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Colorado: Landscape-level preservation eyed in San Luis Valley to protect wetlands, riparian corridors & wildlife

Federal land managers are working with locals to develop a far-reaching conservation plan for the southern San Luis Valley.

Effort focusing on voluntary conservation easements and collaboration

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking some first steps toward a large-scale preservation effort in Colorado’s San Luis Valley that could ultimately protect up to 530,000 acres of wetlands, riparian corridors, and important upland habitats through voluntary conservation easements.

The agency recently held public meetings to get input from landowners and other stakeholders in the region, helping to formulate the framework for a locally-led, voluntary, cooperative partnership that will also help preserve traditional land uses.

“This project represents another opportunity for the Service to partner with the people of the San Luis Valley to protect this important landscape for both wildlife and the people that have worked these lands for generations,” said regional USFWS director said Steve Guertin.

“By beginning our partnerships in the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, we can determine the level of interest among landowners before exploring whether to broaden those partnerships to other partners elsewhere in the Valley.  At every step, we want to listen, learn, and do all we can to support the goals and vision of local landowners and the local community,” Guertin said.

The goal of the draft land protection plan is to work with landowners to buy perpetual conservation easements for up to 530,000 acres of land. Conservation easements maintain traditional uses and protect natural resource values, but extinguish most development rights.

Initial efforts will focus on the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains, where, because of the stewardship efforts of private landowners, there are opportunities to protect important wildlife migration corridors over federal, state, and private lands.  If partnerships in the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains are successful and of interest to private landowners, the Service would – at a later date – consider whether to pursue similar partnerships with private landowners in other parts of the proposed San Luis Valley Conservation Area.

The draft plan addresses conservation goals and the approach the Service will use to determine priority properties considered for partnerships and conservation easements with interested landowners. The associated environmental assessment  details the potential impacts of the proposed federal action. Any potential acquisitions of conservation easements would be from willing sellers.

An integral part of this effort is working with a coalition of local governments and other partners to protect riparian corridors used by the southwestern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo by developing a San Luis Valley Habitat Conservation Plan, which is expected to be available in fall 2012.

For more information about the Service’s partnership work in the San Luis Valley or the SLV Refuge Complex, to view the draft EA/LPP, or to subscribe to the mailing list, please visit: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/planning/lpp/co/slv/slv.html.

Comments will be accepted during the meetings or via letters addressed to: Dr. Mike Dixon, Planning Team Leader, P.O. Box 25486, Denver, CO 80225-0486; or via email to SLVrefugesplanning@fws.gov.

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