“This is my dream job, and I plan to carry on the successful efforts of my predecessors, staff and board of directors,” said Leibowitz, who recently moved to Dolores.
Since MLC was formed in 1998, the group has created 76 conservation easements with volunteer landowners, mostly in Montezuma and Dolores counties, and also in San Miguel county.
The easements protect 37,022 acres of traditional ranching operations, irrigated and dry-land farms, open space, and wildlife habitat in perpetuity.
“We would like to do more outreach into San Miguel County as well,” Leibowitz said.
Conservation easements permanently limit development through the deed, and stay intact even if the property is sold. They also provide tax breaks that can be sold for profit, payments for conservation efforts from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, all while preserving farm and ranch operations.
Leibowitz, 29, has been working toward a professional career in land conservation since first learning about them in college. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Colorado, and a law degree and master’s in environmental policy from the Vermont School of Law.
“Though I grew up in urban Miami, Florida, I went camping, fishing, and exploring with my family quite a bit,” he said. "I was inspired to protect agricultural land and that traditional way of life that was so different from the environment I was raised in."
Since being named as the new director in April, he has revamped the newsletter into a more eye-pleasing format, dealt with the sticky legal question of whether transferable development rights are valid on conservation easements (there not), conducted landowner outreach, and given a media tour of easement properties.
“What I’d like to emphasize is that land conservation easements are strictly voluntary, and do not prohibit all uses. They limit development, yes, but current and future home sites are worked into the agreement based on landowner needs,” he said. “Farm and ranching operations continue, fences are still used, and water sources are protected.”
Land conservation efforts also include protecting wildlife habitat on private land when possible – locally, the controversial Gunnison sage grouse in the Dolores and San Miguel county area. The bird is being considered for listing on the Endangered Species List, but the decision has been delayed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, in part to determine if local efforts to protect the bird are adequate.
“It is a sensitive subject, but one that has opened up discussion about how to protect the bird,” he said.
MLC holds easements for wildlife purposes in the Gunnison sage grouse habitat in the Dove Creek area. The recently finalized Marsh easement, for example, includes 733 acres of sage grouse habitat east of Dove Creek.
The easement permits limited livestock grazing that is consistent with protecting the conservation values specific to the property.
“It’s important for folks to know that conservation easements do not prohibit agricultural use of the property,” Leibowitz said.
MLC had a banner year in 2013, closing on eight projects totaling 2,908 acres of permanently protected land. It was the strongest year since 2008.
“Our continued success is testament to the fact that our humble little corner of Colorado is filled with local landowners and citizens committed to open-space preservation,” he said.
For more information, go to http://www.montezumaland.org/ or call (970) 565-1664