Steamboat Springs County officials from across the state heard during Colorado Counties Inc.'s summer conference that to make a land conservation programs work for them, they need to make agriculture viable in their communities.
County representatives are meeting at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort this week for Colorado Counties Inc.'s annual summer meeting. A discussion led by Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak and Yampa Valley Land Trust director Susan Otis centered on this community's success with the Purchase of Development Rights program.
The PDR program funds the purchase of conservation easements from a county-wide tax approved by voters in 1996. The one-mill property tax increase raises approximately $350,000 a year and will sunset in 2006.
The PDR program enables farmers and ranchers to sell their right to develop their land, thereby keeping the land in productive agricultural use or preserving the land for open space and wildlife habitat.
The county has awarded $1.2 million from the PDR tax for conservation easements on three area ranches so far. But officials from other counties seemed unsure about being able to secure support for a similar tax in their communities.
Frank McMurray, a rancher and a commissioner from Chaffee County, said he worried that a conservation easement may one day hurt a family ranch.
"Who will take care of the land when agriculture isn't marketable?" McMurray asked. "The way things are going, nobody is going to want to ranch."
Otis said the solution is to add value to local agricultural products. She used Yampa Valley Beef, Routt County Woolens and the Community Agricultural Alliance as examples of how Routt County is marketing its products.
The PDR tax passed in Routt County by 94 votes and was carried by Steamboat voters.
Officials from other counties said they worried that their rural counties won't support a tax increase, even if it benefits agriculture.
"We hear the examples of Routt County and Gunnison County and they say all you have to do is raise the levy one mill," said Custer County Commissioner Larry Handy. "We can't figure out how to pay for this."
Otis said Routt County's success is based on partnerships between land trusts, governments and funding sources.
Great Outdoors Colorado is one of the major contributors to open space efforts, but Otis said counties can also use foundations and protection groups.
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