“Hard-Won Open Space”: Acclaimed Author Praises Local Conservation Efforts

Tempest Williams speaks in front of a packed audience at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.  Photo:  Tom Ross, Steamboat Pilot & Today

 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):

2016-projects-map-crop-key

Support YVLT today and we will continue protecting the “hard-won open space” that defines our community!

Smart Spending: Land Conservation Nets a $6 Return on Every $1 Spent in Colorado!

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…

Click here to donate to YVLT and see how $1 can turn into $6 (or more)!

 

Global Wildlife Populations Plummeting, New Study Warns

Wildlife enthusiasts received discouraging news when a recent study concluded that our planet has lost more than half of its wildlife population since 1970, and it’s on course to lose 67 percent by 2020.

Repeat:  Earth has lost 58% of its wildlife in the last 46 years.

The jaw-dropping report, published by the World Wildlife Fund and Zoological Society of London, determined that habitat fragmentation and climate change were displacing wildlife at an unprecedented rate in the modern era.  It’s a shocking decrease in a short 50-year window within the grand timeframe of our planet, adding to growing concern that Earth is experiencing its sixth major extinction period.

“The conclusion is stark: the planetary stability our species has enjoyed for 11,700 years, that has allowed civilization to flourish, can no longer be relied upon,” said one of the contributors.

The Living Planet Index provided the data necessary to prepare the comprehensive report, evaluating biodiversity levels across over 14,000 distinct wildlife populations.  The LPI’s findings seem to echo some of the trends we have observed locally in Colorado.  In just 10 years, the statewide population of mule deer fell from 613,450 to 435,660, according to CPW estimates from 2005 and 2015 (wildlife managers suggest that Colorado’s optimal mule deer population is around 560,000).  Perhaps it’s just a coincidence – elk populations have remained relatively stable in Colorado during that time – but the broader trends suggest that more open land protection is urgently needed for our resident wildlife.  YVLT is currently evaluating new projects that provide substantial protection of diverse wildlife habitats.  But this report suggests that we have a lot more work to do, together.

What does this mean for the future?

Thanks to significant conservation efforts around the globe, it’s not all bad news presented in the WWF study.  Certain wildlife populations have actually grown in recent years, including tigers and pandas.  “Unprecedented” conservation efforts – including YVLT’s efforts to conserve over 15,000 acres of Greater Sage-Grouse-specific habitat in Northwest Colorado – helped the American West’s iconic Sage-Grouse avoid listing under the Endangered Species Act, as announced earlier this year.

This suggests that fast, collaborative action can make a meaningful difference for wildlife in just a short time.  The message is clear: we cannot sit idly by if we hope to maintain stable, sustainable wildlife populations around the globe.  We need to protect our open land resources now.

The intensity of our global conservation efforts in coming years – starting at the local level – may well determine the scope of the concerning decline in wildlife that we are witnessing today.  We will continue to do our part here in Northwest Colorado through strategic land conservation, but we need your help to do it!  The precarious future of wildlife populations throughout this incredible region may hinge on our dedication today to protecting the open landscapes and ecosystems they depend on.

Land conservation is critically important to the following species that call NWCO home:

  • Leopard Frog
  • Boreal Toad
  • Bobolink
  • Greater Sage-Grouse
  • Columbian Sharp-Tailed Grouse
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Northern Goshawk
  • Bald Eagle
  • River Otter
  • Canada Lynx
  • Mule Deer
  • Elk
  • Moose

And many, many other species we share the Yampa Valley with…

Think globally, act locally.  Make a difference in your own backyard.
Click here to support YVLT’s wildlife habitat conservation efforts!

 

Wizard of Awe: YVLT Conservation Protects Awe-Inspiring Landscapes Across NW Colorado

“An awe-inducing stimulus — whether a stunning landscape, an intense religious experience, or a cloud-skimming skyscraper — gives us a sense of vastness, seeming much larger than us and the things we are used to.

–Association for Psychological Science-

Photo: Fred & Flora Wolf
Dramatic skies at YVLT-conserved Deep Creek Meadows Ranch.   Photo: Fred & Flora Wolf

 

You’ve almost certainly been awe-struck by something in Northwest Colorado.

