More habitat is preserved for Gunnison sage grouse

This property northeast of Dove Creek is now protected by a perpetual conservation easement. The 640-acre parcel is considered critical habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse. Enlargephoto

Courtesy photo

This property northeast of Dove Creek is now protected by a perpetual conservation easement. The 640-acre parcel is considered critical habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse.

Montezuma Land Conservancy closed out its 15th anniversary with protecting another critical property northeast of Dove Creek.

Thanks to a local landowner, the 640-acre property, which is now protected with a perpetual conservation easement, is the third project conserved in partnership with Montezuma Land Conservancy since 2012 that contains critical Gunnison sage-grouse habitat. The project was made possible by funds from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the local Montelores Habitat Partnership Program. As with all conservation easements that Montezuma Land Conservancy holds, the property remains in private ownership but with restrictions on subdivision and development placed on the land.

Like the two sage-grouse-related properties that were also recently protected, this project is another critical piece of the puzzle that is helping ensure that a viable population of Gunnison sage-grouse hangs on in the area as part of a region-wide and local effort to keep the bird from being listed on the Endangered Species Act. The three properties represent more 2,550 acres of grouse habitat being permanently protected.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that the Gunnison sage-grouse warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, proactive and willing local landowners have begun to partner with the Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to protect the remaining habitat on private lands on a voluntary basis to in an effort to protect the species at the state and local level and prevent the bird from being listed as endangered.

Jon Leibowitz, Conservation Director of Montezuma Land Conservancy, said:

“This project represents a great accomplishment in striking a balance between conserving productive farmland and critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse. By working locally and with landowners who want to voluntarily protect their properties, we are able to show that there are alternatives to a Federal listing. Beyond protecting sage-grouse habitat, the property also hosts productive farmland and scenic open space that benefits everyone in our community.”

Montezuma Land Conservancy also worked with seven other families in 2013, which resulted in the protection of nearly 3,000 acres. The newest conservation easements range in location from just south of Norwood in San Miguel County, to Mancos, McElmo Canyon and Lewis.

Kim and Gary Sheek were among the landowners that worked with the conservancy this year to protect their property north of Mancos. Discussing their reasons for placing and easement on their land they stated:

“The main agricultural area, the field, has been used to raise hay on it since before the Sheek family owned this land. Cattle and horses have historically grazed the hillside. We have continued to raise hay for horses, most recently for Medicine Horse, a local nonprofit facility that uses horses as therapy for people with disabilities. We want the property to retain its beauty and natural habitat for generations to come. Putting the land into a conservation easement seems like a way to achieve this goal.”

Montezuma Land Conservancy is a private nonprofit organization located in Cortez. Since 1998, the Conservancy has partnered with local landowners to complete 76 conservation easements protecting over 37,000 acres in Montezuma, Dolores, and San Miguel counties.

Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements that landowners use to protect important agricultural land, wildlife habitat and scenic open space by limiting subdivision and residential development. Lands remain in private ownership and management, and public access is not required. Financial benefits can include reduction in state, federal and estate taxes and continued agricultural property tax status. In certain cases, landowners may receive cash for protecting their land.

Upcoming film festival

Montezuma Land Conservancy will host the Wild and Scenic Film Festival on Jan. 31 at the Dolores Community Center. Considered one of the nation’s premiere environmental and adventure film festivals, this year’s films combine first-rate filmmaking, cinematography and storytelling to inform and inspire and solutions to restore earth and human communities while creating a positive future. Festivalgoers can expect to see award-winning films about nature, community, adventure, conservation, water, energy, wildlife, agriculture and Native American and indigenous cultures. There will be beer and wine and prize drawings. Admission is $12 for adults and $5 for children.

For more information, call Montezuma Land Conservancy at 565-1664 or email info@montezumaland.org.

The Montezuma Land Conservancy finished its 15th year by helping in the preservation of critical habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse. Enlargephoto

Associated Press file

The Montezuma Land Conservancy finished its 15th year by helping in the preservation of critical habitat for the Gunnison sage grouse.