D.R.: A rancher sees the light | VailDaily.com

D.R.: A rancher sees the light

Don Rogers

Eagle County ranchers haven’t much taken to preserving their land by selling development rights.

But other Colorado ranchers have embraced conservation easements and similar tools, particularly in Routt County.

Now Newseek has included a rancher in the Wet Mountain Valley who did what the Bair family did with their land straddling Eagle and Garfield counties in their “15 People Who Make America Great.”

In 2002, Randy Rusk sold his development rights to his 1,500-acre ranch near the Sangre de Cristo range to Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit, an act unpopular with his fellow ranchers. Sound familiar?

“It’s hard to walk away from half of your net worth,” Rusk told Newsweek. “But if you love the land, you want to keep it whole.”

Next, the crusty conservative rancher, who once and maybe still does spit the word “environmentalist” out like a piece of sour chewing tobacco, went on a conservation easement crusade. Which led to Newsweek’s eventual attention.

So far, he’s helped protect over 11,000 acres from the march of subdivisions in his region.

The Trust for Public Land credits him with convincing other ranchers that conservation easements are the way to go to keep ranching, protect the land and continue their lifestyle over the longterm.

You hear ranchers around here ask rhetorically what you do when the proceeds are gone from selling their development rights, which more and more are a premium in this mother lode for real estate.

They don’t seem to realize that the question doesn’t change when you sell the land outright ” you just don’t have the land to work anymore and get to look yourself in the mirror having contributed to yet more sprawl.

We haven’t heard the Bair family complain. Maybe Rusk ought to drop by for a chat with Eagle County’s reluctant ranchers as they consider their legacies.

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