236 acres preserved at ranch

Landowners create first conservation easement in North Routt's Little Snake River Valley




— Pat and Sharon O'Toole have become the first landowners in North Routt's Little Snake River Valley to place land in a conservation easement.

The easement will be held by the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust and was aided by $381,000 from Routt County's Purchase of Development Rights Program.

"There aren't many places like the Little Snake River anywhere in Colorado," Chris West, executive director of the land trust, said in a news release. "It is an untouched valley and we applaud efforts of the local ranchers to protect this special landscape."

The river parallels Routt County Road 129 on the Colorado-Wyoming border.

"We're pretty excited about this project," said Carl Vail, a member of the PDR Advisory Board. "It gets things going up in North Routt. : We think it's a very appropriate place for our PDR funds."

The Routt County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the county's contribution to the project Tuesday. The O'Tooles brought their grandson, Seamus Lally, who represents the family's sixth generation in the valley, to Tuesday's meeting. The family has been ranching the Little Snake River Valley since 1881.

"It's been really a pleasure for us to go through the process," Pat O'Toole said. "It's a good example that the process works."

The O'Tooles said the residents of the Little Snake River Valley are committed to preserving its agricultural heritage.

"We have high hopes and expectations that some of our neighbors will be coming before you," Sharon O'Toole said to commissioners.

The land the O'Tooles are placing under conservation is a 236-acre bull pasture. According to the Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust, "the undeveloped ranchland provides valuable habitat to a wide array of wildlife species including elk, pronghorn, sage grouse, bald eagles, cutthroat trout and mule deer. Sandhill cranes nest nearby and the Little Snake River Valley hosts one of the largest populations of this species in Colorado."

When a landowner donates a conservation easement, they are permanently protecting the land from development. This reduces the value of the restricted land, but landowners' compensation isn't just the knowledge that the land will never be turned into a subdivision or shopping mall. There are significant tax breaks associated with the move, sometimes worth millions depending on the details of the easement.

Also, some entities - such as the PDR program - will compensate landowners for the land-value loss to encourage more people to enter into conservation easements.

"The purpose is to compensate the landowner with cash to preclude development," Ron Roundtree, chairman of the PDR Advisory Board, said last year.

The O'Tooles themselves are contributing about 50 percent of the easement's value, which means they are not being reimbursed for about 50 percent of the property value lost by placing it in a conservation easement.

At a cost of about $5 million, the PDR program has completed 20 conservation easements totaling 11,760 acres. An additional 4,512 acres currently are under review. The program is funded by a 1.5 mill property tax approved in 2006, nine years after the program was first approved for a 10-year period. The 2006 renewal is good for 20 years. Voters exempted the program from the state's revenue growth limitations. Its tax revenues increased 34 percent last year, from $1.2 million in 2007 to $1.6 million in 2008.

The Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust holds seven easements totaling 3,500 acres on working ranches in Routt County. An additional 8,000 acres are under review.


aichempty 6 years, 6 months ago

Absolutely un-freakin' believable.

In the first place, you can't get to this land easily except from Wyoming even in the warm months. It's 30 miles north of Clark over roads that require 4WD to be safe even in dry weather. The forest service doesn't maintain the road through the Routt National Forest in the winter, and neither does Routt County, so you don't dare try to get through on CR-129 without a very capable 4WD or snow cat type vehicle. I don't know anyone who's ever tried it except in the summer.

The probability of development of any kind whatsoever up there was zero before this arrangement was made. No reason to be there unless you're a cow or a rancher. Walden is about the same distance from Steamboat, and is much easier to reach if anybody is worried about where a new subdivision will go. Go ten miles north of Craig and put in a subdivision, and it would be more desirable than this area on the WY border, and easier to reach by far. On top of that, nobody who lives in Wyoming would move across the border into Colorado because there's no advantage; just higher taxes.

In a time when the County is crying poormouth, why spend $381,000 on a bull pasture? Because none of the local submarines need new screen doors?

This is clearly a way to pump some tax money into the cattle industry, and nothing else. What is it? Their turn or something?

This must be a consolation prize for the fact that Routt County probably has no contact with the people living in that area, and provides no visible services to them, except to mail them a tax bill which probably has to go through Wyoming to get there.

Would somebody who understands the benefit to the PEOPLE in Routt County please explain how this expenditure does anything at all to benefit the taxpayers? Please?


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