Over the past 25 years, Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) has protected more than 41,535 acres of the San Luis Valley region’s key agricultural lands, associated water rights, and wildlife habitat. Since 2018 CCALT has closed five conservation easement transactions on ten SLV ranches, conserving ~9,500 acres. Through its partnership with the Trust for Public Land, CCALT has helped to conserve 17+ miles uninterrupted along Saguache Creek, which includes 400+ acres of Gunnison sage grouse habitat, along with habitat for mule deer, pronghorn, elk and bighorn sheep. Together, these conservations easements have contributed two landscape-scale conservation areas – the Saguache Creek and Poncha Pass conservation corridor.
In 2018, aided by Trinchera Blanca Foundation funding, CCALT launched the development of an Ecosystem Services Valuation Approach to innovate Colorado’s conservation easement program, by changing the value proposition from hypothetical loss of development opportunity to that of conserving important natural resources. This approach creates better geographic equity within the conservation easement program, remove bias and subjectivity, and streamlines a predictable system for landowners and land trusts.
From a policy perspective, CCALT was instrumental in leading a national effort to improve the conservation easement programs provided through the Farm Bill. CCALT also successfully worked to pass Colorado House Bill 1291, signed into law in May 2018. The law developed a legal framework for allowing conservation easements to be valued using alternative means to the traditional appraisal process. With a legislative vehicle for Colorado recognition of the working group’s Ecosystem Service Valuation Approach established, CCALT is now developing and integrating the system.