Colorado among U.S. leaders in land preservation

Colorado managed to protect more land than it lost to development last year, putting 167,500 acres into conservation easements, purchase and other forms of safeguard, according to the annual report of the Colorado Conservation Trust.

More than a third of the land, 64,146 acres, was along the Front Range. The remainder was: 27,236 acres on the eastern plains; 28,467 acres in the San Luis Valley; 27,034 acres on the western slope; 9,241 in the southwest; and 11,376 acres in the central mountains.According to the CCT report:

“Colorado remains one of only two states in the West where more land is protected each year than is lost to development.”

The total of protected private lands in Colorado has now reached 1.95 million acres, the report says. The annual rate of development on private land is estimated at 90,000 acres a year, which means the state protected much more land than it lost.

The biggest threats to open space in the state at present are continued population growth along the Front Range and energy development in the western part of the state.

The CCT report says:

Applications for oil and gas drilling permits increased by almost 500 percent over the last seven years, from 1,010 in 1999 to 5,904 in 2006. Estimates indicate that over 6,000 drilling permit applications will be approved in 2007-more than two-and- a-half times the record number of 2,378 permits approved in 1981 during Colorado’s last energy development boom. More than 30,000 oil and gas wells are currently operating statewide, and production has grown by 57 percent since 2000.

Ute Valley Ranch is protected
by a conservation easement

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A major factor in the growth of the land protection program has been the state tax credit program, CCT says. The program “allows landowners to receive tax credits for donating conservation easements on their land. If a landowner has insufficient income to use the tax credit directly, it can be sold to others.

“CCT estimates that approximately 75 percent of the lands protected with conservation easements in 2006 involved transactions structured to take advantage of the tax credit program.”

Conservation groups hope to protect an additional 1.66 million acres of land in Colorado by 2015, according to CCT spokesman Lloyd Athearn. Some funding has already been allocated for this effort, but the effort is expected to cost $1.8 billion over and above what is projected to be available

The report was released as 2,100 land protection advocates, researchers and government officials will descend on Denver for the National Land Conservation Conference: Rally 2007 (.pdf) from October 3-6 at the Adams Mark Hotel.

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