Twenty years ago, The Nature Conservancy identified the Yampa River as a Colorado gem. Since then, the organization has worked with landowners to help protect sensitive riparian areas and wildlife habitats along its banks.
The Nature Conservancy recently added another piece to that portfolio, closing on a conservation easement safeguarding nearly 500 acres of the Wolf Mountain Ranch east of Hayden from development.
With that project, about 4,800 acres and 10 miles -- mostly contiguous -- are protected along the Yampa River near Hayden.
"We've really invested an enormous amount of time, energy and resources in these special places," said Charles Bedford, state director of The Nature Conservancy of Colorado.
The 500 acres adjoins about 1,200 acres protected by a conservation easement established in June.
The land comprises a scenic ridge north of the Yampa River across from the Carpenter Ranch, a historic ranch and education facility owned by The Nature Conservancy.
The Wolf Mountain parcels and Carpenter Ranch provide continuous habitat for 90 bird species, including sandhill cranes, Columbian sage grouse and greater sage grouse.
"It enhances the habitat for all species that depend on that riparian habitat and upland areas," said Geoff Blakeslee, Yampa River Project director for The Nature Conservancy.
The two conservation easements on Wolf Mountain Ranch are the result of about 10 years of on-off discussions between The Nature Conservancy and the landowner, Pirtlaw Partners, Blakeslee said.
The land will remain privately owned and managed as part of the 22,000-acre ranch. The landowner may sell portions of land within the easement, but the land cannot be developed.
The Nature Conservancy purchased the easements with private funds, as well as contributions from Great Outdoors Colorado and the Routt County Purchase of Development Rights Program.
Pirtlaw Partners also donated a portion of the easements' value, Bedford said.
The county's development rights program, which dedicates funds from a voter-approved property tax increase to open space projects, has proved a particularly important tool for recruiting funds from Great Outdoors Colorado and other public agencies, he said.
"They've always been motivated by the fact you have a local fundraising source," Bedford said. "They are always looking for a match and signs of commitment."