Written by Haley Colgate
Have you ever been to Stratton Open Space? How about Red Rock Canyon Open Space? Beyond “Open Space,” these places have something in common—they both have a conservation easement held by the same organization. A conservation easement is where landowners allow legal restrictions to be placed on a property to ensure that the current state of the land is conserved for future generations.
Palmer Land Trust has helped to preserve over 100,000 acres of land across 10 southeastern Colorado counties, including 16 recreational areas, such as these open spaces, which will be open to the public in perpetuity. These public areas allow people to get outdoors and explore the beautiful spaces of Colorado. They also have an added benefit—these spaces bring in tourists, which helps bolster local economies.
In addition to recreational spaces, Palmer Land Trust works with farmers and ranchers. They collaborate with ranchers because a typical ranch in Colorado consists of many acres of relatively natural prairie lands with native wildlife. On the other hand, they work with farmers because if farmland is not cultivated, it tends to go dry due to lack of water, leading to mini dust bowls. Dust bowls arise because without a cover crop and sufficient moisture, the top soil erodes quickly after decades of heavy farming. Overall, conservation of both farms and ranches also ensures that water and water rights remain in the region, instead of being sold to growing cities.
The first week of Block 3, Palmer Land Trust organized a mini film festival in collaboration with EnAct (CC Students for Environmental Action). Approximately 30 people gathered to hear a message from the leaders of Palmer Land Trust. Employees of the land trust talked about their mission and the importance of land conservation.
Trust members explained that modern efforts are moving away from conserving specific species, and instead are trying to conserve entire ecosystems. Land conservation is one of the best ways to do that. Furthermore, large connected areas allow for migration pathways and more biodiversity. Efforts are being made to introduce the next generation to nature and its importance. To underline these points, the employees showed four short films from the winners of the 2016 Southern Colorado Conservation Awards.
The first film focused on the Galileo School of Math and Science, a low-income middle school in Colorado Springs. The school replaced their seldom-used tennis courts with a large garden. Students of the school are involved in every step of food production, from planting seeds to harvesting and selling their produce. Teachers incorporate the garden when designing science labs and math lessons too. Students learn how to work with money by running a mini farmers market at a local senior center while being regaled with stories of how farming used to be. Moreover, they learn where food comes from, the importance of agriculture, and what it’s like to work in the soil and produce their own food. This experience teaches an appreciation of nature, increasing the likelihood that the students will grow up to be aware of the importance of conservation.
The second film focused on Louis Bacon, a billionaire from New England, who donated a conservation easement consisting of over more than 150,000 acres of land in Southern Colorado, the largest donation ever made to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The region includes part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
The third film focused on the creation of the Rocky Ford Growers Association. In 2011, a farm claiming their product was grown in Rocky Ford, a region popular for cantaloupes, was responsible for a listeria outbreak that took the lives of 33 people. Though the farm in question was nowhere near Rocky Ford, the economy in the area took a nose dive. People stopped buying produce associated with the region. In response, farmers in the area created a grower’s association to standardize safety practices and educate growers about responsible farming practices. As a result, the regional farming industry was able to make a comeback, prolonging the agricultural use of the land.
The last film starred Corwin Brown, the winner of the Stuart P. Dodge Lifetime Achievement Award. For over 40 years, Brown has worked to obtain permanent conservation of large parts of southeastern Colorado. His goal has been to conserve and connect biologically and historically important regions, working especially with ranchers to help them keep their lands as preserved as possible while continuing to ranch. Brown declared that his objective is to “keep ranches, ranchers, and ranchers on those ranches.” For decades he has educated the region about conservation easements and the benefits they entail.
All four videos demonstrated ways in which community members have successfully increased conservation efforts in positive and meaningful ways. As a school of students highly devoted to environmental protection and outdoor recreation, CC was the perfect venue to showcase these inspiring works.
The executive director of Palmer Land Trust, Rebecca Jewett, is a fifth generation Coloradan with a passion for preserving spaces to “Keep Colorado, Colorado.” She is also a CC graduate, with a degree in political science. Following the videos, Jewett spoke succinctly and clearly on topics ranging from the tax benefits of a conservation easement to the environmental impacts of farming communities that sell their water rights to municipalities. Eagerly answering a question from the audience, she explained that when the trust obtains an easement over a property, the land itself stays in its original ownership.
The trust works with the owners to assess and establish conservation goals unique to each easement, providing an overview. For the most part though, they trust the people who live on the land. Some families have been on the property for generations, so who’s to argue with decades of knowledge as to what works best? Stewardship is ingrained in those who depend on the land for their livelihoods. Palmer Land Trust provides tools for them to use to ensure their land stays as it is, natural.
Palmer Land Trust is working with CC EnAct to conserve a region in southern Colorado roughly the size of CC. To donate, visit indygive.com/PLT and select Palmer Land Trust, or donate directly at palmerlandtrust.org