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YVLT is thrilled to announce that its latest conservation project has been finalized: 840 acres of open rangeland along the picturesque Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway.
“Rossi Ranch: Devil’s Grave“ is a working ranch parcel owned by brothers Dean Rossi and Jim Rossi that sits in an agricultural corridor of South Routt County. Its ominous name is derived from a tombstone-like monolith at the tip of “Devil’s Grave Mesa,” a sandstone tabletop overlooking the property.
The 840-acre “Devil’s Grave” is distinguished by its stunning views of the Flat Top Mountains and sagebrush steppe expanses. Sagebrush is a critical ecosystem for many of Northwest Colorado’s resident wildlife. These environments are particularly important for Greater Sage-grouse and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse (both state-designated “Species of Special Concern”), which rely on them for food, shelter, and breeding grounds. The property’s mountain-shrub ecosystems also harbor key habitat for elk, moose, mountain lions, bald eagles, hawks, and other wildlife, including “Critical Winter Range” for mule deer when the Yampa Valley is blanketed in deep snow.
The owners primarily use this parcel for livestock grazing. With a limited human footprint on the property, wildlife enjoy an 840-acre sanctuary where they remain undisturbed for much of the year – just the way they like it! The conservation easement removed this parcel’s subdivision and development potential, allowing these lands to remain open and available for ranching and wildlife for many years to come.
The parcel contributes to the open landscape along Colorado Highway 131 and the Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway, which feature striking vistas with unobstructed views leading into the Flat Tops Wilderness (third largest Wilderness Area in the state) and its prominent 11,000-foot peaks. For those who are unfamiliar with this Scenic Byway, it’s a secluded 82-mile scenic route connecting the towns of Yampa and Meeker providing access points to remote pockets of the Flat Tops.
In addition to its rugged open scenery, the Devil’s Grave conservation project also preserves Northwest Colorado’s rich agricultural heritage dating back to late 1800s, when settlers first arrived in the Yampa Valley.
Dean and Jim have deep roots in the Yampa Valley: four generations of the Rossi family have owned and operated a Routt County ranch for nearly a century. This historic ranching family has also been instrumental in pioneering and championing the use of conservation easements in Northwest Colorado. In fact, the Devil’s Grave parcel shares a border with and is in close proximity to the 600-acre “Rossi Ranch on the Yampa River” – the first conservation easement funded by GOCO in the State of Colorado (finalized with YVLT in 1996). Together, these easements along with a neighboring 333-acre conserved parcel form a 1,773 acre block of conserved land in this area.
Rossi Ranch on the Yampa River is among YVLT’s most recognizable projects, preserving the iconic Laughlin Buttes – unique volcanic spires that loom above Colorado Highway 131 between the towns of Yampa and Phippsburg. Famed Colorado landscape photographer John Fielder captured the Laughlin Buttes for his 2009 book, “Ranches of Colorado” (click here to read about Fielder’s visit to Northwest Colorado and see his photograph of the Buttes, courtesy of the Steamboat Pilot & Today).
With this 840-acre property conserved, YVLT has permanently protected over 56,130 acres across four counties in Northwest Colorado. YVLT would like to thank Great Outdoors Colorado, Routt County (through its Purchase of Development Rights program), the Rossi family, and of course YVLT supporters, all of which provided the funding that allowed this important ranchland preservation project to move forward.
By Tom Ross, Steamboat Pilot & Today (February 7, 2017)
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.
Nationally-renowned author Terry Tempest Williams visited Steamboat Springs last year and came away impressed by the scope of land conservation in the Yampa Valley.
“I really have to honor this community,” Tempest Williams emphasized. “Coming into this valley, you know that this open space is hard-won.”
Terry Tempest Williams has published a number of well-received environmental books, columns and articles. She appeared on Ken Burns’ PBS series on National Parks and has received a number of prominent awards, including the Robert Marshall Award from The Wilderness Society (their highest honor given to an American citizen).
With so many competing land uses in Routt County, Tempest Williams is absolutely right about about our community’s conservation efforts: open space is hard-won in the Yampa Valley. For nearly 25 years – and made possible only with your support – YVLT has worked to permanently protect over 55,290 acres across Northwest Colorado by way of 75 conservation easements. Many of these complex real estate transactions are years (or even decades) in the works.
Fortunately, the citizens of Routt County have made protecting open space a priority with the voter-approved “Purchase of Development Rights” program, which has assisted with funding and matching funds for the acquisition of conservation easements on over 40,000 acres since it was first approved by voters in 1996. Tens of thousands of additional acres have been conserved with the assistance of other funding entities, including Great Outdoors Colorado, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and various private foundations. Further, nearly all land conservation in Routt County and Northwest Colorado is supported by a generous donation of conservation easement value provided by the landowners themselves.
“Tempest Williams offered high praise for Routt County’s will to preserve thousands of acres of ranch and farm lands by providing tax dollars to help fund conservation easements,” wrote Tom Ross in the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
This community’s dedication to land conservation is visible to residents and visitors alike, and it even plays a critical role in preserving our local outdoor recreation-based economy. Take a look at YVLT’s conservation projects map, below, to see how far we have come in just under 25 years (click to enlarge):
We have always known that land conservation is a smart long-term investment for any community, but research has confirmed that it also provides incredible economic value to the people of Colorado! While we feel that it’s difficult to put a price tag on nature, wildlife, and aesthetic beauty, the methodology described below helps to explain the benefits of land conservation from a purely numbers-driven standpoint.
An economist at The Trust for Public Land determined that the citizens of Colorado have invested approximately $595 million in conservation easements between 1994 (the inception of Great Outdoors Colorado) and 2008 – and this investment has yielded a whopping return of $3.52 billion in ecosystem services. That works out to a return of $6 for every dollar invested! Most of us would happily realize a 6-to-1 return ratio on our personal investments. The distinction is: this strategic long-term investment benefits everyone who lives, works, plays, or visits our community. It’s not only a great deal. It is an investment that is perpetual in duration; a Lasting Legacy for our community and a monument in this beautiful region.
To reach the figures cited above, the economist studied and quantified “ecosystem services” provided by every acre of land protected by conservation easement, which varies in monetary value depending on the type of ecosystem (such as wetlands, forests, ag lands, etc.). Ecosystem services include things like clean water protection, fish and wildlife habitat, open space for recreation, agricultural production, carbon sequestration, scenic beauty, erosion and flood control, and so on; things that directly benefit our lives and the wildlife we share our world with. Some ecosystems in particular were determined to provide substantial value, such as “Mixed Forests” ($880 in value per acre, per year) and “Woody Wetlands” ($784).
“The present value of Colorado’s $500 million investment from 1994 to 2008 is $595 million resulting in ecosystem service benefits of $3.52 billion, that is for every $1 invested by Colorado achieved a $6 benefit. In addition, these benefits will continue to accrue into perpetuity on protected lands.” [The Trust for Public Land]
Land conservation is an even better deal in Northwest Colorado, thanks to YVLT’s efforts to stretch every generous donation we receive.
Yampa Valley Land Trust works to carefully leverage your donations to give you the best possible return on investment. YVLT has previously demonstrated the ability to turn $1 into approximately $220 in land conservation!
If you strive to maximize return on your investments…