Yampa Valley Land Trust announces merger with statewide land conservation organization
Depending on the season, the view changes from green to gold to sparkling white, but for many travelers, the swath of open space and farmland that greets them on the western side of Rabbit Ears Pass is either their first glimpse of the Yampa Valley or their welcome home.
Much of the lands in that sweeping view have conservation easements in place, which limits the type of development that occurs on these lands.
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement between a landowner and another organization, typically a land trust, that restricts some uses and developments on the land in order to protect resources on the land, whether that’s open space, wildlife habitat, agriculture or historically significant areas.
On Tuesday, Oct. 1, the Steamboat Springs-based Yampa Valley Land Trust and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust are anticipated to close on a merger of the two organizations, both of which work with Yampa Valley landowners to develop agricultural and conservation projects in the area through easements.
The Yampa Valley Land Trust will operate as the Yampa Valley Conservation Partnership, essentially a subsidiary of the Cattlemen’s Land Trust. The organization’s office at 1201 Lincoln Ave., its staff and the projects the trust has in place in Northwest Colorado will remain here.
The Yampa Valley Land Trust’s sole employee, conservationist Bryce Hinchman, will continue working on projects as an employee of the Cattlemen’s Land Trust, and the group plans to place two more Cattlemen’s staff members in Routt County by July 2020, said Executive Director Erik Glenn.
Two Yampa Valley Land Trust board members, President Orlando González and Treasurer Adonna Allen, will join the Cattlemen’s Land Trust board. Other board members are invited to join the newly established local committee that will advise the Colorado Cattlemen’s Land Trust on the Yampa Valley program.
Donors will be able to earmark their contributions to be spent on specific Routt County projects.
González said Yampa Valley Land Trust’s decision to merge with the Cattlemen’s Land Trust came after the local land trust reviewed its strategic plan, vision and mission. He said the complexities of managing a small, independent land trust became apparent.
“Our board started realizing what we have here,” González said. “We have a gem that’s been here for many, many years and serves the community in many, many ways. How can we, as a board, make sure this is possible in perpetuity? And that it’s professionally managed?”
The Yampa Valley Land Trust considered three options: to continue operating independently, associate with other smaller, regional land trusts or join a larger, statewide organization. As they explored those options, “all the paths kept leading to the same place — Cattlemen’s,” González said.
“The Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust has the same vision, same mission, as what we were looking to have, and has the structure and the ability to guarantee that this will go on for perpetuity,” he said.
He added that Cattlemen’s actually has more acreage in easement in Routt County than the Yampa Valley Land Trust. In some cases, González said the same landowners hold easements with both organizations. He emphasized, too, that the Yampa Valley Land Trust wasn’t, and isn’t, at risk of shirking its role in managing its easements.
“These are strong organizations that have a bright future, and we see it as a way to better serve our stakeholders,” González said.
“There were so many synergies between the two organizations, that when we started looking at it, we would both be kind of silly not to go down this path, and by doing that, be able to provide better conservation services and opportunities for Steamboat Springs, Routt County and those surrounding counties to make sure that we keep this place a place that’s defined by its natural beauty and its western heritage, which is why people want to come here,” Glenn said.
The Yampa Valley Land Trust conserves a total of 56,067 acres in the same five counties.
Together, the merger conserves 158,697 acres in Northwest Colorado.
Source: Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust
Both the Yampa Valley Land Trust and the Cattlemen’s Land Trust were founded in Routt County in the 1990s, with Yampa Valley forming in 1992 and Cattlemen’s following in 1995.
The organizations even share founding board members. Jay Fetcher, whose family has ranched in the Elk River Valley since the 1940s, said he credits Bill Gay with bringing the idea of conservation easements to the valley. In the 1990s, Gay, Fetcher and a number of others came together to establish conservation easements with willing landowners along the Elk River and upper Yampa River corridors.
“We formed this small land trust to work with landowners to do this,” said Fetcher of starting up the Yampa Valley Land Trust. “I was on that board until I got sucked away to do another one.”
Going forward, Glenn said Cattlemen’s is “committed to continuing the legacy and the great work” of the Yampa Valley Land Trust.
“We feel like Routt County is home for Cattlemen’s, too,” he said. “For us, it’s a special place, and we’re committed to making sure that this community understands that their conservation needs to continue to be carried out. I think that’s really important.”
He hopes that the merger can help Cattlemen’s “find a new model for the way we do conservation across the state, that’s more locally focused.” The organization is also looking forward to a future that preserves a healthy balance between agriculture, conservation and recreation.