Janet Smith, San Isabel Land Protection Trust
WESTCLIFFE, Colo. – Perseverance and patience are today’s watchwords, and the recently completed conservation easement on Redwing Ranch in Huerfano County demonstrates the rewards of such traits.
Six years of unflagging determination by ranch owner Christy Wyckoff, San Isabel Land Protection Trust, Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the National Resources Conservation Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife has resulted in the protection of 1,665 acres of prime agricultural land, scenic vistas and critical wildlife habitat, as well as valuable water resources.
More than 2,000 acres on Redwing Ranch are now under a conservation easement. The new acreage surrounds 365 acres protected by a 2005 easement, also held by San Isabel. The land trust has protected 6,503 acres in Huerfano County under 16 easements.
The new easement protects water rights and agricultural land that includes irrigated hayfields and pastures; native shortgrass prairies; wildlife habitat; and scenic vistas. The property also features wetlands, riparian areas, ponds, several types of forest and rocky outcroppings. The Huerfano River, Martin Creek and Palo Duro Creek flow through it.
Wyckoff said the work to protect the additional 1,665 acres began in 2014, just before she moved to California for a new job. She is Deputy Director and Interim Executive Director at the Santa Lucia Conservancy, a nonprofit that manages and protects the biodiversity of the Santa Lucia Preserve, a 20,000-acre conservation community.
“I was thrilled (former San Isabel executive director) Ben Lenth was able to stick with it despite my being out of state and his switching jobs in the middle of the process,” she said. “His calm persistence and our common goal to protect the land were key."
Add to that the complexities of gaining funding from multiple agencies. GOCO supported the project with a $382,700 grant, and NRCS provided $350,000. Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Habitat Partnership Program provided another $10,000.
Wyckoff said she chose to work with San Isabel in part because of the existing easement, making the land trust a natural fit.
“But San Isabel also is a land trust that recognizes the community and cultural elements of how the land is used and how the community feels about the land,” she said. “I think it’s important to have a local organization that gets it. … I work in the land trust world. I’ve found the cultural approach for land trusts is different everywhere I’ve been. It highlights that it is important to have the right partner to fit you and your community’s values.”
Wyckoff said she added to her ranch holdings and expanded conservation easement protections to protect the land today and into the future, but it was important to her that the ranch had operational capacity to provide a livelihood for a future ranch owner.
“You need to think about the functionality of the land in an uncertain future,” she said. “You don’t know what perpetuity holds. By adding the 1,665 acres, I felt it was a very usable unit, a piece of property that could support a family. For me that was a big motivator – protecting the business opportunity through the protection of ecological processes. That’s harder and harder to do as the land is chopped up.”
Larry Vickerman, president of San Isabel’s board of directors, said, “Persistence and collaboration have resulted in a great addition to conservation in our region. This announcement is the culmination of six years of hard work and is a bright spot in a time of bleak news. San Isabel remains committed to continuing the important work of ensuring our region remains wild and beautiful, with abundant wildlife, productive agriculture, flowing water and thriving rural communities.”
“We’re particularly grateful to Ben Lenth, who continued working to bring this easement to fruition even after joining Colorado Open Lands as community conservation manager in 2017,” Vickerman said.
The Redwing Ranch conservation easement brings the total number of easements held by San Isabel to 134, protecting 42,437 acres lying between the eastern slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains s and the Interstate 25 corridor.
Great Outdoors Colorado invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,300 projects in all 64 counties of Colorado without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.
This material is based upon work supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under number 68-8B05-17-014.