Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group

Colorado West Land Trust - Rob Bleiberg - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group

January 26, 2022 Rob Bleiberg Season 2 Episode 1
Full Circle with The Christi Reece Group
Colorado West Land Trust - Rob Bleiberg - Full Circle With The Christi Reece Group
Show Notes Transcript

Christi sits down with Rob Bleiberg from the Colorado West Land Trust to talk about their mission to protect and enhance agricultural land, wildlife habitat and scenic lands in Western Colorado!

Find out how you can donate, volunteer and learn more at https://cowestlandtrust.org/.

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Speaker 1:

The full circle podcast, compelling interviews and incredible tales from Colorado's Western slope, from the mountains to the desert Christie , Reese , and her team here from the movers, shakers, and characters of the grand valley and surrounding mountain towns that make the Western slope, the place we all love. You'll learn. You'll laugh. You'll love with the full circle. Hi everyone. This is Christie Reese . Welcome back to the full circle podcast. I am excited and honored today to welcome our guest . Rob Lineberg the executive director of the Colorado west land trust . Welcome Rob.

Speaker 2:

Thank you for having me Christie . It's great to be with you really excited

Speaker 1:

To have you here . There's a lot to , to talk about in land conservation, and let's start with a little bit about you. How did you get involved in land conservation and, and with the land trust in particular?

Speaker 2:

Well, I got involved in the land when land conservation, just after, during college. And I, I recognize that that's where my passions were, that's where they AI and , and I wanted to figure out an opportunity to impact communities and to impact communities and to advocate for conservation in a way that was collaborative and that built community mm-hmm <affirmative> . And so the land trust world was very appealing to me for that reason. And I started with what was then the Mesa county land conservative C in 1996. So I've been with the land trust here in the grand valley, since, since the mid nineties mm-hmm <affirmative>

Speaker 1:

And I was reading your bio and it said that you , um, have an M uh , Ms in natural resource policy and a BA in American studies . So you really were thinking about land conservation when you were getting your education.

Speaker 2:

No question. And trying to figure out it's a pretty big field arena and which, which aspects of it were most appealing to me. And where did I wanna spend my time and my efforts and , and the land trust has been a great fit.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And how did you get to grand junction?

Speaker 2:

I , I came here , uh, to work for the land trust. I, I had been in Colorado for oh about seven years and had lived on the west slope and over on the front range and had just finished up a master's degree and , and was looking for a job. And a group of Palisade farmers were in the process of hiring their first staff person and , uh, thought I'd be here for a few years. And all of a sudden it's it's 25 years later. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

So Harry Albo was very instrumental in getting the land conservation program started here. Is that who you're referring to? Yeah,

Speaker 2:

Harry , um, was part of, he was my first boss. He was the president of the board when I got hired. And so Harry and John Butler, endorse Butler and Ivan and Jane Wood, and some other Palisade area growers started the land trust in the, in 1980, as they saw the, the boom of the oil shell going on across Western Colorado. And they recognized that if they wanted to see orchards around palest , they'd be part of our community's future. They needed to take action. It wasn't gonna happen without them stepping up and figuring out some solutions.

Speaker 1:

And how did the timing of their , uh, beginning of that group , um , compare to the rest of Colorado? Were they ahead of other communities in , in kind of establishing those, those visions for the future?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. Harry and , and J on and Ivan and , and the other folks, bla , Derek and others, they were really visionary. And which is interesting because you don't always think of farmers who are in middle age as being progressive and forward looking and visionary, but, but they certainly were. And so we were probably the one of the first four. So land trust formed in the state for first four or five.

Speaker 1:

That's awesome. And they were thinking probably mostly about the oil and gas exploration, but they couldn't have imagined the real estate boom that we're having now and how that has changed our landscape.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. They , I mean, they had been around long enough to see these natural resource, boom and bus cycles with uranium, other and other things over the years. And so they, they really felt that the land around us, the agriculture and the wildlife, that those were really enduring values that needed to be protected for the long term future of, of the west slope and of this community in particular.

Speaker 1:

So what are some of the , um, particulars of our land trust mission here in Mac county, and, and obviously you have merged with another land trust group. So you serve a wider range today, but let's focus for a minute on just the grand valley and Mesa county. What are some of the particulars of your mission here?

Speaker 2:

Well, our, our mission, I is multifaceted it all centers and revolves around conservation. And so we are looking at, at conservation as in its own, right. For how do we protect the most important wildlife habitat, scenic lands? How do we maintain a land base for agriculture? So that's part of our economy. So it's part of our quality of life. And then over the years, we've recognized that they have many different ways to serve this immunity . And so we got involved in about 2010 with work around monument road that involves public recreation. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and that's been an important, thank you for that, by the way. Yes . Yeah, no , it's, we all benefit from that in many, many ways. And , uh, and then we also have focused in the last few years specifically on how can we connect our community to in nature? How can we provide opportunities for access to nature? And so monument, road's a great example of that. And we're delighted by the monument road trail, the concrete path now connecting the Riverside neighborhood to, to the lunch loop network trail network,

Speaker 1:

And more connection to come.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's one of our , um, exciting projects coming up right now is we are working closely with the city and what we're calling phase two of the monument trail, and that'll extend from the lunch loop , parking lot up to south camp road mm-hmm <affirmative> . And we're excited about that for a number of reasons. One of which is all of a sudden with that completion of that trail segment, we'll have a , a 10 mile loop off trail paved that is accessible for our community that goes up monument road down south camp , Redlands park way down to the riverfront trail. So we're really adding value to these other trails that have been built over the years in this community as well. Absolutely.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. So you mentioned , um, the , the recreation piece of it is that included in a lot of land conservation missions or, or is that kind of a surprise to you the way that happened?

