Trust Our Land: 40 years of conservation, and 14,000 more?
Eagle Valley Land Trust
Time is a disparate measurement. One-hundred-and-thirty-eight years since Eagle County’s beginnings are a drop in the bucket compared to the roughly 14,000 years of human history in what is now Colorado. We more recent humans do leave a mark, however. Nowadays, Eagle County has a thriving community of 55,000-plus residents, two ski areas, the most visited national forest in the country (White River National Forest), three wilderness areas and a humming economy.
Our valley looked much different even just 40 years ago. At that time, which coincided with the establishment of Beaver Creek Resort, a coalition of local leaders saw the potential of the Eagle River Valley and the community that it was bound to foster. They recognized that our rivers, wildlife and vast open spaces would draw people and businesses from around the world as the local recreation industry surged forward. They also recognized that an industry taking off without careful community planning could undermine the foundation that brought it success in the first place. To balance the needs of our local community with those of a booming tourism industry, they founded the Eagle Valley Land Trust, a community-funded nonprofit dedicated to the wise conservation of open space, wildlife habitat, ranches and recreational opportunities for locals and visitors alike.
In 1981, conservation wasn’t a new concept, but it was still in its infancy. New tools were being developed to help conservationists and communities protect the places they cared about in a more equitable and permanent way. One of these tools, the modest yet steadfast conservation easement, remains a primary tool employed by the over 1,360 land trusts nationwide to protect over 56 million acres.
A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and an accredited organization like EVLT that permanently protects open space, natural habitat or recreational areas for public benefit. These agreements are individually tailored to protect the conservation values of the property while allowing the property to stay under private ownership. They are carefully crafted to meet the needs of the landowner, while also ensuring lasting conservation value for the community. Unlike many other conservation tools, conservation easements are permanent, living with the property even if it is sold or inherited.
Over the past 12 months, EVLT and partners including Eagle County Open Space have protected over 2,000 acres via conservation easements in Eagle County, including Mulroy Ranch and an expansion of the Brush Creek Valley Ranch & Open Space. That’s in addition to the over 11,000 acres previously protected by EVLT and partners. Conservation easements can also work in tandem with conservation purchases by public entities. When a public entity purchases dedicated open space, they’ll more often than not protect their — and therefore the public’s — investment with a conservation easement. It’s with partnerships like these and with private landowners that local conservation moves forward.
Will all 38 conservation easements in Eagle County be intact in another 14,000 years? That’s a wild question, and also what EVLT is planning for. The concept of permanence is woven into every aspect of the organization’s DNA. It’s why EVLT’s 40th anniversary is a big milestone in perpetuity, but certainly not the last.
Bergen Tjossem is the Eagle Valley Land Trust’s deputy director. He can be reached at email@example.com. To learn more about EVLT’s local conservation work and how you can conserve your land, visit http://www.evlt.org.