Colorado - GUNNISON RANCHLAND
Countywide program - Formed in 1996 - researched by Al Sokolow
OVERVIEW - Self-described as an "intermediary organization for conservation-minded landowners," the Gunnison Legacy engages in transactions but does not hold easements nor fund their purchases. Rather it facilitates the deals by representing ranchers, securing funds from multiple sources, arranging for land trusts to hold the easements, and coordinating the paperwork. The Legacy formally is not a land trust. County government participation in the easement program is limited to funding from a countywide sales tax. Mountains and river valleys that dominate the landscape of this central Colorado county attract affluent second home purchasers. Ski resorts, tourism, and ranching are the major economic activities.
EASEMENT ACTIVITY - 7,400 acres in 18 properties:
All ranchland including irrigated meadows.
Goals: No specific program goals-program operates year by year.
Other Easement Programs: Crested Butte Land Trust serves a small part of the county.
Acquisition Spending to Date: $8.6 million on agricultural easements.
Revenues: Top funding sources are the state government (Great Colorado Outdoors), landowner donations, federal funds, county sales tax and foundations. Voters in 1997 approved a half-cent county sales tax proposed by county government to support the program. The Legacy asks landowners to donate about 25 percent of easement value.
GOVERNANCE - The nonprofit Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy is headed by a nine-member, self-selected board. Board members include ranchers, a ski resort executive and a manager of a statewide land trust.
STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET - The Executive Director is the only full-time staff person. The annual operating budget is about $160,000.
ORIGINS - The Legacy was founded by a rancher and an environmentalist in 1996, with the intention to use non-regulatory methods to help ranchers faced by development pressures and to retain open space (especially scenic irrigated pastures) as a public amenity. The founding was aided by a startup $1.2 million grant from the state's open space program, Great Outdoors Colorado.
ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY - The Legacy does
not employ explicit criteria in its selection of ranchers to work with in securing
easement funding. First come-first serve is the general approach. Once funding
is obtained, a land trust is sought for holding the easement.
Rating of Parcels: Not quantitative, see below.
Other Criteria: Parcels with habitat (elk winter range, sage grouse habitat, etc.) as well as agricultural values are slightly advantaged in attracting easement funding from environmental organizations and thus advance to the head of the long waiting list of interested landowners. Given the location of Gunnison County's best cattle grazing land, the Legacy concentrates its easement work on river valleys.
CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES
- With the exception of obtaining sales tax funds for easement acquisitions,
the Legacy is formally independent from county government and its policies.
But the two entities have an indirect connection through a common objective-the
protection of the county's open spaces. A related policy in the county's land
use resolution include incentives (expedited processing, density bonuses, more
certain standards, etc.) for developers who agree to clustering residential
lots. Known as the Large Parcel Incentive Process, this encourages developers
to submit large proposed subdivisions to county review. (Colorado state law
limits county control to parcels under 35 acres).
Zoning: No formal zoning. But the county has a version of "performance" zoning, involving the review of proposed development according to compatible use with the surrounding landscape.
2000 Population: 13,956
1990-2000 Population Change: + 3,683 residents; + 35.8 percent
204,300 acres: 80 percent ranchland
Conversion to Urban Use: Comparative conversion data not available.
OTHER AGRICULTURAL CHARACTERISTICS
1997 Market Value: $17 million Number of Farms: 574
Principal Commodities: Nursery and greenhouse, cattle, equine
MAP NARRATIVE - EASEMENT GEOGRAPHY (PROGRAM MAP)
Most of the county's easements facilitated by the Gunnison Ranchland Conservation Legacy cover ranchland in river valleys, including many acres of irrigated pasture. Some of the easements form a near-contiguous 17-mile strip along the Tomachi Creek Valley. The cities of Gunnison and Crested Butte are the largest population centers. About 85 percent of the county's area is public land, including National Forests.