Speaker 2:

I think a lot of land trusts around the country have recognized that this is an important way to serve communities. So I saw a statistic about 75% of land trust in the country have some land holdings that involve public access. It might be a nature park. It might be trails like we have here, but we are looking more and more about at the question of how do we serve communities? How do we engage communities? How do we connect kids to nature? Especially in these days when the average American youth is spending something like seven minutes, each a and unstructured outdoor time mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Speaker 1:

So you are tasked with identifying properties that would be , uh, would, would fit into the, the puzzle of conservation, whether that be for access or views or agriculture, but also people come to you to say is my , um , a viable piece of land for conservation.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. We have a mix of what I would call proactive, strategic outreach and work. And then we also are opportunistic and reactive when, when a landowner approaches us with a project that fits our criteria and advances our mission mm-hmm <affirmative>.

Speaker 1:

And, and talk about the reach over Western Colorado now that you have joined with the other land trust group.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So in , yeah, in , in 20, so we, we formally merged last year. We , our it's in 2019, October of 2019 with the black canyon regional land trust , which was based in Montrose. And that group in turn was a combination of a land trust in Paonia and a land trust in S and so we merged and we, so we now serve , uh , six Colorado counties and we work in grand county, Utah as well. So from just over the state line to , uh , blue maca reservoir, and then from the crest of the San Juans to the book cliffs as well. So it's, I'm a little partial, but I think it's the best part of Colorado. Oh,

Speaker 1:

I'm, I'm a little partial as well.

Speaker 2:

<laugh> we , we , we even get to lake city Christie . So I know that that area is near and dear. It is so we're , we were doing some work on, on the lake fork of the Gunness and watershed.

Speaker 1:

Oh, I love hearing that. That's great. Um, what are some of your favorite projects the land trust has accomplished?

Speaker 2:

You're asking me to pick a favorite child

Speaker 1:

Here. Sorry, not your favorite , um , notable, maybe some that have been particularly challenging, maybe.

Speaker 2:

Sure. Well, a couple we'll start here right here in Mesa county. Um , and , and we'll start with the land that the land trusts was really formed to protect, and that's the orchard land around Palisade. And what we have there is this, I mean, it's an incredibly small and incredibly important area for our community. It's it's, there are probably 3000 little bit over 3000 acres of fruit and production in maca county. So it's , it's only six, it's only , um, five square miles of land. It's a tiny area it's in 20 acre orchards. And so it's very fragmented. Mm-hmm <affirmative> . And so it's a challenging conservation objective, but it's also critically important. And so over the years through our persistent work, in the wonderful , uh , vision of, of so many fruit growers, we've been able to protect over 40 family farms in the Palisade area. And our goal is to protect a critical mass of, of orchard land. So that into the future there's land available for commercial fruit industry. And when I say fruit, I mean wine as well. Mm-hmm <affirmative> . And , uh , we , we are very , um, proud out of that work and it's ongoing. And we think that , uh, the fact that I think people take that landscape almost for granted. Now they love it. They think it's wonderful, and they just, of course, it's there. Well, that's only there because of the hard work of producers and other folks who want to make sure that's part of our community's future mm-hmm

Speaker 1:

<affirmative>. And thank you to the landowners, the , uh , participate and think it's important.

Speaker 2:

I mean, no question. And all of our work that we do is voluntary. It's incentive based . And so landowners who choose to work with us , uh , it's their discretion. And so we are very grateful I'm humbled time. And again, by landowners who wreck that they're making some economic sacrifices in early in order to protect their farmer ranch or wildlife habitat for, for the future.

Speaker 1:

It really it's giving me goosebumps just talking about it. And I think anybody that drives the fruit and wine by way , or any of those scenic roads knows how important it is to preserve that, that feel. I mean, it's, it's big part of

Speaker 2:

Our community. It is, and it, it has an outsized economic impact on us. Um, the , the wine industry, maybe a thousand acres of grapes in the entire state, and it's producing , uh , over 150 million of economic activity for the state. And a lot of that is agritourism . So it's people coming into our community discovering how wonder fold is , um , spending money. And some of them will relocate there and others will come, we'll go home and come back later. So it it's, it's great impact for our community. Awesome.

Speaker 1:

Any other projects that stand out as being particularly , um, difficult or rewarding when accomplished?

