Success in preserving valuable fruitlands

Two years ago, when Mesa Land Trust announced its “Fruitlands Forever” initiative, its goal was to ensure enough of the valuable fruit and wine lands at the east end of the valley were protected from development that there would remain a critical mass of agricultural lands available for fruit production to maintain the area’s fruit business as a viable industry.

The Land Trust is well on its way to accomplishing its goal, a fact that is welcome news, not just for Mesa Land Trust or the fruit farmers involved, but for the entire Grand Valley. Fruit and wine production are both valuable assets to the area’s economy and important parts of our community’s culture.

According to the Land Trust, Colorado produces 22 million tons of peaches each year, and roughly 90 percent of them come from the Palisade area. Additionally, 700 acres of the state’s 1,000 acres of wine grapes are in Mesa County.

Earlier this month, Mesa Land Trust announced a major step toward achieving its goal, reporting that five new parcels of land, totaling 92 acres, had been protected from development in the Palisade area through conservation easements.

The easements mean the property can never be developed for housing or commercial purposes. It can remain in agricultural production, however. Landowners receive state tax credits with the easements and, in some cases, direct cash payments for giving up the development value of their property.

Because several of the new easements were continguous with other properties that were already under conservation easements, it makes it easier for fruit farmers to continue operating, with less fear of problems from encroaching development.

Of the total 3,000 acres of land in fruit and wine production in Mesa County, roughly 750 acres are now protected by conservation easements. Mesa Land Trust’s goal is to boost that figure to at least 1,000 acres under conservation easements, and it has been working steadily toward reaching that mark.

In addition to the five parcels announced early this month, the organization is seeking funding approval to help it acquire conservation easements this spring on three more farms as part of the Fruitlands Forever initiative, said Rob Bleiberg, executive director of Mesa Land Trust.

To do that, as with previous projects, it is seeking funds from Great Outdoors Colorado and from a federal land conservation program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Mesa Land Trust also obtains donations from individuals and from large charitable organizations such as the Gates Family Foundation and the Goodwin Foundation to help match the state and federal funds.

We hope more money will be awarded to assist Mesa Land Trust and area fruit farmers continue to protect the most valuable fruit and wine producing lands in the state.


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