Wolf Mountain purchase of development rights plan emerges | SteamboatToday.com

Wolf Mountain purchase of development rights plan emerges

Proposal goes to Routt County Commissioners

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners will hear a proposal this morning to spend almost $218,000 in property tax revenues dedicated to conservation to protect an additional 1,330 acres of prime elk habitat on Wolf Mountain northeast of Hayden.

The easement, which would be held by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, is in addition to 7,400 acres of adjacent land already under easements that protect it in perpetuity from development.

Brandon Hoffner, lands program manager for the Elk Foundation, said the habitat on the ranch is important because it's part of an annual migration route for the 23,000 elk in the Bears Ears herd as the animals leave their summering grounds to winter 60 miles to the west.

"Wolf Mountain Ranch is also a working cattle operation and we're pleased to help ensure the future of its agricultural heritage as well as its wildlife values," Hoffner said in a news release.

Besides the county, funding partners in the easement include ranch owner Bob Waltrip, of Pirtlaw Partners Ltd., and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The Elk Foundation and the DOW would monitor the provisions of the easement. The site abuts two miles of Routt County Road 52 on the north side of the Yampa River about 18 miles west of Steamboat Springs.

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The existing conserved lands on Wolf Mountain last came before the county commissioners in a separate discussion in February, when Sunterra successfully applied for a special-use permit to drill an exploratory oil and gas well on a conserved parcel at lower elevation on Wolf Mountain Ranch.

The approved permit is close to a grouse mating habitat, called a lek. However, the permit requires Sunterra to interrupt drilling operations in spring and summer when the grouse are mating and rearing chicks.

The situation arose because the subsurface mineral and energy rights on the parcel had been severed from the surface rights at some point in the past.

Asked Monday whether they were concerned about the possibility that a portion of the subsurface rights beneath the new easement also might be detached, the commissioners said their role in the event of any future drilling permit application on the property is to enforce the county's strict criteria and encourage the landowner to negotiate a surface management agreement that protects the conserved values of the land.

Commissioner Doug Monger said the occurrence of severed mineral rights in the Yampa Valley is commonplace and unavoidable when seeking to conserve wildlife habitat.

"If we outlawed conservation easements on these properties because of severed mineral rights we wouldn't have any easements in Routt County," Monger said. "Oil and gas drilling is temporary, and we're conserving (the land) for the long term."

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Purchase of Development Rights

The Purchase of Development Rights program is funded by a 1.5-mill property tax approved in 2006, nine years after the program first was approved for a 10-year period. The 2006 renewal is good for 20 years.

When landowners donate a conservation easement, the land is permanently protected from development. The easement reduces the value of the restricted land, but landowners’ compensation isn’t just the knowledge that the land never will be developed. The PDR program compensates landowners for the land-value loss to encourage more people to enter into conservation easements. There are significant tax breaks associated with the move, depending on the details of the easement.

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