Speaker 2:

Well, I, the , the work along monument road , uh , has been wonderful for us and , and that represented a , a , a big change for us in 2010 to look at moving from working lands and , and land that did not involve , um, trails and public access to a project that, that like the monument road, that it's all about public access and , and recreation. And it what's been for me really rewarding. There is it's been now, we've been in this for over 10 years now. And to build that trail that we all enjoy required us to acquire. I think it was 11 different property interests and to work with the city and GOCO, great outdoors, Colorado, and others to raise about 5 million. So the work , um, it's, it's long term work, and it takes long time to get this completed and the benefits reverberate for, for years for generations. And

Speaker 1:

I wanna talk in , I wanna come back to funding in a minute, but , um, talk about your relationships with other entities in town, because obviously you have to work closely with county city governments , uh , to get some of these projects accomplished, especially like the, the monument project, but talking about how these lands can benefit the community as a whole. You have to have, there are other stakeholders, right?

Speaker 2:

No question. And our ability to get things done depends on us successfully building release relationships with, with landowners, with , uh , local government, with other interest groups, our stakeholders, our nonprofits. And we, we we've recognized early on that if we can get so much more done by working in partnership with others. And that's really been a, a principle strategy for us is how do we develop the relationships to extend our reach? And there's some great examples up along monument road. The restoration work that has been going on since the trail was built, has been carried out by volunteers it's been done with in partnership with the Eureka math and science center. It's, we've had a wonderful, ongoing partnership with the Riverside educational center, and I was to see their support from you. Thank you, Christie . And the absolutely the giving circle. It's just wonderful. Um, the Riverside pro the Riverside educational work, the partnership with the Riverside educational center has been really cool for a number of reasons, but, you know, most importantly, we're providing opportunities for kids to get outside, play, learn,

Speaker 1:

And just learn about those connections in our community

Speaker 2:

And just to get involved in , in healthy outdoor activities, which is awesome. And, and we're also excited because we started partnering with, with rec , uh , and found secured some funding and partnership to provide outdoor programming. And, and the <inaudible> educational center has really embraced that and for found additional resources after we've left the table. So it , it's wonderful to plant that seed and to see it flourish and to see the ongoing benefits to the kids in the community. Yeah .

Speaker 1:

There's some great things happening here. And I , I wanna commend you and Libby and the rest of your staff. When we started talking about your history with the land trust, you said you wanted to get involved in something that really , um, brought a community together. And I have to say, Rob, that you do that so well. I mean, I'm just always impressed by your depth of knowledge, your professionalism, and your ability to bring people together and, and have a vision for things it's really amazing.

Speaker 2:

That's very kind of you to say that Christine and a lot of , you know , the lion share of the credit goes to the staff members, Libby , uh , Ilana , Moyer, David Varner , uh , to name a few. And then we've got a wonderful engaged board of directors that helps us build bridges and work in partnership across the community. Great.

Speaker 1:

So let's talk about funding a little bit. How do you secure your funding when you need to buy a piece of property or that's your goal? And , um, when someone comes in and wants to conserve a piece of land, what's that process look like for them and what are the financial benefits? And you could talk a little bit about the, the house bill that was passed in 2021 on

Speaker 2:

Great. There's, there's a lot there, so I'll see if I can, okay . I get to all of it, or at least most of it. Um, the , the , the capital funding, when we go out and look at a property along monument road, or now we're looking at a 1.6 million trail extension project with the city. And for those capital projects, it's, it's typically a mix, excuse me, a mix of, of , uh , public of public funding. So in this case , uh , we're looking at a very significant financial investment from the city mm-hmm , <affirmative> , we'll go to great outdoors, Colorado, which is lottery money in the state, which is constitutionally directed towards parks and recreation and open space. And then we will also look at private funders as well. And for the big capital purchases, it's , it's often , uh , public money. That leads the way. So those grants from the state, there are some , um , farm bill programs for farm land conservation and other grants there. And then typically , so you guys

Speaker 1:

Are applying for grants all the time.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And , and it's, it varies for capital versus our operating budget. So with the operating budget, we have about a million dollar operating budget, and that's a mix of, of, of contributions from about 600 donors in the community foundation grants. Uh , we do have some resources set aside that spin off money for our stewarding, the easement portfolio, and all explain that jargon a little later that we, that we have now. Okay. Yeah. And then for, for a lot of the conservation easements, we have seen the state and the legislature continue to , uh , approve laws or past bills that, that increase incentives for private landowners to conserve land. It it's, it's part of the Colorado DNA that we care about the landscape and the places . So conservation is hugely important. And so what we see is , um, with this latest bill that's been passed is that land owners who donate a conservation agreement whereby they're agreeing to not develop their land, they are eligible for a very generous state tax credit mm-hmm <affirmative> . And I will spare everybody the details right

Speaker 1:

Now, but a much higher percentage than was did before.

Speaker 2:

Yes. It , it , it makes of the property value. Correct. And there's a complicated appraisal Val per process, where they look at appra looks at what's the land worth on the open market. What's it worth with those restrictions in place? And then the , the difference between those two is the value of the conservation agreement. And then there's a tax credit that is based on that. Okay. For, for folks listening who wanna learn more, I I'll stop there, but please contact our office and we can give you plenty of information. If you have insomnia, this might be a solution for you as with any

Speaker 1:

House bill, right. There's a lot of reading.

