Golden gift for Bair Ranch |

Golden gift for Bair Ranch

Lynn BurtonPost Independent Staff

Open space proponents got a $400,000 boost toward preserving the 6,000-acre Golden Bair Ranch Wednesday, but several million dollars are still needed to ink the deal.”This is a start,” said third-generation ranch owner Craig Bair, after learning Great Outdoors Colorado awarded $400,000 in lottery funds to The Conservation Fund for its plan to buy a conservation easement on his historic ranch.Bair, 50, declined to reveal the total amount it will take for him to put a conservation easement on his ranch. “But we’re short of what we need to have. If more people cough up the money, we can get ‘er done.”Those people include the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Eagle County open space program, and the Eagle Valley Land Trust, according to The Conservation Fund’s lottery funds application.Bair Ranch sits on the south side of the Colorado River at the east end of Glenwood Canyon. Bair said he has worked on placing a conservation easement on his ranch for two years, because he doesn’t want to sell to developers.Conservation easements are permanent, legal documents that severely restrict property from being developed, but at the same time allow for ranching, recreation and a handful of other uses, according to the Eagle Valley Land Trust. Property owners make money they could have otherwise gotten by selling out to developers when a third party, like The Conservation Fund, pays them to place a conservation easement on their property.Bair Ranch is surrounded by federal lands, and the BLM is angling to become a major player in paying for the conservation easement. Jamie Connell, BLM Glenwood Springs area manager, said her agency has asked for $4.5 million in federal funds for 2003, and another $2.2 million in the next 10 years.Part of the BLM’s money would come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, fed by offshore gas and oil drilling royalties, Connell said. Connell said the Bair Ranch is the Colorado BLM’s No. 1 priority for a Land and Water Conservation Fund appropriation, but other BLM regions put in their own funding requests. “It’s a competitive process,” Connell said.Eagle County could help fund the Bair Ranch conservation easement through its new open space property tax, which voters approved in November. Eagle County attorney Diane Mauriello said the tax is to fund open space acquisitions, but the county won’t start collecting those taxes for a year.”That money won’t be available for two years,” Bair said. “I want to get something done in a shorter period.”President George W. Bush’s 2003 budget, presented last January, also included $1.5 million for the Bair Ranch conservation easement. That part of the federal budget has not yet been approved, Connell said.Bair said he’d like to keep his property for wildlife, open space and his own ranching operation. With the price of sheep down and the drought, it’s tough to stay in business.”It would be easy to sell,” Bair said.Great Outdoors Colorado also funded other local projects in its current funding cycle:-Silt was awarded $14,970 to replace playground equipment.-The Consolidated Metro District was awarded $10,000 for a playground addition at the Battlement Mesa Activity Center.In all, Great Outdoors Colorado awarded $3.9 million to protect 15,000 acres of open space and $7.6 million for other projects across the state.Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext.

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