Diane E. Mitsch Bush: Land Trust works with PDR program

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I am writing to correct misinformation contained in your Pilot & Today editorial on Oct. 12 that opposed Referendum 1A. You implied that PDR duplicates the functions of the Yampa Valley Land Trust (YVLT), and that the YVLT has preserved more acres than has PDR (Purchase of Development Rights), implying that PDR is less cost-effective. You concluded that 1A is "excessive and unnecessary."

These two programs do not duplicate. They do very different things. In fact, they complement each other.

PDR is a source of money, whereas the YVLT functions as a broker and actually holds/manages the easements. YVLT does not bring money to the table. YVLT helps landowners who wish to put land in a conservation easement find funding and make arrangements. PDR provides funding based on very specific criteria handled by a public board. Many of the easements obtained with PDR funds are held by YVLT. All PDR easements are in perpetuity.

Remember that PDR and Routt County do not hold or manage the easements. A land trust does that. PDR and YVLT are partners; each performs a different function. You may be confusing what YVLT does with the Nature Conservancy at the state, national, and international level. Unlike YVLT, the Nature Conservancy actually does raise funds and purchase land, not just easements.

You also argued that the amount of money requested by 1A is too much. I have studied this process. My findings were first reported at the 2002 international conference here at the ski area on globalization and mountain resort planning, sponsored by CU-Denver. My conference paper on the collaboration and implementation process will appear in the book, "Mountain Resort Planning in an Era of Globalization," published in 2006 by Cognizant Press and edited by T. Clark, R. Hartmann, and A. Gill. Through interviews and analysis of policies here and in other mountain counties, I found that lack of money is the major stumbling block in saving more land. Due to land speculation and a global real estate market, land values have escalated so much that subdividing large agricultural parcels is very attractive to ranch families that are having a very hard time in ranching and are "land rich and cash poor." One of my respondents put it this way: "PDR works for those lands we have funds for, but we are not saving it fast enough." Another respondent stated: "We only have so much land. Once it's gone (to development) we can't get it back." Now the market value of these key open space/agricultural parcels is far more than it was when we first passed PDR in 1996, thus it costs much more to preserve them through PDR.

PDR funds are used to leverage grant funds from GOCo and other sources. It is possible to double or even triple the original amount of PDR funding. Now GOCo and other granting agencies require that we have significant matching funds before we can even ask for grant money.

If 1A fails we will not be able to raise such monies. One of the great successes of PDR has been leveraging millions of dollars in GOCo and other grant money to purchase development rights. These rights (the easement) are held in perpetuity by a land trust, often YVLT or the Colorado Cattlemen's Land Trust. The landowner still owns the land, but the easement is attached permanently to the land. If the land is sold, the conservation easement remains in effect in perpetuity and is monitored by the land trust. You did state correctly in your editorial that all county residents benefit "from the program's ability to preserve open space, limit urban sprawl and protect natural areas."

We benefit in another crucial way: Studies of our tourists show that they will pay a premium to have open lands scenery. It is one of the things that distinguishes our valley from the other mountain resort valleys. PDR has helped our tourist economy, as well as giving all of us residents the beautiful views in our South Valley and in the Elk River Valley.

Please feel free to call me at 871-8946 or call the chair of the current PDR board, Allan White, at 879-7472 for additional information on how PDR actually works in collaboration, not competition, with land trusts such as the YVLT. Property owners will pay $12 per $100,000 assessed value. This is a very small investment with huge returns.

Diane E. Mitsch Bush, PhD
Steamboat Springs

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