Speaker 2:

Yeah . But the , I mean, the long and short is that the state recognizes that for, for this wonderful place to be conserved and passed on to future generations, we need to provide incentives to private landowners, the ranchers and farmers, whose land we pass. They provide a lot of public goods and public benefits. It's not just the food or fiber. It's, it's the wildlife habitat. It's the views, it's the sense of place. And so we want to encourage those land owners to, to , to conserve their land and to give them options so that they can make good decisions for their families.

Speaker 1:

Wonderful. So obviously you rely on , on some donations from the, the communities. Um, if somebody wants to get involved, wants to donate, they can go to the website, but you have fundraisers throughout the year as well. And when you have a project coming up, you often, you know, are out asking for donations.

Speaker 2:

We certainly do in it's co west land trust , all one word.org do org , and you can learn more about the organization. You can learn about ways to get involved and ways to financially support the organization as well. And we rely on that those, the donors make all of our work possible.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, could you talk a little bit about the , um, I look at my notes, cuz I don't wanna misspeak the , the selenium in the, in the water and how that has affected some of the projects there , the salinity.

Speaker 2:

So there's, there's a , a , been a , an ongoing effort for, for many, many years to , uh, reduce salt loading in selenium, in the Afghanistan and Colorado river in the to river basin. And it turns out that the , um, the , the around , across Western Colorado, we are, we have these , uh, the geology features, these shale , uh , layers that underlay Mo a lot of farm ground. And if, if water is not applied well for irrigation, the water will percolate down and dissolve salts and migrate back to the river mm-hmm <affirmative> <affirmative> . And so there's a program in place, the only control program , uh , where ditch companies are, are lining canals and putting canals and pipes. And we've seen some of this in the grand valley. And , and the reason for that is to reduce salt loading. It also provides some other benefits in terms of water conservation. Unfortunately, that work also may dry up wetlands that have, that have been created along the ditches and canals and the cottonwoods that you see along canals O over the decades. And so there's some, some mitigation work that needs to happen with each of these ditch lining projects. And so we are looking at, can we partner with some of the ditch companies and help them , uh , protect wetlands and, and recreate, or reestablish rehabilitate wetlands in order to, to mitigate the impact of the Sali control mm-hmm <affirmative> because

Speaker 1:

The salinity does affect the fish. It

Speaker 2:

Affects the fish and a lot of things, water quality downstream. And so there's a lot is one area where our downstream friends are, are excited to put money into this project because they have higher water quality and it's cheaper for them to filter their water and so forth. If, if we are able to keep, if we're able to reduce the salt loading

Speaker 1:

From , um, an , uh , a macro perspective, and then coming down into our community, what are some of the biggest issues you see coming in 22 that will affect land conservation?

Speaker 2:

Well , I think water is certainly the biggest issue facing Western Colorado mm-hmm <affirmative> . And so , uh , we are looking very carefully now about how we benefit our communities, how we work around this , this issue of water scarcity. And , and the fact is that with each of these conservation agreements that we've acquired over the 40 years, we've been in existence. And, and we've now protected about 500 different properties, about 125,000 acres across the, the six counties in Colorado and grand county, Utah. And a lot of those properties involve irrigated a culture and lot in each of these conservation agreements , um, has language restricting how that water can be used. And so we are doing an inventory of, of our impact over the decades. And we also are looking at projections for how water supplies may change over time. And that will be in a very important factor as we look at new projects and where we invest our money in farmland conservation mm-hmm <affirmative>, and , and also related to water, you know, we've had horrible drought, obviously for quite some time. And so we're also looking at, are there things that we can do to help our communities be more resilient in the face of drought in the face of wildfire? And so we have a major effort right now looking at which properties that we protected are most important from a wildfire perspective. And how can we, how can we partner with landowners with whom we've already completed these conservation agreements? How can we work with them to improve habitat, to improve , uh, to , to re to improve forest health? So these areas are less prone to experience catastrophic wildfire, and we're doing a demonstration project , uh, right now, actually, as we speak up down in Ure county on log hill Mesa folks know where that is just south of Ridgeway, just west of the reservoir in the state park there. And we have a conservation, we are working with a landowner who's donated a conserv agreement, and his property is right on the as department, just , um , upwind of hundreds of houses. And his property is prone to lightning strikes given its location. So we're working with him in , uh , a group called the west region wildfire council, which focuses on, on fire readiness to do some habitat work on that property that will make that property , um, more resilient, less likely to go up in flames if there's a lightning strike, or if there is a fire, you know, more likely to be a , a ground fire that that does not cause catastrophic

Speaker 1:

Issues. And that's a really timely subject considering the wildfires up and bull older county that were just devastating. And I think we just , uh , recorded a , a piece for , um, airing next week, talking about being prepared for a wildfire. I mean, some of those people didn't have time to go home at all and get anything. It was so fast moving . So we need , we really need to be prepared here.

