In early 2017, on the headwaters of the Navajo River, we finalized protection of a spectacular 16,789-acre ranch through a conservation easement—an agreement that permanently restricts the type and amount of development on a landowner’s property. A true wilderness ranch, this property provides significant natural habitat for several federal and state endangered species (lynx, Northern Leopard frog and Colorado River cutthroat trout). It also contains numerous wetland and riparian areas; habitat for wild turkeys, black bears and mountain lions; and migration corridors for mule deer and elk. The last grizzly bear in Colorado was killed on this ranch, and many contend that grizzly still inhabit this rugged and remote wilderness.

In the lower reaches of the Navajo, we have focused on the protection of 8 historic working ranches, protecting over 10,000 strategic acres on Colorado’s southern border. In partnership with two statewide land trusts—the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust and Colorado Open Lands—we have insured the long-term stewardship of these unique lands in the Navajo and San Juan watersheds.

Our funding partners in this effort include the Gates Family Foundation, the Federal Forest Legacy Program and Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). Over the years, GOCO provided critical funding for our efforts in these watersheds, contributing over $10 million in lottery funds to place conservation easements on the historic ranches. GOCO also provided matching funds for a Forest Legacy easement on the Catspaw Ranch.

Forest Legacy Program

The Forest Legacy Program is a federally-funded program of the U.S. Forest Service that partners with states to support and protect environmentally sensitive forest lands. To maximize public benefits, the program focuses on the acquisition of portions of privately owned forest lands. It accomplishes this by purchasing conservation easements without removing the property from private ownership. Most of the easements restrict development, require sustainable forestry practices and protect other values at risk. Forest Legacy projects compete nationally for funding and are required to have matching funds in place.

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