Friday, January 29, 2016

Where private land meets public interest

...Yet it’s increasingly tough for ranchers like Shahan to hang onto land that’s been in their families for generations. And it’s even harder if they want to be environmentally friendly: In Colorado, New Mexico and other Western states, private land managed for conservation purposes might be taxed at a higher rate than agricultural or residential land, explains Lesli Allison, director of the nonprofit Western Landowners Alliance. Plus, individual landowners often struggle to communicate their needs to land managers and policymakers. In 2010, a group of landowners on the Colorado-New Mexico border came together over those very problems. They disagreed with the way migratory elk were being managed across borders, but didn’t have much say in the matter. Being organized would give them a stronger collective voice, but even that was controversial: Some ranchers were suspicious of the Western Environmental Law Center, which had offered to help. Eventually, with the help of a young woman named Monique DiGiorgio — one of the few environmentalists who seemed to understand them — they formed the Chama Peak Land Alliance. DiGiorgio, now the executive director, is helping the landowners preserve and protect open spaces and ensure that the Colorado-New Mexico borderlands are managed not as a hodgepodge of private, state, federal and tribal interests, but as a whole, intact ecosystem. Together, Chama Peak’s members own a whopping 250,000 acres — roughly half the private land in the area. With outsized land ownership comes outsized influence. So far, the group has successfully deferred Bureau of Land Management oil and gas leases near community drinking water sources, restored miles of riparian habitat, implemented water-quality monitoring and mapped the forests most at risk for high-intensity fires. Its members have also been vocal opponents of a controversial ski development on Wolf Creek Pass. In the process, they’re showing that private-land conservation can be at least as effective as public-land management, and requires a lot less red tape. “When we think about wild, we think about public lands,” DiGiorgio says. “But these private landowners are managing some of the most intact, wild spaces we have left.”...more

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