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Blanca Ranch easement signed

Posted: Wednesday, Dec 5th, 2012

From left: Trinchera Ranch manager Ty Ryland, Trinchera and Blanca Ranch owner Louis Bacon and U.S. Fish and Wildlife deputy director of policy Steve Guertin stand in front of Little Bear, Mount Blanca and Mount Lindsey peaks on Tuesday after signing the Blanca Ranch conservation easement. Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky

Courier staff writer

FORT GARLAND — Three 14,000-foot peaks made a perfect backdrop for the Blanca Ranch conservation easement signing ceremony on Tuesday.

A small group witnessed Trinchera and Blanca Ranch owner and noted conservationist Louis Bacon and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) deputy director Steve Guertin sign documents placing the 90,000-acre parcel under protection from development with blessings from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who was unable to attend the easement’s finalization celebration, but has been behind the project from the beginning.

The Blanca Ranch easement will build upon Bacon’s Trinchera Ranch easement finalized earlier this year and form a key part of the newly established Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area (SCCA). Together, the 170,000-acre area creates one of the longest protected wildlife corridors in the world and stands as the largest donated conservation easements to the Service.

“Today’s announcement embodies a new era of conservation, one where private landowners, the local community and the government work hand-in-hand to preserve treasured areas on a truly landscape scale,” said Secretary Salazar in a press release. “Mr. Bacon’s long-term vision for this spectacular property will help protect the natural and wildlife resources that are so important to Colorado’s economy and way of life.”

Guertin expressed similar sentiments during the ceremony.

“It is truly an honor and privilege to accept the largest easement donation in the history of the Service,” Guertin said. “Mr. Bacon’s generosity will protect this pristine land linking together a diverse mosaic of public and private lands, creating a landscape corridor for fish and wildlife unlike any place in the world.”

Bacon, who was proud to make the conservation easement promised last June a reality yesterday morning, credited many others for its success including the Service and Trinchera Ranch Manager Ty Ryland.

“Signing the conservation easement for Blanca marks a meaningful milestone for me and the many individuals and organizations who helped make this a reality,” Bacon said. “... Perhaps, more importantly, it symbolizes our belief that the land, in the words of Aldo Leopold, ‘is a community to which we belong,’ rather than a commodity.”

After the signing ceremony, Bacon said working with the federal government has only improved abilities to keep the land protected.

“So far, so good,” he said about his relationship with the Service. “They have been helping us with looking at developing our fishery program on the other side (Trinchera Ranch) and we really haven’t started anything here. They have seen what we have been doing with stream restoration here. They are glad that we are spending our money rather than the federal taxpayers money. So far, it has been great.”

He added, “If wildlife habitat is important to you and the development of it, and you have a large-scale landscape like this and there are complications, having a partner that has seen any problem you can throw at them is incredibly important for advice; for their studies, for their vision and for their experiences. It is going to be great.”

He thanked Ryland, who succeeded his father as ranch manager in 1990, for his complete dedication to conserving the ranches.

“It is a dream come true to me,” Ryland said after the ceremony. “I was blessed to go through a conservation easement with the Forbes and Colorado Open Land, and this is a continued preservation of the property. I know that it’s not going to get broken up and I know that there can’t be the generational demise of the property. Being able to get the Blanca Ranch under easement, it is a dream come true. Now, it is all preserved and conserved.”

Tuesday might have marked a new-era in conservation, but it reflects practices Ryland and his staff already have in place.

“All of our land management practices are in line with the Service,” Ryland said. “We don’t anticipate changing anything. We have a working relationship and an understanding of what one another does and expects. I think our land practices fall well within their realm of what they expect. There will not be any change. It will be managed tomorrow as it was yesterday. We really look forward to it.”

The Trinchera and Blanca Ranches form the largest contiguous, privately owned ranch in Colorado and feature breathtaking vistas of high desert shrubs and mountain grasslands, combined with alpine forest and alpine tundra. The area includes three peaks above 14,000 feet and stretches up to the top of one of the highest peaks in Colorado, Blanca Peak at 14,345 feet above sea level. It falls in the center of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the longest mountain chain in the United States, and borders the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness near Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

“This is the final piece of the puzzle that ensures this incredible land will be protected for generations to come,” said Senator Mark Udall in a press release. “I remain thankful for Mr. Bacon’s donation of his conservation easements and the unique partnership he forged with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a nonprofit land trust to conserve one of the most pristine private landholdings in the southern Rockies. The Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area will ensure that this scenic gem will continue to provide abundant wildlife and clean water for future Coloradans to enjoy.”

Senator Michael Bennet also showed his support.

“This agreement will preserve one of Colorado’s most breathtaking and scenic landscapes – including iconic Blanca Peak,” said Bennet in a press release. “Conservation of our land and our precious resources is a fundamental part of what it is to live in the West. I am grateful to Mr. Bacon for his collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help preserve the heritage of this land in its undeveloped state.”

Under President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors program to establish a 21st century conservation and outdoor recreation agenda, the Interior Department has spearheaded a series of voluntary partnerships with landowners to conserve rural landscapes while ensuring that ranching, farming and other traditional ways of life remain strong. Conservation easements are only acquired from willing landowners.

These initiatives include new units of the National Wildlife Refuge System, such as the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area in Kansas, the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area of South Dakota and North Dakota, the Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area in Montana, and the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area in Florida.

The mission of the Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. They are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service.

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