The conservation values protected by the easement include productive agricultural ranchland, relatively natural habitat, and open space, as follows: 1) agriculturally productive ranchland that includes meadows, shrublands, and forest that are highly suitable for livestock grazing and shelter; 2) relatively natural plant communities including sagebrush and grassland meadows, mountain shrubland, oak-juniper woodland, pinyon-juniper woodland, and forest comprised of aspen and Douglas fir riparian forest, along with two seasonal drainages, approximately one mile of Knights Canyon and 0.5 mile of Dawson Draw, which together provide significant habitat for elk, mule deer, black bear and other wildlife; 3) and highly scenic open space of a natural and rural ranchland character, visible to the public from nearby public lands.
The property straddles two different watersheds and includes multiple ecological transition areas with distinct co-evolved plant communities. The property is adjacent to the McKenna Peak proposed wilderness area on the south and is also bordered on the north and east by BLM lands. It provides migration corridors from Disappointment Valley and associated climates to higher elevation ecosystems. Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust holds the easement, and 22 development rights were retired.
To date, County Open Space has participated financially in the protection of 11,400 acres of productive agricultural ranchland, relatively natural habitat and open space in the west central part of the county and another 690 acres of open space in the east end. Total county open space expenditures since 1999 is approximately $2,000,000 which leveraged $3,785,000 from Great Outdoors Colorado and $1,332,000 in private sector/non-profit fundraising. Total value donated by all the land owners exceeds $11,150,000.
The press release states: “The County Open Space Commission wishes to acknowledge the vision and generosity of Bobby and Charlene Starks and all landowners in the program. Because of their actions, some of San Miguel County’s iconic landscapes will be protected for generations to come. We also thank the Telluride Foundation for local matching funds and the residents of San Miguel County who provided a dedicated funding source when they passed measure 1A in November of 2001.”
For information about the county’s land preservation program, call 970/369-5469 or go to the county website at www.sanmiguelcounty.org/departments/openspace/index.html.