Moffat County ranches awarded state land conservation grants | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County ranches awarded state land conservation grants

Lauren Blair

Great Outdoors Colorado awarded grant money to conserve a 165-acre family ranch situated near U.S. Highway 40 along a half mile stretch of the Yampa River, pictured here, just east of Craig. The project was one of two in Moffat County that were awarded funds this month to establish conservation easements.

— Moffat County is rich in agricultural land and wide open spaces, and two grants awarded this month by Great Outdoors Colorado are ensuring some of these assets will be protected into the future.

A total of $656,468 was awarded to support conservation easements in Moffat County, one on Baker's Peak Ranch near the Wyoming border and the other on the Ross Ranch situated along the Yampa River just east of Craig.

“(The land) will be able to be used by the various wildlife species we have, including big game species like deer, elk and pronghorn, which is an economic boon for Moffat County,” said Bill de Vergie, Area Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “That's one of the backbones of the county through activities like hunting.”

The majority of the funds — $625,000 — went towards purchasing the easement on the 7,311-acre Baker's Peak Ranch, a working cattle ranch that is also home to big game and other wildlife like sage grouse and bald eagles.

"Baker's Peak Ranch was our no. 1 project… It was really a no-brainer," said Michele Frishman, GOCO Open Space program manager. "With over 7,300 acres, it's very visible. It's a very important area for elk migration. My understanding is it's the second most subdivided area in Moffat County, which can be really detrimental to elk herds. It's also adjacent to a lot of public land."

Conservation easements allow landowners to sell or donate development rights for their land to a land trust, limiting development and prohibiting subdivision of the land in the future. The two new easements will be held by Colorado Open Lands and will be the land trust's first venture into Moffat County.

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"Obviously there's a lot of conservation benefit in that area," said COL Conservation Project Manager John Peters. "For one thing, there's the greater sage grouse which has been identified as needing protection, and conservation easements are a great way to do that. We're sticking our toe in the water to see what does the community want to see protected."

The second project, the 165-acre Ross Ranch on the Yampa River, received a $31,648 grant to help cover the transaction costs of setting up a conservation easement. Costs can range upwards of $60,000 to $75,000 due to complex legal, real estate and tax implications, even though the landowners are donating the easement itself.

Situated along a half mile of the Yampa River, the easement will protect mature cottonwood and willow habitat for a variety of birds, aquatic species and big game, as well as preserving traditional agricultural land, according to a press release from GOCO.

"The ranch provides scenic views for local residents and travelers along U.S. Highway 40, Colorado Highway 394, and Moffat County roads, adding to the character of the rural landscape and protecting regional resources that attract tourism and bring economic development to the area," the release said.

GOCO invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds in open space and outdoor recreation projects through a variety of grant programs statewide. GOCO has invested more than $7.6 million in Moffat County projects to date, conserving more than 32,000 acres of land in the county.

"Agricultural land is disappearing at an alarming rate, not just in Colorado but across the country, so it is very important to preserve it," Frishman said.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or lblair@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.