Grouse habitat conserved with former Acord Ranch hay meadow | SteamboatToday.com

Grouse habitat conserved with former Acord Ranch hay meadow

724 acres added to ranch conservation corridor on edge of Flat Tops

The Routt County Commissioners approved a plan May 24 to use Purchase of Development Rights monies to help approve a conservation easement that will protect important sage grouse habitat while bringing a new ranch family to South Routt at Stillwater Land & Livestock operating on the former Acord Ranch II. The easement will be held by the Yampa Valley Land Trust.

— The Routt County Board of Commissioners voted May 24 to approve the expenditure of $239,050 in property tax dollars dedicated to conserving open lands through the Purchase of Development Rights, or PDR, dedicated to place a conservation easement on a 724-acre portion of a South Routt ranch on Routt County Road 7A. The approval will protect important sage grouse habitat from development, while helping a new ranching family carry on at a ranch formerly operated by the Acord family.

Ted and Kristi Stites, of Stillwater Land and Livestock, purchased the former Acord II Ranch from Duane and Leigh Acord, of Yampa, for $1.6 million in 2015. Ted Stites is a member of a fifth-generation ranching family who also has a tech career, and Kristi Stites is a certified veterinary technician.

The easement will be held by the Yampa Valley Land Trust, and PDR Board Chairwoman Claire Sollars told commissioners that Great Outdoors Colorado is contributing $214,050, or 35.7 percent, of the value to the $600,000 appraised value of the easement.

Of the total PDR deal, Routt County's 1.5 mill PDR property tax (renewed through 2025 by voters in 2005), will contribute 39.8 percent of the value of the easement. The Stites will contribute $146,900 in value, or 24.5 percent, of the appraised value by foregoing the ability to develop the land.

The Stites were unable to attend Tuesday's public hearing at the Routt County Courthouse, but Kristi Stites expressed her family's gratitude in writing: "We are overjoyed to be a part of the future of the ranch, and as relative newcomers to Routt County, we're delighted with the support from the community."

Stites wrote that she entered the veterinary field after a successful career in advertising, and her husband has a career as a technology executive. Yet, he also has extensive knowledge of range management and animal husbandry, she said.

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"In addition to his ranching background, he was also raised as an advocate of wildlife," Kristi Stites wrote. "His grandfather was a professor at Western State College and one of the ornithologists who determined that the Gunnison sage grouse is a different species from the Columbian sharp-tailed sage grouse and the greater sage grouse."

The ranch is located near the town of Yampa, east of the Flat Tops Mountains in a growing corridor of conserved properties that has been identified as being within a Colorado Conservation Partnership Priority Landscape, according to YVLT Executive Director Susan Dorsey.

County Commissioner Tim Corrigan, who cuts hay on his property just outside Yampa, said the increasing number of conservation easements in that part of the county is making a difference.

"The connectivity of all these easements in South Routt are pretty significant for wildlife, in particular, greater sage grouse," Corrigan said. "I was pleased we're getting a lot of bang for the buck (on the Stillwater Land and Cattle easement). We're conserving a lot of property for a small amount of money."

The ranch borders the 1,400-acre Brinker Creek Ranch (formerly Acord Ranch I), which is also under a conservation easement held by YVLT.

According to Sollars, the Stites are working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to "create an agricultural operation in concert with conservation plans for the property," to achieve critical mass for both productive ranch land and critical greater sage grouse habitat.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Vernon Summer’s Legacy

The late Routt County rancher Vernon Summer, who died in 2012, was devoted to land conservation and was among the earliest agriculturalists to place his ranch under an easement with the Yampa Valley Land Trust. He believed strongly enough in the practice of keeping families on their land through perpetual easements that also provide an economic reward for the landowners to set up a revolving loan program to help landowners cover upfront transaction costs. Upon closing the transaction, the owners are more able to pay the fees, and at that point, the funds return to the loan fund.