How a Web-based Tool Can Stimulate Land Stewardship on Private Lands in Colorado
While land conservation in the early twentieth century was dominated by the designation of public lands at the federal and state levels, private land conservation is and will be the conservation market of the 21st century, particularly in the west.
Almost half of the western landscape (47 percent, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report) is managed by five federal agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the Department of Defense. However, even in a state like Idaho, where 62 percent of the land is under federal management, private landowners play a critical and important role in conservation.
This is not a new concept. In 1949, Aldo Leopold postulated in A Sand County Almanac: “The geography of conservation is such that most of the best land will always be held privately for agricultural production. The bulk of responsibility for conservation thus necessarily devolves upon the private custodian, especially the farmer.”
This is certainly true in Idaho, where private landowners hold 93 percent of the most productive soils, but only 34 percent of the least productive soil. By a similar measure, Idaho farmers and ranchers own the vast majority of the lowlands (approximately 90 percent of land at or below 6,000 feet) – waterways, wetlands, riparian areas, and prairies that offer the best wildlife habitat and biodiversity.
At Resources First Foundation, we recognize the essential role that Idaho’s private landowners play in the state’s conservation efforts, and last year we built the Idaho Conservation Connection (ICC) website to connect with these landowners and provide them access to the required resources they need to enhance water quality, wildlife habitat, and ensure their land remains undeveloped and productive in perpetuity.
Expanding upon the success of the ICC, Resources First is currently developing a similar product, or digital tool for the state of Colorado, where our close ties to some of the state’s private lands conservation leaders benefit informed product development. For example, in 1999, as Executive Director of the National Fish and Wildlife Service, I gave a lead grant to the then-fledgling Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, which is now sixth in the nation in total acres conserved by a statewide or regional land trust. My longtime colleague Rick Knight, Professor of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources for the Colorado State University (CSU) Warner College of Natural Resources, has also been been immensely helpful with this new project that will have tremendous impact on private landowners across the state.
In partnership with Colorado State University, Resources First Foundation’s goal with the Colorado State Conservation Connection (CSCC) is to build a web-based tool to stimulate land stewardship and wise uses of energy and natural resources on private lands in Colorado. Through the partnership with CSU we will develop a system to promote the website and measure the impact of our outreach to track the conservation process of education to implementation.
Private landowners across Colorado are working with public lands to help manage the land for greater public benefit. In Gunnison County, farmers and ranchers have already proven to be excellent stewards of the land through their efforts to conserve habitat for the federally threatened Gunnison sage-grouse, of which approximately four fifths of the population resides in its namesake county. Over 80 percent of the grouse’s priority habitat in the Gunnison Basin is now protected by a combination of Candidate Conservation Agreements, conservation easements on private land and federal and state land management.
Our hope is that the CSCC tool and our partnership with CSU will aid and encourage the conservation efforts of other private landowners across the state. The success of this type of land conservation with landowners and government agencies working in partnership bodes well for the future of wildlife and landscape level habitat management in Colorado and across the West.
Amos S. Eno is President and Founder of Resources First Foundation (RFF), and organization that designs and develops innovative digital/internet conservation programs to strengthen and sustain rural communities, economies, and green businesses. Previous to RFF, Enos was executive director of the New England Forestry Foundation and executive director of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.