Speaker 2:

No, and then we also had the example, of course, this past summer of all of the mud slides in Glenwood canyon. And so trying to figure out, have we conserved properties , uh , that would , would really adversely impact our communities if they burn . So are they, properties are important that are important for domestic water supply, for example, and are , are they properties and might , uh , that , that might include important stream reaches that Harbor and , uh , native Colorado cutthroat trout mm-hmm <affirmative> that we , we can't see those areas . We don't wanna see those areas burn in that water quality decrease in , in those trout populations threatened. So we're, we're looking at, at the work that we've done, and we recognize that with hundreds of landowners that we have a relationship with, and that we've partnered with, we can do some wonderful restoration work and habitat work. We're doing another project up on glad park right now that is a watershed wide , um, restoration and Reve restoration project. And so we're working with private landowners , um , and public agencies are involved. The BLM is involved in the , the state , um , parks and wildlife is involved and looking at how can we improve habitat , um, in some areas that have been irrigated historically that, that don't have sufficient water. Now we're looking at, can we work with those ranchers to put in , uh , a more drought tolerant grass mix that will benefit wildlife and, and livestock as well.

Speaker 1:

So in a project like that, is , is that something that the land trust had as a focus or how , how did that project come to be on your

Speaker 2:

Radar? That's a great question in that situation. We've, we've done some restoration work in various places in our service area . We wanted to scale that. And we had a wonderful situation, an opportunity with a ranch owner there who was doing a lot of restoration work and wanted to , um, wanted to increase its impact and increase the geographic reach of that work. And the little Dolores watershed is a great place to do that because we've done many, many projects over the decades with, with ranchers up in that, in that neighborhood. And so we have , um, we're starting with this one ranch, and we are working our way up the watershed up the stream to, to work with other partners. And the goal is to really impact the entire watershed and , and make that, that specific drainage, more resilient to low water flows and just, just a healthier place for wildlife over time. And , and of course the residents of that community, and there's a wildfire mitigation , uh , component to that project as well.

Speaker 1:

Wow. It, it must, I , I think about all the, the, a patchwork of all the different properties, it must get you so excited. And sometimes I , I think I would be a little bit overwhelmed thinking, oh, over here, and then over there and over there, I mean, that's, that's a lot of different , um, types of projects, lots of different types of lands, lots of different locations. How do you keep track of everything?

Speaker 2:

No question. And in , um , mentioned Harry Tobit earlier, Harry, for those who didn't have the chance to meet him loved , um, a good one liner . And he always said that we are surrounded by insurmountable opportunity. And so we are working to surmount that <laugh> and , um, we, we look at at how can we partner with others in the leverage, our resources? So the wildfire work, we're partnering with a nonprofit called the west region wildfire council, the work on glad park I described, we're partnering with rivers edge west, we're partnering with the con the Western Colorado conservation core , uh , public agencies, private land owners . So collaboration is really critical if we hope to extend our reach and have the impact that we want to have. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Let's talk about wildlife for a minute, because I think that we all know that , um, wildlife corridors have become threatened in many areas of Western Colorado. And what are we doing in Mesa county and the , and the wider region to help with , um, animal migration and

Speaker 2:

Things like that. That's a great question. And , and I think , uh, people don't always recognize how important the private lands are to the health of our, our wildlife populations. They think, oh, we have 75% public land in Mesa county. Why don't we want , we don't need anymore more ? And the reality is, is that , uh , for example, DRL move from often they'll move from BLM land in the desert through, you know, and , and make their way to the top of the grand Mesa or the top of , uh , pin me song , glad park. And between those that BLM land and the national forest land is an awful lot of private land. And so <affirmative> , we've had wonderful success stories on glad park, for example, and in plateau valley connecting , uh , and , you know, protecting entire watersheds. So that, for example, in plateau valley , um , wildlife that might spend part of the winter on state owned wildlife habitat , um , down near plateau Creek have entire drainages that they can, that are under conservation easement that are available for them to migrate all the way up to the , the forest service land for their summer range. Mm-hmm <affirmative> . And so we continue to build on that, on that work, and we've done extensive mapping of the wildlife corridors and identified the most important properties. And again, this mix of proactive outreach and opportunism when landowners approach us.

Speaker 1:

And is it mainly focused around deer and elk? Or do you have, I mean, I know I, there's a lot of bear in the area. There's some , um, cats that come down and I know from the monument and, and what about Foel and, and , uh, I love seeing the , um, oh my gosh. Drawing a blank, not the hers, not the geese, the cranes, the cranes. I love seeing the cranes in Delta and yeah,

Speaker 2:

It's wonderful. Yeah. So different. We , we will focus on different wildlife species in different areas. And so , um , I've mentioned glad park, a number of times I'll mention it again. The there's a population of Gunness and Sage grouse , which is an endangered , uh , bird. Um , and, and we've protected, I wanna say about 75% of the private land that, that is harbors, that those birds, where they , where they spend their life <affirmative> . Yeah . And so that's obviously critical for that species. We , um, we , we are very, and so it very , really varies around the region and there are areas where we are very focused on , um , on fish habitat and important stream reaches where we wanna protect the, the private land above those streams to help ensure water quality, for example.

