Charles E. Bedford: Protecting precious land

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The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch and nature preserve plays a number of roles in preserving and enhancing human and ecological communities. Unfortunately, Xcel Energy is choosing the wrong path in proposing to take this unique land from the Yampa Valley community for use as a route for coal transportation. The Nature Conservancy opposes the development of an industrial coal transportation facility across this significant historic ranch and nature preserve.

The Nature Conservancy's mission is to preserve plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. The conservancy has protected more than 15 million acres in the United States and more than 102 million acres in 27 other countries. In Colorado, we have protected more than 600,000 acres of our state's extraordinary forests, prairies, canyons and wetlands.

The Nature Conservancy's participation in the Carpenter Ranch and nature preserve marked the beginning of a new era for conservation in the West. The success of the Carpenter Ranch and nature preserve is because of a combination of ecological, agricultural, educational and historical values that combine to make the Carpenter Ranch and nature preserve a significant resource for the Yampa Valley community.

From an ecological standpoint, the Carpenter Ranch and nature preserve is positioned between two existing nature preserves and provides an important wildlife corridor. The ranch is part of the Sandhill crane's second-largest staging area in Colorado and is a primary staging area and breeding, nesting and feeding site of national significance. More than 125 bird species are known to depend on the Yampa's riparian forests, and more than 80 have been documented at the ranch, including bald eagles, bobolinks and great blue herons.

A series of unfortunate choices have led Xcel to pursue using this important natural, historical and agricultural treasure as an industrial coal transport site. The proposed transit route is located less than a mile from our education facility, which annually hosts thousands of school children and visitors from around the world.

The Nature Conservancy owns the Carpenter Ranch and nature preserve. We purchased this ranch in 1996 from the Carpenter family with the expressed purpose of honoring the agricultural history of our state and the remarkable ecological systems on which we and future generations of Coloradans depend.

The Yampa Valley Land Trust and Routt County hold a conservation easement for the protection of the open space, wildlife habitat and ranching heritage and culture on the ranch. The easement describes the ranch as "an agricultural property with natural areas which provides significant habitat for fish, wildlife and plants and has substantial value as agricultural property and as a natural, scenic, historic and educational resource." The ranch has been protected to allow "ranching and agricultural practices in harmony with protection of areas of significant ecological value that will yield a significant public benefit."

The language of the conservation easement reflects the promise and legal obligation Yampa Valley Land Trust and Routt County made to the Carpenter family, the residents of Routt County and the state of Colorado.

The Nature Conservancy also made promises to the Carpenter family, the residents of Routt County and the state of Colorado. We purchased the ranch with the support and contributions of more than 1,500 private residents and organizations across Colorado, including Great Outdoors Colorado, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the Colorado Historical Society and other state and local government agencies. In creating our campaign to acquire the ranch, we promised our supporters that their contributions would "protect both the natural and cultural integrity of the Carpenter Ranch." We believe that it is our responsibility to preserve the educational, ecological and historical character of this unique site and therefore must oppose Xcel's proposed plan.

The installation of a new, active industrial coal transportation facility on the Carpenter Ranch and nature preserve, cutting across our agricultural lands would negatively affect our hay fields, making it more difficult, time consuming and dangerous to move haying equipment, irrigation waters and cattle around the ranch. It would increase rail noise and traffic thereby reducing the safety and functionality of this visitor friendly nature preserve. In addition, the creation of the spur would disturb important Sandhill crane habitat and fragment land important for elk and deer migration.

Given myriad options presented by Xcel, it is disappointing that the option they are choosing to pursue affects a historic ranch, a nature preserve, an education facility, a viable agricultural operation and contests a jointly held conservation easement.

It is our understanding that Peabody Coal has submitted an application to the Route County Land Use Department to reactivate the existing Hayden Gulch spur. Given these circumstances, we welcome the commissioners' response to Xcel's utilization of this existing spur as opposed to the construction of a new rail infrastructure across the Carpenter Ranch.

In closing, the proposed industrial use would jeopardize critical wildlife habitat and negatively affect an important working ranch and community resource that annually serves thousands of local school children and other visitors. For these reasons, we oppose Xcel's current proposal to use the Carpenter Ranch and nature preserve as an industrial coal transportation facility.

Charles E. Bedford

State director, The Nature Conservancy of Colorado

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