Conservation Easements: Keeping Colorado, Colorado

Photo courtesy of the Trinchera Blanca Foundation.

Photo courtesy of the Trinchera Blanca Foundation.

Blog post by Amanda Barker, Executive Director, Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts

Colorado has a rich, proud heritage of working landscapes. Our productive farms, ranches, and abundant natural resources stretch from our prairie vistas to our mountain peaks. Coloradans – natives and newcomers, alike – are proud of our lands and we overwhelmingly support protecting them.

These working lands have drawn people to Colorado for hundreds of years and they will continue to do so for many years to come. But our state’s continued growth has led to an important balancing act between development and maintaining what makes Colorado, Colorado.

As Coloradans know, our state continues to grow. By 2050, the population is expected to exceed 9 million, nearly doubling the current number of residents and putting more pressure on our land and water. These pressures threaten the viability of our farms and ranches as well as iconic landscapes and scenic places. We see those threats becoming realities as family farms and ranches are sold into development, or lost due to financial hardships. 

There are, however, tools to protect our lands and our heritage. One of those tools is the conservation easement. It is an important tool for some, not all, landowners interested in preserving their private property rights and continuing a family legacy, or to protect natural areas. Private property rights mean that all landowners have the ability to do with their land and water as they wish, subject to applicable laws. As the Executive Director of the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts, we and the entire land trust community, are thrilled that private landowners across Colorado have generously conserved their properties for continued agriculture, wildlife habitat, and signature views using conservation easements. Members of CCLT have worked to protect nearly 2 million acres of land, keeping these lands productive and intact.

Conservation easements appeals to many of Colorado’s landowners with a voluntary and non-regulatory approach to keeping working lands working. Yet, conservation easements protect more than just the land – they help keep water on the land and in the region, too. This is an incredibly significant benefit as Colorado’s growth puts increasing demands on our water supply that is becoming scarcer. In addition to protecting water supplies, conservation easements provide tremendous economic value by supporting local economies, preserving important wildlife habitat for thousands of game and non-game species, and attracting tourists year-round.

Iconic properties with conservation easements like Greenland Ranch, Trinchera Blanca Ranch and the Hutchinson Ranch help balance urban sprawl, protect entire landscapes and enable farmers and ranchers to pass down their operations to the next generation. These conserved lands have worked to keep Colorado, Colorado ­– and these lands will be forever protected regardless of future growth. Conservation easements play an important role in shaping Colorado’s future.