Steamboat Springs If a Colorado Division of Wildlife deal goes through, there will be 4,282 more acres of preserved wildlife area in South Routt County in a prime location for elk, pronghorn, deer and — importantly — sage grouse.
The easement is on property owned by a private couple about 5 miles south of Hayden and is called the Twentymile Sheep Conservation Easement, DOW Manager of External Relations Theo Stein said. He said the area was considered a high-priority asset for the DOW because of its importance to local wildlife.
The Colorado Wildlife Commission gave the DOW the go-ahead to buy the perpetual easement, valued at $4.9 million, at a workshop Wednesday.
DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said the deal is not finalized.
“It’s one of the last remaining active sage grouse leks in southern Routt County,” Hampton said. “It also has active sharptail grouse leks, so it’s a pretty important wildlife property.”
Sage grouse were a candidate for the Endangered Species Act list last year, Stein said, and the area is a popular breeding ground for the species. Grouse can use the same breeding ground for decades.
Stein said the area, covered with sagebrush and mountain shrub, is also a corridor and severe winter weather area for the White River elk herd, the largest in the state.
Because it’s at a lower elevation than some of the surrounding areas, the herd tends to congregate there in the winter and forage for food, Stein said.
The easement plan does not call for public access and will remain in private hands, he said. The funds will come from Great Outdoors Colorado.
Although there are no known plans for developing the area, Stein said it was important for the DOW to get the easement before it’s gone.
He said it’s also cheaper to create the easement that guarantees the land will be preserved than it is to outright buy the property.
“Often when there’s a proposal on the table to develop a property, it’s too late to secure an easement,” he said. “It’s important to identify these habitats early.”