Routt County’s ranch preservation program closes in on 50,000 acres conserved
By Tom Ross, Steamboat Pilot & Today (February 7, 2017)
Steamboat Springs — Routt County’s tradition of leveraging dedicated tax dollars to conserve working agricultural landscapes was nearing a landmark as 2017 began, and with the closing of another five pending conservation easements this year, the county’s Purchase of Development Rights program will have surpassed 50,000 acres conserved.
Beginning in 1997, when voters in Routt County approved a 1.5-mill increase in their property taxes with the funds dedicated to protecting rural landscapes, the PDR program has provided money to help leverage conservation easements that remove development rights from the conserved acres in perpetuity. Voters reaffirmed their support for the tax in November 2005, extending its term through 2025.
When the next five easements close, the PDR tax will have contributed about $24.7 million to the conservation of more than 50,000 acres.
PDR easements are evaluated by a board of citizens including Chairwoman Claire Sollars, Vice Chairman Tarn Dickerson, Treasurer Carl Vail, Mary Alice Page-Allen, Mary Kay Monger, John Ayer and Dean Rossi. Helena Taylor serves as the board’s executive secretary.
The other essential partners in the conservation easements are the conservation organizations like the Yampa Valley Land Trust and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, which hold and oversee the conservation easements to ensure standards are being met.
“We had a great year last year and closed four more easements (in Routt County),” Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust Director of Stewardship Megan Knott said, bringing her organization’s number of conservation easements here to 22.
Yampa Valley Land Trust Executive Director Susan Dorsey told the Routt County commissioners Tuesday that her organization was especially pleased to have helped, along with Great Outdoors Colorado [and Gates Family Foundation], to conserve Pam and Steve Williams’ Glas Deffryn Ranch. The property is located just upstream on the Yampa River from Stagecoach Reservoir State Park where large numbers of passing cars and cyclists can admire the oxbows of the upper Yampa River.
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.
YVLT is excited to announce the completion of our latest conservation easement: Glas Deffryn Ranch on the Yampa River!
If you have ever traveled along Routt County Road 14 – the “gateway” to Stagecoach Reservoir State Park and the surrounding residential community – then you know firsthand what an idyllic stretch of Routt County it is. YVLT’s new ranchland preservation project marks a significant step forward in keeping this landscape connected by connecting an unbroken5-mile “conservation corridor” along the Yampa River watercourse (bordering RCR 14) comprised of conserved properties and public lands.
Take a look at YVLT’s conservation corridor (click to enlarge):
Landowners Steve and Pam Williams have long wished to see their 207-acre ranch permanently preserved, and today their dream has finally become a reality. Glas Deffryn Ranch consists of two holdings; 86 acres on the Yampa River upstream from and bordering Stagecoach Reservoir State Park, as well as an additional 121 upland acres where the ranch and its agricultural operations are headquartered. The Williams’ purebred fold of Scottish Highland cattle can often be seen roaming the property’s open pastures.
“We truly appreciate the expertise and tremendous support we have received from Yampa Valley Land Trust, Routt County PDR, GOCO and the Gates Foundation to help us realize the dream of keeping this small ranch we have cobbled together over the last 18 years as one entity into the future for the benefit of agriculture, wildlife and the natural view shed long after we are gone,” Pam says.
Great Outdoors Colorado, Routt County (through its Purchase of Development Rights Program), and the Gates Family Foundation provided funding for the conservation easement on the 86-acre riverfront parcel. The 121-acre holding received funding from Gates Family Foundation, as well, allowing the Glas Deffryn Ranch conservation easement to move forward. Both transactions were complemented by a generous donation of value from the landowners, in addition to contributions from YVLT supporters. Further, the Vernon Summer Revolving Loan Fund assisted with transactional costs.
Approximately .75 channel miles of the Yampa River bisects Glas Deffryn Ranch. Adding to its conservation significance, the 86-acre riparian parcel borders both Stagecoach Reservoir State Park and Iron Springs Ranch, a 640-acre riverfront property also under conservation easement with YVLT (which is contiguous with the 99-acre, YVLT-conserved C-Cross-C Ranch on the Yampa River). Collectively, these lands form a conserved river corridor spanningfive consecutive channel miles along the Yampa’s watercourse, providing landscape-scale environmental protection and safeguarding the stunning rural vistas that characterize the Stagecoach area (see it on the map, above).
Glas Deffryn Ranch is notable not only for its scenic qualities, but also for the quality wildlife habitat that exists there. Nearly 70 percent of all species in Routt County rely on riparian environments at some stage in their life cycles, and over 200 migratory and resident bird species have been documented in the Stagecoach area. The 207-acre property provides important habitat for grouse, great blue herons, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, mule deer, elk, moose, bears, mountain lions, and more.
The Yampa River is truly the lifeblood of Northwest Colorado. Its protection is critical not only for today, but for the future of this great region. YVLT will continue to look for opportunities to safeguard this vitally important resource, along with working ranches, open lands, and critical wildlife habitat throughout Northwest Colorado. To date, YVLT has conserved over 55,290 acres across 75 conservation easements in Northwest Colorado, with a focus on the Upper Yampa River Valley in Routt County.
YVLT would like to thank the people and organizations that made the Glas Deffryn Ranch conservation easement possible: Great Outdoors Colorado, Routt County, Gates Family Foundation, YVLT supporters, and Steve and Pam Williams.
Join us in protecting the very best of the Yampa Valley and Northwest Colorado!