The A.W. Salisbury Ranch in North Routt County was homesteaded in 1881 and straddles the Little Snake River.

Courtesy Photo

The A.W. Salisbury Ranch in North Routt County was homesteaded in 1881 and straddles the Little Snake River.

Trio of easements on commissioners' agenda

County to look at purchase of development rights proposals

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— The future of a trio of significant Routt County ranches will be on the agenda today when the Routt County Board of Commissioners is expected to vote on three purchase of development rights proposals. If approved, conservation easements would be placed on portions of the ranches, protecting them from future development.

Combined, the three PDR proposals would use $945,000 in local property tax dollars already dedicated to the purpose of conserving ranch lands.

In the case of two ranches in extreme northern Routt County, PDR tax dollars would be used to leverage larger sums from Great Outdoors Colorado and The Nature Conservancy. The permanent conservation easements would be held by the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust.

The G-Five Ranch easement in South Routt would use $250,000 in PDR money to protect 233 acres with a conservation easement value of $932,000 along Routt County Road 7 where large numbers of people headed to the Flat Tops Wilderness Area southwest of Yampa can admire it. No other funds are being used to fund the easement; the owners are contributing the balance.

“We are family ranchers, and my daughters are the fifth generation,” rancher Bobby George said in a written statement. “We don’t hire managers, buy fancy machinery or try to lose money for the tax write-off. We actually work the land ourselves, and this is all we’ve ever done. Placing the property into an easement will allow for the land to remain a ranch forever so my daughters can pass it on to their kids.”

George and his mother, Marieta Nelson, own the ranch.

Ron Roundtree, chairman of the Routt County PDR Citizen’s Advisory Board, said the conservation project on the G-5 Ranch demonstrates the values of land stewardship as opposed to monetary gain as a ranch family works to keep longstanding traditions alive.

“Protecting productive ranch acreage and important wildlife habitat like this property is only possible through the generous actions of willing owners,” Roundtree said. “The public will significantly benefit from this easement, which is highly visible from multiple public roads.”

The PDR program is funded by a 1.5-mill property tax approved in 2006, nine years after the program first was approved for a 10-year period. The 2006 renewal is good for 20 years.

When landowners donate a conservation easement, the land permanently is protected from development.

The easement reduces the value of the restricted land, but landowners’ compensation isn’t just the knowledge that the land never will be developed. The PDR program compensates landowners for the land-value loss to encourage more people to enter into conservation easements.

There are significant tax breaks associated with the move, depending on the details of the easement.

County Commissioner Doug Monger said ranchers in Routt County are often land rich and cash poor. Conservation easements such as those being leveraged by PDR monies generate cash to help them remain in operation. But it’s the landowners who are making a larger donation, he said.

“They’ve contributed value that diminishes their property value and can never be recovered,” Monger said.

In the case of the proposed easement on 770 acres of the A.W. Salisbury Ranch, along the Little Snake River and Routt County Road 129 in North Routt, the Patrick and Sharon O’Toole family (direct descendents of Salisbury) is donating 47 percent of the value of the easement as determined by appraisals. Routt County is proposing to award $282,000 in PDR monies plus $13,000 in transaction costs, along with $600,000 from GOCo and $20,000 from The Nature Conservancy toward the transactional costs.

“This easement allows us to meet our goals of keeping this part of our landscape intact, continuing to keep the ranch in agricultural production, and enhancing the habitat for the wildlife found in our valley,” Sharon Salisbury O’Toole said.

Nearby, the Fo­­cus Ranch straddles the Colorado/Wyo­ming border. The Reidy family is donating about 55 percent of the overall value of the proposed conservation easements there on 590 acres. The Cattlemen’s Ag Land Trust will hold both easements.

GOCo has awarded $450,000 in Colorado Lottery funds toward the easement, and Routt County is contemplating approving a $400,000 grant.

“We live in a special place, and we very much want to see it continue to look as it has for the past century,” Terry and Maureen Reidy wrote in a letter thanking the agencies involved, as well as the people of Routt County.

The easement will complement an adjoining conservation easement of 642 acres, which covers the Wyoming portion of the ranch.

The Cattlemen’s Ag Land Trust intends to continue to work with GOCo, The Nature Conser­vancy and Routt County on protecting an additional 1,200 acres in the Little Snake River Valley.

Roundtree said the PDR fund, which currently accrues at about $1.8 million annually, expects to carry about $3.5 million into the spring granting cycle.

To date, it has conserved 16,263 acres comprising 27 pro­jects. Another three, representing 1,630 acres, are in progress.

The value of easements leveraged by PDR monies to date is $33.33 million, Roundtree said. Routt County Purchase of Development rights has contributed 21.2 percent of that amount, with 32 percent coming from other agencies and 46.8 percent being donated by the owners.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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