Speaker 1:

And again , uh , probably a mix of you all targeting something that's important. And, and also with land owners coming to you saying, Hey, this is going on in my land.

Speaker 2:

That's right. We're working on a project right now , uh , with , uh, over near Crawford. And it's , uh , uh , it's a , it's a landowner who owns a couple hundred acres that is strategic located between public land and , and a large conserved private ranch. And this, this is a , uh , powerful story for me. This it's a couple. And , um, the, the , uh , gentleman recently passed from cancer and , and one of his wishes , uh , one of his legacies will be preservation of this bird habitat. He's an active wildlife photographer , um , beautiful images. And he was committed to protecting his property because he understood how it laid on the landscape and connected these other areas. And we hoped to close that project in the spring. And so that was an example where , uh , the landowners approached us and we, we recognized it was a great rate fit for our organization. And we're delighted to work with

Speaker 1:

Them. When you got a piece of property in a , in a very rugged area, that's probably not , uh , suited for agriculture , uh , probably not suited for development , um, and is , um, not suited for mining either. What are, what are your goal and what are the advantages to still conserving that property of , you know, a lot of people I'm sure think, well, why do we need to give this person a tax credit? They can't develop that land anyway. Mm-hmm <affirmative>,

Speaker 2:

Well, the , the , the tax intents are gonna be based on, on values that they give up. So if it's a , a property with, with no access that doesn't have good market value, there's not gonna be much of a tax benefit there, but for other properties, th this is a way to protect habitat. It's a way to protect scenery. We are very interested in, in the lands, along our scenic byways in Western Colorado. So UN canyon leaps to mine , the grand maces scenic by we've done a lot of work along the west scenic byway . And so we'll look at that property and determine, are , are there public benefits? And so we we've say , we say no. If we were , we've worked with a number of landowners that have properties that are within the city limits, that, that , um, are in the district. And these landowners have approached us and we've looked at the property and we've said, you know, this is great, but it , it doesn't provide public access. It doesn't provide important habitat. It doesn't provide a view shed , you know, from a of the monument, from a public road mm-hmm <affirmative> . And so we , um , we'll say, you know, we'll politely decline that off . It's gotta be

Speaker 1:

Hard though, for someone that wants to conserve land,

Speaker 2:

It is . And , and we, we support the , the desire. And we also recognize that the tools that we use are, have a huge impact, and that can be really positive. And, and it also is something that we really need to be thoughtful about . So , um, obviously housing is a crisis in Western Colorado right now on many other places. And, and so we are really careful here in Mesa county. For example, we do not do a lot of work within the, the area, the sewer, the 2 0 1 sewer district, which is the area that the community has invested in. And we think , um, you know, that's where the communities decided that development they will develop should happen. And so we'll look at those properties really carefully. And unless there's something really compelling about that specific parcel, we'll say no. And we do say yes to projects along the riverfront for riverfront trail along monument road. We acquire a property, right? The corner of south camp and monument, because we figured that was a really important , um, piece of open space for this community, for folks entering the national monument. It's also a great Terminus for this trail extension that we're building now. So , uh , there's a lot that goes into each of these projects and a lot of consideration about what are the long term benefits, what are their long term costs

Speaker 1:

On the monument road project? What's the timeline on that? And when do you hope to be completed? And then what's the next stage? Is there a next stage? Yeah, that's

Speaker 2:

A great question. Um , the goal is to break ground and work with the city to secure the funding and break ground this year. Um, I mean, I'm not sure when that will happen. We'll be delighted to have a ribbon, a chain breaking a ribbon cutting in the next year. I don't know if that's gonna happen, but that's, that's what we're shooting for. And so the goal there is, is to, again, con connect south camp in the, in the off road , pedestrian path there to the lunch loop area. We continue to work with other landowners in the area, and we want to see if we can build out more trail connectivity, but the major themes in , in the Redlands right now, at least along the monument road area, the major theme is, is trail can activity. And , um, and we're also looking at some other properties around there, but it , it it's it's how do we knit this together and add value for the community? Mm-hmm

Speaker 1:

<affirmative> well , I wanna say a big thank you for the , that property, because I live out in the Redlands and you can't take your dog in the monument, which is a real bummer <laugh> on some days when you think I really wanna go for hanging Miami , but when dogs looking at me, like, take me please. Um, but that's a really nice place to go walk the dog, and it's much appreciated.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And so plans there you ask next plans. One of them will be to , uh, work with the city and put some modest infrastructure on that property, some parking and , uh, and then some trails that connect

Speaker 1:

Some dog poop

Speaker 2:

And some dogs. Yeah. Some places peanut poop, trash bags. That's right. Your dogs poop. I that's

Speaker 1:

Right. Yeah . <laugh> yeah . Yeah . Really important. And are there any other projects upcoming that you wanna share? I mean, you talked about the blade park , um , restoration

Speaker 2:

