Nature Noted

Notes on a changing Nature

Location: Bellville, Texas, United States

I never would have predicted this one

Monday, July 04, 2005

Buying Colorado

One of the nation's largest land trust funding organizations, GOCO, which stands for Great Outdoors Colorado, is catching flak for relying primarily on easements as it spends the proceeds from the state lottery. The Rocky Mountain News reports that one state legislator says the board which controls GOCO is spending its money on easements because it has an aversion to acquiring land that would be publicly owned.
"They have broken faith with the voters by de-emphasizing acquisition of land," said state Sen. Dan Grossman, D-Denver. "They don't like the idea of the state holding title to land. If you're not acquiring land, there's no reason to use bonding."
GOCO officials dispute Grossman's characterization. They say they have preserved thousands of acres in the past year and GOCO still will have the capacity to issue bonds in the future. ....."We went through a tremendous amount of work to take care of the most urgent needs in the state," GOCO executive director John Swartout said. "In the Laramie foothills, we were able to buy 50,000 acres (with) cash. We preserved our ability to use that bond funding if we need it."................
"When the voters passed GOCO, they thought it was for the acquisition of land," said state Rep. Tom Plant, D-Nederland. "That's the way it was presented. The people felt they were acquiring land for public use and preservation. Conservations easements can take a number of forms, many of which completely exclude the public."
Grossman said that a preference for conservation easements reflects a hostility toward the public ownership of land on the part of many -GOCO board members, who are appointed by the governor.
"They'd rather see conservation easements," Grossman said. "It reflects the philosophy of the administration."
But Dan Hopkins, spokesman for Gov. Bill Owens, said that Owens has never opposed the purchase of land.
"GOCO has acquired a fair amount of open space during the governor's tenure," Hopkins said. "The governor leaves those decisions to the GOCO board."
Swartout said that GOCO is simply trying to preserve as much land as it can and that using conservation easements makes sense. Paying for a conservation easement is much cheaper than buying property, and Swartout says that much more land can be protected from development that way. He doesn't disguise his annoyance at the criticism of GOCO.
"These politicians are sitting in Denver, making speeches, and we're using the tools that work to preserve land in this state," he said. "Sometimes it's fee title (land purchase), and sometimes it's conservation easements."

No one disputes that GOCO is spending money. Now it may actually know what it has spent all those lotto dollars on. The Rocky also reports GOCO will spend $200,000 to fund a mapping project by Colorado State University's Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory to build a comprehensive map of all the lands now being preserved.
In all, 27 cities and nine counties in Colorado have some kind of open space acquisition program. There are also dozens of land trusts working around the state. They arrange for ranchers and farmers to sell off the development rights to their land, known as "conservation easements." They can keep working the land, and the public can enjoy the wide-open vistas that for many people define Colorado"
The project is expected to take two years.


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