Land Trust formed in 1992 - County government program formed in 1996 - researched by Al Sokolow

OVERVIEW - A ranching and recreational community in the Colorado Rockies, Routt County is a rapidly-growing area with a world-famous ski industry centered around Steamboat Springs. Agricultural easements serve a double purpose-helping to retain local ranching and protecting the landscape as a tourist amenity. County government is only a funder of purchase of development rights (PDR) from a dedicated property tax; it is not otherwise involved in managing transactions nor holding easements. The Yampa Valley Land Trust (YVLT) operates the principal easement program in the area, working with landowners, securing funds from the county and other sources, and holding easements. Full and partial landowner donations represent most of the value of agricultural easements acquired by the YVLT.

EASEMENT ACTIVITY - 23,000 easement acres in 46 parcels are held by the YVLT. County-funded easements include about 4,999 acres in 12 parcels. Virtually all easements are on ranchland or irrigated hay meadows.
Goals: No specific program goals for either the land trust or county government.
Other Easement Programs: Other nonprofits in the county with active easement programs include The Nature Conservancy (TNC), American Farmland Trust (AFT), Trust for Public Lands (TPL) and the Elk Foundation.
Total Agricultural Easements in County: About 40,000 acres.

Acquisition Spending to Date: $8.5 million on county-funded easements.
Revenues: Funding sources for county easements in order of importance have been the state government (Great Colorado Outdoors), landowner donations, dedicated property tax approved by voters and federal funds. The Yampa Valley Land Trust claims that the total of 23,000 ranchland easements it holds in the county reflects a total of about $90 million in value. All transactions involve landowner donations, full or partial. They constitute about 40 percent of the value of county-funded easements and a much larger share of other easements held by the land trust.

GOVERNANCE - The county PDR program is overseen by a seven-member PDR Advisory Committee appointed by the Board of Commissioners, with representatives from business, agriculture and environmental groups. The Yampa Valley Land Trust is governed by a nine-member Board of Directors, with members serving three-year renewable terms. It has a membership of 700 and serves several counties, although the bulk of its work is in Routt County.

STAFF AND OPERATING BUDGET - The county's PDR Advisory Committee is staffed on a 25 percent basis by a clerical employee of the local Cooperative Extension office. Three full-time employees staff the land trust, which has an annual operating budget of about $200,000.

ORIGINS - Interest in farmland protection and the use of the conservation easement technique originated in the mid 1980s, as a result of the growing parcelization of ranchland. Several easements in the Upper Elk River Valley were acquired by the American Farmland Trust in the early 1990s. The formation of the land trust in 1992 coincided with extensive citizen deliberation through a Vision 2020 process and a Healthy Communities Initiative. From this, the Open Space Plan adopted by the county commissioners in 1995 emerged and called for a PDR program. In 1996 voters approved a 10-year $1million property tax for easement acquisitions, effectively inaugurating the county PDR program.

ACQUISITION PROCESS AND STRATEGY - For county-funded easements, landowner applications are submitted to the county by conservation organizations (usually land trusts). There is a two-step review process, with the first stage including two separate quantitative ratings and the second concentrating on appraisals, environmental assessment and other "due diligence" procedures. Quantitative results are used in a discretionary fashion. The PDR Advisory Committee reviews applications and the county Board of Commissioners makes final funding decisions. For Yampa Land Trust applications not funded by the county, the review process is less structured and does not involve formal ratings.
Rating of Parcels: Quantitative, after applications meet minimum standards. The most important criteria in order of weighting are leveraging of other funding sources including donations, natural resource or historic values, agricultural quality and contiguity.
Other Criteria: Minimum standards initially applied include significant agricultural activities, compatible with local government plans, and a minimum parcel size of 100 acres.

CONNECTIONS TO LOCAL PLANNING AND LAND USE POLICIES - Routt County's Master Plan has an Open Space element that identifies a number of farmland protection techniques, including PDRs. Other county policies include the encouragement of cluster development and Urban Growth Boundaries to confine higher residential densities to existing urban centers. In general, however, Routt County emphasizes voluntary and landowner-friendly policies and does not restrict large lot residences in rural areas.
Zoning: One unit to 35 acres is the basic residential density. The Land Preservation Subdivision policy permits developers that negotiate with the county for residential subdivisions over 35 acres (ordinarily not regulated by local governments under Colorado law) to acquire additional homesites in return for residential clustering and easements on remainder land.

2000 Population: 19,690
1990-2000 Population Change: +5,602 residents; + 39 percent

520,000 acres: 80 percent ranchland
Conversion to Urban Use: Comparative conversion data not available.

1997 Market Value: $22 million Number of Farms: 494
Principal Commodities: Cattle, hay, field seeds, wheat

Map Narrative - Easement Geography (Map not available)
Clusters of easement protected parcels are found in several locations, mainly river valleys that contain irrigated pastures for grazing. The Upper Elk River Valley is one such area, where large landowners have entered into easement arrangements.