Conservation project protects scenic ridge

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Almost 3,000 acres of a scenic ridge and valuable wildlife habitat will remain unchanged thanks to a recently completed conservation deal.

The Nature Conservancy last week closed on conservation easements protecting from development 1,280 acres of the Wolf Mountain Ranch northeast of Hayden.

"It's really exciting," said Ann Oliver, Yampa River Project coordinator for The Nature Conservancy. "We're just thrilled so many public and private folks came together to make it happen."

Great Outdoors Colorado, the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights Program, the Colorado Conservation Trust and individuals provided about $1.5 million needed for the project.

Those funds matched and leveraged contributions from the landowner, Pirtlaw Partners LLT.

The protected portion of the 22,000-acre ranch includes most of the ridge north of the Yampa River across from the Carpenter Ranch.

The ridge, which greets visitors at Yampa Valley Regional Airport and drivers passing through Mount Harris Canyon, has important scenic value, Oliver said.

The Nature Conservancy also wanted to safeguard the land for wildlife, which includes more than 90 species of birds.

When you start breaking up large expanses of sagebrush or continuous stretches of riverside habitat with homes, fences, people and pets, those lands become less useful for sensitive species, such as greater sage grouse and Columbian sage grouse, Oliver said.

"A 35-acre dev-elopment out in the county is one of the big challenges for wildlife and ranching, especially in Hayden where the growth is becoming real," she said. "This was an urgent opportunity to protect these lands."

The land will remain privately owned and managed, for ranching and/or hunting, as part of Wolf Mountain Ranch. The Nature Conservancy officials hope to continue working with the landowners to protect more land on the ranch from development, Oliver said.

Scenic and wildlife value of the land held a lot of weight with the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights Citizens Advisory Board, which recommended Routt County Com-mis-sioners con--tribute $250,000 to the project.

Such grants, composed of taxpayers' money, go toward projects that help protect Routt County's agricultural and en-vironmental character, said Allan White, chairman of the board.

"Some of us thought it would probably be a place where people someday would want to put a lot of houses, and wouldn't that be a shame," he said.

Because it has limited funds, the PDR advisory board also prioritizes projects that attract partnerships. Similarly, larger organizations such as GOCo, look for projects with strong community support.

"It's one of the key things this board looks at -- one is urgency, the other is community support," said Chris Leding, GOCo communications director.

The organization contributed about $885,000 to the project. In addition, the GOCo board last week awarded The Nature Conservancy another $750,000 to put toward conservation easements on another 500 acres of the ranch.

That land includes sensitive riparian areas directly across from the Carpenter Ranch.

GOCo's support is bolstered by the PDR program and other local entities that have demonstrated commitment to conservation, Leding said.

"There's just a tremendous community vision around what people want to have occur in the Yampa Valley," she said.

-- To reach Tamera Manzanares call 871-4204 or e-mail tmanzanares@steamboatpilot.com

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