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Private Conservation's Benefits 

The public and landowners win
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2014 Cow Patty Bingo

Everyone at Eagle Valley Land Trust wishes team USA all the best as they compete in the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships!  Good luck and ski fast.

Why do we protect private land?
by Scott Conklin

At Eagle Valley Land Trust, we protect land and water through a tool called a conservation easement.  Many of Eagle Valley Land Trust's conservation easements protect land that is publically accessible to anyone living in or visiting our community, but EVLT also protects land that remains in private ownership.  Most often this means only the owner and their invited guests are allowed to access the property.  Conservation easements must protect conservation values that are beneficial to the public, not just the individual 

Scott Conklin, Interim Director of Development and Communications

landowner.  What public benefit can there be, if the public is not allowed to access a property EVLT conserves?  To answer this, we first need to know the reasons why land trusts protect land.


Protecting land can provide easy access to recreational activities for the public, and EVLT often takes on projects that do this.  If a key piece of privately owned land provides access to a large trail system on US Forest Service land or to a section of river that is exclusively privately owned, then a town or the county acquiring that land for public access makes a lot of sense.  


Protecting that land with EVLT ensures future policy makers won't be tempted to sell or change the use of that land because of hard economic times or other pressures.  However, this is only one of the many goals we have in mind when conserving land.  There are many benefits to conservation that do not require public access. 

The Horn Ranch CE protects this historic quarry site.

Protecting land promotes animal and plant health through the protection of their habitats.  Conserved land contributes to cleaner and more abundant water for our community by reducing the amount of paved surfaces, thereby maintaining the natural filtering action of the land around our streams and rivers.  When EVLT helps landowners preserve their private ranches and farms, more food is produced locally. This means food is fresher, uses less energy to get to us, and is more sustainable. Preserving this land reduces water demands thereby protecting our rafting and fishing experiences. This also helps to keep our local economy diverse by retaining these sectors of our economy as population grows and development pressure increases.


By protecting private land, EVLT can preserve important local history.  Our community is richer by retaining some of its roots in ranching and protecting that history.  Land conservation can ensure that natural landmarks and historic sites remain for future generations to reflect on.  Lastly, if you ask anyone in Eagle County what they enjoy about our community, the natural beauty and scenic views will top most people's list.  These scenic views are the foundation of our community and its well-being.  They transform our ski days, daily commutes, and family picnics into something especially rewarding, perhaps even spiritual.

The Gates Ranch Conservation Easement

Our community enjoys many direct and indirect public benefits from the preservation of private property even though these lands do not allow for public access. If EVLT limited its projects to only those projects providing public access, our community would miss important opportunities to share in the benefits listed above as more, and more remote, subdivisions changed our landscape.


Rural subdivisions and their roads fragment wildlife habitat and put pressure on every species found in our community.  They reduce land available for food production and make our economy less diverse.  The roads, parking lots and sidewalks necessary for modern development contribute to a number of pollutants entering our rivers from sediment to fertilizers to oil and other chemicals.  How disappointed would you feel to see a new road cut or building interrupting your favorite vista as you hiked a treasured trail or ski your favorite run?


For these reasons, conservation easements on privately owned land are a powerful and useful tool that help our community to be healthy and economically resilient even if the land is not accessible to the public.  Conserving one's land is a very personal decision that rests with the landowner, but that decision affects us all.  Even if the landowner is compensated for preserving their land, the benefit to the public is undeniable.

Promoting Community Buffers
EVLT invited to comment on draft Healthy Communities Index

Eagle County is currently in the process of drafting a Healthy Community Index(HCI) to replace the current Sustainable Community Index.  The goal of the HCI is to provide staff, developers, and decision makers with a consistent method to evaluate land use proposals by providing a guideline and template for  healthy, sustainable design principles to be incorporated into each newly proposed development.  It also recognizes those projects which incorporate positive attributes into their design which contribute to the broader community.  HCI by itself does not create healthy communities, but articulates the design platform upon which such desired community outcomes can occur. 

EVLT appreciates the county seeking our input and recommends the HCI further define the "Physical and Visual Buffers" section of the draft index.  The HCI could endeavor to make it even easier to "grow in and not out" by further and strongly rewarding compact, efficient, infill redevelopment with a lower cost burden as much as possible.

When discussing community buffers, we often struggle with what boundary should be used to define communities. In the short-term we could utilize incorporated town boundaries and metro district boundaries. A long-term goal of the HCI could be to develop strategic growth boundaries in collaboration with existing towns and metro districts, incorporating these boundaries into the HCI when they are delineated

If Eagle County is to continue to allow "land-consumptive" subdivisions in unincorporated areas, the HCI could directly and definitively encourage open space preservation as an offset for such development projects and also provide incentives for growth in more desirable areas. 

One tried and tested mechanism that has already been used locally and widely around the country is a real estate transfer fee. Developers are generally receptive to including a transfer fee in their plans and the fee has a real impact over time in assisting the preservation of the remaining open space for the community. Several examples exist in the county, such as the Town of Vail and the Eagle Ranch subdivision, and the program can be tailored to the needs of the particular development.  For areas identified as desirable for development, the fee would not apply. 

The HCI could further clarify and provide incentives for in-fill and higher density development by increasing requirements for off-site improvements that benefit the entire community, not just the development itself in isolation. If HCI requirements simply serve to inflate the footprint of the development in an area where infill/higher density is desired, then the HCI is not providing the best solution.

A potential solution would be to allow a developer to pay into a fund that creates great community parks and important wildlife linkages rather than extraneous open space tucked in around subdivisions which may not do much for people, community or wildlife. 

EVLT encourages the County to identify strategic growth boundaries that will even better inform the HCI and other planning efforts. EVLT has offered to assist in this effort by orchestrating a 1-2 hour discussion, facilitated by an outside consultant, for County staff and leaders to kick off the process.

Did you know...?  

EVLT arranged a presentation last month for the community, including key County planning and Transportation Department staff about a recent, and fascinating, study on I-70's impact on wildlife. Click here to see the study.

For example, the Wolcott Exit is listed as one of the highest priority areas for wildlife in the entire I-70 corridor from Denver to Dotsero! This area includes critical habitat for Lynx, Elk, Mountain Lion, Black Bear, Moose, Northern Leopard Frog and River Otter. See pages 122-128.

Pink is identified wildlife crossing area.

You can view the full presentation about the report on Eagle County TV here.

Yours in conservation, 

Eagle Valley Land Trust

970.748.7654  |  www.EVLT.org

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