As the Bureau of Land Management works to protect the threatened Gunnison Sage Grouse in southwest Colorado, so are private landowners who are establishing conservation easements in the bird’s critical sage brush habitat.
On Oct. 25, 1,680 acres worth of private land east of Egnar was put into a conservation easement by the Marsh family in cooperation with the Montezuma Land Conservancy and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
It is the second phase of a project that includes a nearby conservation easement signed by the Marsh family last year, bringing their total conservation easement to more than 3,000 acres.
“This conservation easement is a way to keep the land together and from being further subdivided,” said Richard Marsh. “I’d rather it grow big game and sage grouse than houses.”
As part of the conditions of the easement, grazing will continue on the land in a way that is compatible with protecting Gunnison sage grouse.
The easement is also in big game habitat and allows for hunting. Under the easement conditions four homes are allowed to be built in the future at predetermined locations.
Agricultural structures such as ponds, corrals, can be built on the land as needed as long as they don’t interfere with sage grouse habitat.
Parks and Wildlife contributed $421,000 to the project, which allowed the Marsh’s to buy the land and convey into a conservation easement. San Miguel County contributed $125,000 toward the project.
“The land qualified for CPW funding due to historic management that preserved sage-grouse habitat,” said Jon Leibowitz, executive director for Montezuma Land Conservancy. “It is a good example of how conservation easements can help raise money to purchase properties for buyers who want to preserve the land for agricultural uses or wildlife.”
The 3,000 acres in the two conservation easements borders ten miles of BLM land, creating more contiguous sage-grouse habitat. About 2,300 acres are occupied sage grouse habitat.
Land Conservancy, in partnership with private landowners, have established 6,000 acres of conservation easements within sage grouse habitat since 2012.
In Southwest Colorado, the BLM manages 40 percent of the critical habitat of sage grouse. The other 60 percent of the habitat is on private land.
“Working with local partners such as MLC as well as the counties is vital to ensuring habitat is preserved for the Gunnison Sage-grouse and other species in the Dove Creek area,” said Nate West, BLM wildlife biologist.
Leibowitz said the listing of the Gunnison sage grouse as threatened under the Endangered Species Act has opened up funding opportunities from Parks and Wildlife as the state works to improve the birds numbers.
“If a landowner has fantastic wildlife habitat, it could be a candidate for CPW funding for a conservation easement,” he said.
For more information on conservation easements contact MLC at (970) 565-1664.