Innovative program keeps working lands in operation

Community Conservation Connection provides annual payments on a per-acre basis to large agricultural operators in exchange for continuing production, limiting new development and protecting scenic views, water resources and wildlife habitat.

Community Conservation Connection, a new program led by the Central Colorado Conservancy with funding from Chaffee Common Ground, is seeing success as more rural lands stay in agricultural operation while Chaffee County experiences a period of fast-paced growth and changes.

During the first year, landowners enrolled more than 3,300 acres. The program provides annual payments on a per-acre basis in exchange for continuing agricultural production, limiting new development and protecting scenic views, water resources and wildlife habitat.

The voluntary five-year agreements secure valuable time during a period of rapid growth, when it’s more important than ever to keep land and water stewards on the land. Common Ground earmarked from $75,000 to $125,000 per year for the pilot program, which is offered in addition to traditional conservation easements that preserve land in perpetuity.

Community Conservation Connection provides landowners an opportunity to explore conservation agreements, rather than requiring a permanent commitment. The leasing approach allows buys a little bit of time and builds important relationships with the county’s largest rural landowners. 

The program is rooted in broad community appreciation for working agriculture’s contributions to quality of life and the local economy. It was catalyzed by the Envision Chaffee County initiative and developed with input from local agricultural producers.

Benefits are highly visible as protected lands provide expansive views, natural beauty and habitat for big game like antelope, elk, black bear, wild turkey, mountain lion and deer. Additional benefits are less visible but no less important: 

  • Recharge aquifers through flood irrigation
  • Provide habitat for vulnerable and protected species
  • Connect and create wildlife migration corridors between public lands
  • Retain the rural feel and quality of life in our community

Program participants are committed to conservation practices such as using organic fertilizer instead of chemicals and installing bird and bat boxes, burrowing owl tubes and raptor poles. Additional practices for wildlife include leaving hay stubble on fields for them to eat, maintaining water tanks year-round and using wildlife-friendly fencing.

Read the full Community Conservation Connection first year benefits summary here.

Central Colorado Conservancy is a nationally accredited land trust based in Salida that has secured more than 5,000 acres of land for permanent conservation easements since its creation in 2001.