Work. Yeah . Mm-hmm <affirmative> we are doing, I mean, it's funny people ask me what's going on with the land trust and, and they'll get this sort of blank stare because I don't know where to start. Uh , but the reality is that we have some fabulous, very different fabulous projects going on across, across Western Colorado here in Mesa county, we are working on , um, a , a , a significant farm conservation easement in the lower valley. We're working on habitat projects in plateau valley. We are continuing to work along the monument road corridor. We are working with at least one fruit going fruit growing family. We also are, are a new, a project that I'm really excited about is also , um , a new effort we're taking on in partnership with , at the county and a group called trust for public land in Clifton. And we're looking at how can we support that community and provide some access to nature we're looking at? Are there opportunities to connect the riverfront trail and some, some land publicly owned land along the river to the Rocky mountain elementary school. And we're also looking at the possibility of acquiring land that could be a nature park in that area. And other as , you know, parks, the park would be a multiuse park, but a nature theme park for that community, just to have opportunities for those kids to get outside and pick up rocks and look what's underneath and, and just play in the woods. Or, and it's something that I think people take for grant it. And it's also something that's not attainable for many in our community. And, and we think that hurts us all.

Speaker 1:

I think that's a great project and that would be then connected by the riverfront trails to Palisade. And

Speaker 2:

That that's the goal there out outside of Mesa county, we're doing some project, some work I'm really excited about in Delta county. We're working on a significant project along the north fork of the Gunnison between hodgkis and ponia, we're working with , um, landowners in urate county around Ridgeway, trying to help that community , uh , create an open , been space buffer in consistent with community plans and the county land use plan. So , uh , to protect the valley floor between Ridgeway and U , which we think is one of the most scenic standing, oh gosh , iconic landscapes anywhere it is . And , um, we've done some work there and we are really excited to be getting traction with other, other operat owners and we're doing some work , um , just to the south of, of Ridgeway , uh , up, up towards Mount snuffles as well. So those are some initiatives we're really excited about. And then the , um, the longer term water work is, is very important for us. And we're, we're just wrapping our, our hands and our head around that. Yeah , that's gonna look like, and , uh, and then , uh , the other theme, big theme is the restoration and resilience work working with landowners. Who've already done conservation project . Who've already protected their land from development. How can we take this the next step and improve it for habitat and, and for other uses as well.

Speaker 1:

I know that you worked closely with , uh , the developers of the Redlands 360 project too , and I appreciate that they reached out to you and, and had you all almost as consultants on, on building a connected community there. Um, and, and I know there's a lot of people that would love for that to remain open space and just a , a problem of funding, right. I mean, it was very , um, expensive piece of property, very valuable and, and not necessarily possible for the land trust or other entities in town to just buy it and keep it open would if we could. Right.

Speaker 2:

That, yeah, that would be , um, and that that's that chapters, I think yet, yet to be written on that project. And we continue to have productive dialogue with the owners of the property and the developer and, and some other, there's some other properties up there as well that we are looking at. So we hope that we can not just influence the design, but also secure some open space that would benefit folks who live in that area and everybody in the community. So that, that , um , when we do this next conversation Christie in a , a year or two, hopefully we'll have an update there and talk about some, some ground we've gained in that landscape.

Speaker 1:

So , um, your , the Colorado west land trust is centered here in grand junction and your office here, but did , did you keep the office in Mont and do you have other offices?

Speaker 2:

Great question. We have 10 staff members now. We , uh , had an office in S and then during the pandemic, we, we shut that office down. We, our staff member who lives in Montrose is working remotely for the time being, we will reopen an office in S we think in 2022 as the plan, and we have another staff member who based in Paonia. So we , we don't have plans for a , a physical office presence there, but we certainly want to have someone, you know, boots on the ground, people working in that community. But most of you know, know the eight of us, eight of the 10 of us work here in , in grand junction. And we also have our , our board about a third of our board resides outside of Mesa county. And we're looking to increase that number as well.

Speaker 1:

Great. And, you know, when you go say, drive over veil pass and they have this amazing bike path all along the side of the highway , uh , it's really great. And, and, and they're , they have a lot of money in veil , and I just wanna encourage all of our listeners and Watchers , um, to give to the land trust. It's really important for, for us to continue this mission, to put properties under conservation so that we can have more and more opportunities for views and recreation and I habitat and wildlife and all of those things. So give generously everyone.

Speaker 2:

Thanks, Christie . I could not have said that better myself. And I would just say that there's so much change going on in Western Colorado right now. And, you know, if we can just look to the front range, other places to see what happens when there's been this intense growth without adequate conservation work. And , uh, from my perspective, again, this part of Colorado is, is certainly the best. And I mean, it's just a wonderful place to live and it , and , and it's wonderful for my perspective in large part because of our landscapes and our vistas and our, our access to in nature. And, and if you, and , and people from around the world come here for those purposes and, and I'm, so we need to, it's not gonna remain that way unless we take action and it , and it's , and has to be done that in a way that's collaborative with landowners that brings people together to realize shared goals. And , uh , I , I'm very excited about the opportunities. And also at times overwhelmed by the challenge, because the secret, if there was a secret is out there's, I mean, you know, better than I Christie what's going on in the real estate market. It's wild. How many folks are, are , have said, now's the time for me to, to make this move that I've thought about for years?

