Salazar creates Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area
DENVER – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar established a conservation area in the San Luis Valley on Friday after billionaire Louis Bacon committed to protect more of his vast landholdings in southern Colorado.
Salazar said the designation of the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area marked a “glorious day for our nation, for the state of Colorado, for the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. ... It is the spirit of Louis Bacon which allows us today to say that the southern Rockies are in fact a landscape of national significance and one that will be protected for generations to come.”
Bacon, a hedge fund manager, is adding a conservation easement to protect nearly 77,000 acres of his 81,400-acre Trinchera Ranch from development. He announced plans in June to add a perpetual conservation easement on his 90,000-acre Blanca Ranch if the federal government moved ahead with plans to create a new 5 million-acre conservation corridor in Colorado and New Mexico.
The Blanca Ranch easement is expected to be finalized later this year and, with the Trinchera land just south, will represent the largest easement donation ever to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It creates “a contiguous mosaic of privately held and publicly protected lands that will stay in perpetuity in creating one of the longest migratory wildlife corridors in America,” stretching from the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve to New Mexico, Bacon said.
He added that he hopes his decision to put the land under a conservation easement will inspire other landowners to do the same.
Bacon’s land, which Salazar’s office said is the largest continuous, privately owned ranch in Colorado, includes three 14,000-foot peaks - Mount Lindsey, Blanca and Little Bear peaks - in the Sangre de Cristos. The mountain range is one of relatively few in the United States that that still allows unobstructed migration by wildlife.
The interior secretary said Friday the Trinchera Ranch easement would protect fish and wildlife on the property, as well as the area’s watershed. Meanwhile, the land will remain under private ownership, and Bacon will control access and agriculture production. The land also will remain on the local tax rolls.
“For Costilla County, its tax rolls, the tax situation will essentially remain the same,” Salazar said. “And so that’s also a benefit because we are past the time that the United States of America is buying up large tracts of land.”
Bacon signed the agreement after fighting to keep Xcel Energy and the Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association from running solar-transmission power lines across his property. State regulators approved the plan but Xcel announced last fall that it wouldn’t build the lines because not enough solar power would be produced in the San Luis Valley.
Bacon said Friday that Xcel’s plans to back off the plan laid the groundwork for the easement announced Friday.
Meanwhile, Salazar stressed that the area’s highest priority now is conservation, and he doesn’t expect that power lines will be built on the property.