and forcing landowning families and communities to make tough choices when it comes to land and water.

Polls show that Coloradans consistently and overwhelmingly support the conservation of natural resources, including private lands and ever-diminishing water supplies. Landowning families who voluntarily choose to conserve these resources generously help to safeguard the quality of life we all enjoy.

Conservation easements are one tool that landowning families can use to carry on their agricultural heritage and the countless benefits it provides for all Coloradans. For some, conservation easements make sense. For others, they do not. But we understand and respect that it remains the right of the landowning family to make that decision.

We understand that there have been issues and challenges with the conservation easement program in the past. Those issues have caused some landowners undue hardship and have made other landowners suspicious of conservation easements. We don't begrudge anyone for having legitimate questions. In fact, we appreciate the questions and believe that it creates an opportunity for a productive dialogue. However, we don't want to see a critical tool for ag land conservation and rural community stability to be dismissed because of misconception and misinformation.

The issues that have challenged the conservation easement program and landowners in the past have been resolved. Legislation passed in 2013 (at the request of the land trust community) prevents the state from challenging new conservation easement tax credits after they have been claimed. This provides important certainty to landowning families and will prevent a repeat of the past problems.

Land and water conservation are vital to ensuring that Colorado continues to be defined by its working ag landscapes, natural beauty and western heritage. From the Eastern Plains to the Western Slope, Colorado's land trusts look forward to working alongside landowners as they consider conservation as an option for themselves and their families.

For more information, please visit the Colorado Coalition of Land Trust's website at cclt.org, the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust website at ccalt.org, and Colorado Open Lands' website at coloradoopenlands.org.

Erik Glenn and Jordan Vana represent the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust, and Colorado Open Lands.