Maybe you have experienced it at Emerald Mountain Park, taking in the Yampa Valley’s sweeping open vistas as you walked through YVLT-conserved lands.  Perhaps you were awe-struck by the rosy alpenglow of the day’s last light as it danced across the Valley’s snow-capped peaks.  Maybe you felt this way while watching elk wander across an open meadow, or experienced it the last time you looked up and felt truly dwarfed by the starry night sky.

Year after year, season after season, the Yampa Valley finds so many ways to stoke our sense of awe and wonder.

New research suggests that we should continue to seek out these jaw-dropping life experiences, as they can positively impact not only our mental health, but our physical health as well.  It turns out that awe stimulates both the body and the mind.

 

The Science Behind Awe – And Why We Need These Experiences in Our Lives

Awe is an undeniably powerful emotion, and it’s one that everyone has experienced at some point in their lives.

But for years, awe – and how it affects us – has largely been a mystery to the scientific community.  Today we are finally getting a better grasp of how it can influence the brain after recent studies examined its impact on human behavior and cognition.

While awe is a positive and captivating feeling, we experience it differently from other positive emotions.  Happiness is usually accompanied by smiling, bliss, and an increased heart rate, but awe triggers a distinct and unique physiological response (raised eyebrows, jaw open, eyes wide).  This suggests that awe stimulates a wholly different sector of the brain.

Researchers now know that awesome experiences can actually lead to higher brain functioning!  If you are curious about the science behind it, here is a brief explanation: “[t]hese jaw-dropping, breath-taking displays of awe could help to enhance visual perception and moderate physiological arousal, thereby facilitating the complex cognitive processing induced by an awe-inspiring stimulus,” the researchers concluded (Association for Psychological Science, “All About Awe”).

Awe-inducing stimuli, like a vast open landscape or a towering mountain peak, can also contribute to our spirituality by influencing the way we perceive the world around us.   “Awe may focus our attention on the here and now, but research indicates that it also prompts us to think in more self-transcendent ways, shifting our focus from inward concern to an outward sense of universality and connectedness,” the study found.

Preliminary research suggests that awe can improve physical health, as well.  “That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions—a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art—have a direct influence upon health and life expectancy,” explains UC Berkeley Professor Dacher Keltner (co-author of the study).  Cytokines play a key role in boosting immune systems to repel inflammation, injury and disease.

There is still a great deal we don’t know about awe, but we do know that only certain places, environments, or objects can evoke this unique feeling.  Support YVLT today and we will continue to preserve the stunning landscapes throughout Northwest Colorado that inspire and fill us with awe!

 

Click here to support YVLT today in conserving AWE throughout the Yampa Valley.

 

Conservation in Loving Memory of Cola: for All Critters, Tame and Wild!

YVLT’s land conservation does more than just enrich our lives …

it’s also for critters, tame and wild!

cola

 

This was the subject line of a donation given in memory of Cola, an adventurous Chocolate Lab who loved roaming Northwest Colorado’s open expanses.

Land conservation preserves the sights, smells and sounds of the great outdoors; the many things that made Cola pause along every walk through this region’s beautiful, diverse landscapes.  As an independent “conservation canine,” Cola loved being in the wild.  [To find out more about conservation canines, follow this link.]

Conservation also opens new areas for ourselves and our canine companions to explore.  With your support, YVLT has worked to bring an additional 5,500 acres to our community featuring public access and open for a wide range of recreational pursuits.  Now, with certain new trails and open spaces for dogs to wander, it’s no wonder why Steamboat Springs has been dubbed “Dog Town USA” (as well as “Bike Town USA” and “Ski Town USA,” of course)!

Conservation is for wild critters, too.  Habitat fragmentation is among the biggest threats to wildlife in the American West.  Land conservation keeps core blocks of wildlife habitat intact, maintaining the health and integrity of entire ecosystems that they rely on.  Further, many privately-owned lands harbor some of the most important, species-rich wildlife habitat in Northwest Colorado, whether it is strutting grounds for Greater Sage-grouse or open hay meadows for elk to use during the rut.  Conservation is critical in ensuring wild critters always remain a fixture in the wonderful place that Cola called home.

Support YVLT today and we will continue preserving the very best of the Yampa Valley and Northwest Colorado for critters, tame and wild – and for the rest of us!