A partnership created last spring among Colorado's leading conservation organizations is poised to benefit Grand County's Middle Park Land Trust and its aim to protect Colorado headwaters.
Out of a five-agency coalition called the Colorado Conservation Partnership, rolled out last spring, a plan to preserve 24 priority landscapes, encompassing more than 700,000 acres throughout Colorado, was created.
The upper Colorado ranks among them.
"The need to act has never been more urgent," said Charles Bedford, Colorado State Director of the Nature Conservancy, who framed the official "Keep it Colorado" mission in Denver last April.
The Nature Conservancy now shares a defined mission with the Colorado Conservation Trust, The Trust for Public Land, Colorado Open Lands and The Conservation Fund.
"We must pool the financial resources and vast expertise of the lead organizations, in partnership with local groups, and bring a new level of attention to Colorado's conservation agenda," Bedford said.
This can mean funneling to smaller land trusts, such as the trust based in Granby near the headwaters of the Colorado River.
This year, the Middle Park Land Trust launched a Colorado River Headwaters Conservation Program, which focuses on potential properties that protect river corridors and their essential riparian habitats.
As much as 80-90 percent of wildlife depends on riparian habitat, which makes up 3 percent of Colorado's land.
The 54 conservation easements established in Grand County equate to 10 percent to 11 percent of private land under easement, according to Middle Park Land Trust Project Coordinator Adam Cwiklin.
"But only 4 percent is within the river corridors," he said, "which is inverse to their importance. The rivers are our most valuable and vulnerable resources and so we should be focused in our efforts around those."
In its Headwaters Conservation Program, the Trust outlines why.
The Colorado River is the largest of four major watersheds originating in Colorado. It is the source of 87 percent of the water delivered to other states and is a major source for Front Range and subsequent downstream agricultural and municipal water supplies.
The Colorado River watershed area encompasses over 246,000 square miles and is a primary water supplier for 25 million people in seven states.
Keep it Colorado's vision recognizes the importance of Grand County's river habitat.
"We're trying to plug into their program," Cwiklin said. "We have a local program we're trying to get off the ground that is complementary to their larger statewide program, and ours fits within one of their priority areas, so we are trying to plug in and become their foot soldier " the local organization that pushes this Keep it Colorado initiative."
To further that initiative, CCP is coordinating with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and its State Wildlife Action Plan. According to CCP, the DOW committed as much as $15 million "to protect habitats within these landscapes that are essential for sustaining game and non-game species alike."
The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation of New York granted a further $2 million for Keep it Colorado land conservation.
Because of the newfound possibility of gaining resources through the big-name coalition and other partners, the Middle Park Land Trust could be migrating toward purchasing land development rights, Cwiklin said.
As it stands, landowners receive state and federal tax incentives for placing properties in conservation easements, but the local land trust has not yet had the buying power to purchase development rights outright.
Partnering with CCP allows for nationwide fundraising, Cwiklin said.
"We're excited for this opportunity. We think it will give life to our local river conservation program, and hopefully it will give us resources to go talk to landowners and say, 'We're serious, we'd like to preserve this area'" " making it "worth their while," he said.
" Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.