Routt County conserved ranches poised to grow by 6

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— The Routt County Board of Com­­missioners voted unanimously this week to accept plans to conserve portions of six rural properties comprising 5,255 acres through the taxpayer-funded Purchase of Development Rights program.

The new conservation easements won’t be official until the transactions close and the commissioners vote to release the funds Dec. 14. When that happens, the PDR program will have conserved 21,815 acres in 2010. That compares with 16,235 acres that have been conserved through the program in the preceding 13 years.

The locations and owners of the latest conserved properties won’t be released until the deals close next week.

The six latest parcels will be conserved with the use of $3.6 million in property tax dollars devoted to the PDR program by Routt County voters.

PDR board member CJ Muck­­low said capturing a portion of the development value of their land gives farmers and ranchers options for generating better economic returns while staying in agriculture. They can invest the proceeds and generate a better return than pastureland provides through a grazing lease, for example. Or they could choose to purchase more land to bring a greater economy of scale to their existing operation.

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

The PDR process works by providing voter-approved tax dollars as an incentive to landowners, often ranch families, to enter into a conservation easement that sets the land aside from development. The property owners donate a substantial portion of the value of the easement as determined by an appraisal.

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