Speaker 1:

Well, Suzanne from our team was over in Colorado Springs last weekend. And she met a young man who said, grand junction. I think I wanna move over there. I can't afford to buy a house over here anymore. You know, and we, our prices have gone up so much here, but we're when you look at our prices compared to other places we're still pretty affordable. So it's just, it's, they're gonna keep coming and we do need to make sure we're protecting those places.

Speaker 2:

I agree. And I think we also need to be looking at how do we put in place now, what we need to protect our, our public lands and , and recreational opportunities, and how do we , uh, keep these experiences, you know, world class and, and , and top notch . And , and that gets compromised if we don't manage people. So I think there's a big challenge for the community and the region to get its hands around. How do we , how do we have sustainable outdoor rec in tourism here? And, and it's , it's something that we , we don't address now. We're gonna, we're gonna be sorry, in , in , in a few years. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Agree. And I know it's a conversation that a lot of stakeholders are having and , um, and we could do another show on that. <laugh>

Speaker 2:

And , and I think there's some interesting models in , on the west. Look for us to look at , um, Gunnison county has a sustainable tourism and outdoor recreation coalition that is doing things like investing in Trailhead and camping and that sort of stuff. And, and we need to follow suit, and we're seeing some of that on the publicly. And certainly, I mean, the work around 18 road is pretty wild. What's been done there to try to accommodate and manage, you know, what it looks to be a small city worth of people that come every weekend in the spring and fall to .

Speaker 1:

It's amazing. Sometimes when you go out there, <laugh> , it's mind blowing . Yeah. Well, Rob, I really thank you for being here today and sharing the story about the land trust. And , um, is there anything that you can think of that you, when you came here, you're thinking, I hope she asked me this, or, or you're thinking now I didn't get to talk about this.

Speaker 2:

No, I , I just , um, have the, I just appreciate this opportunity. And I , I think we covered much of the ground. I was hoping we would, I would just say that, that we are at a moment in time now where the landscapes that we take for granted are , are under threat to go through some significant change. Mm-hmm <affirmative> . And there's a role that I think all of us need to play. Like how can we work together with the , the farmers and ranchers who own so much of the Western Colorado landscape to protect values, we care about how can we , um , work together as region around water issues. That , that to me is the most important thing for us right now. And the fact of the matter is, is that we don't have the political power of , uh , you know, where one congressional district out of seven or eight and eight in the state now, and where in Colorado has one, you know, about one seventh or one eighth at Congress allegation of California. So we don't have the, the , the power to simply dictate what will happen. And , and the only way we can create a future, that services is by working together. And so , um, that's just an important theme for folks to UN , you know, to understand and learn about some of these issues and figure out how can we partner to protect yeah . Some , you know , this amazing quality of life we

Speaker 1:

Have here. We're gonna be reading a lot about water issues , uh , more than ever before. Yes . And that upcoming

Speaker 2:

Years , and it's , it's technical, it's complex, it's expensive. And it's, it's absolutely essential to our way of life here. Absolutely.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. Rob Bleiberg thank you so much for joining us here on the full circle podcast. Again, would you tell people , uh , where they can go to donate money or get involved, or , um, you know, if they wanna , uh , apply to be on the board of directors, however they wanna get involved with the land trust, how do they do that? Great.

Speaker 2:

So co west land trust.org is our website. And, and you can learn more about what we're up to, and certainly the opportunities to get involved either as a financial supporter or to learn , uh , like everyone else, we're trying to navigate the whole activities around COVID thing. But we do in anticipate , um , some events this year and some field trips, and we are to delighted to work with the community. We also have a dedicated group of , uh , restoration volunteers, the monument stewards, and they are active. I think it's every Wednesday morning, they're out doing work along the monument road corridor. And so certainly opportunities to get, get your hands dirty and get involved and , and put some sweat equity into this.

Speaker 1:

And if somebody has some land that they'd like to conserve, that's also where they would go to

Speaker 2:

Get in touch by all means. Yeah. Yeah. And we are , we're delighted to field those kinds of calls and , uh, just so appreciate the community. And , and I'll just, I guess I'll just end Christie by saying that one thing that was really interesting for me from the last two years of pandemic madness, was it reaffirm just how central the landscape is to us here in Western Colorado. And we saw that in a number of ways, you know, hoards of people descending on our trails. I think the BLM is projecting like 180,000 user days at lunch loop , uh, per year. And so that's three times the city of functions population it's over this Mesa county's population. Um, we saw concerns about local food and acts and food security. Um, we saw so many of us just turning to nature for our mental health. So for me, that was , um , reaffirming for what we're doing and how important our mission is. And , uh , we we've been so fortunate to have tremendous support the last few years as people have also come to that conclusion and , and , and helped the land trust to make progress. Agree.

Speaker 1:

Awesome.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much, Christy . Thank you,

Speaker 1:

Rob. It's been a pleasure. Thanks everybody. We'll see you next time on the flu , the full circle. Bye for listening. This is Christie Reese signing out from the full circle podcast .