Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe today announced that noted conservationist Louis Bacon intends to donate a conservation easement totaling approximately 90,000 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains bordering the San Luis Valley. This easement will provide the foundation for the proposed new Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area, which the Service is in the process of establishing.
"This is the largest single conservation easement ever donated to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and it happens to be in one of the most beautiful places in the country, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the San Luis Valley," Salazar said. "Thanks to Louis Bacon's deep commitment to conservation, we will now be able to preserve a diverse mosaic of public and private lands, creating a landscape corridor for fish and wildlife unlike any place in America."
Bacon, a longtime advocate and proponent of landscape and wildlife conservation, owns the Blanca and Trinchera Ranches located in the San Luis Valley and intends to donate the conservation easement announced today on the Blanca. The Trinchera Ranch is currently protected by an easement administered by Colorado Open Lands.
"I have worked on a number of conservation and preservation projects in the United States and overseas, but nothing with the scope and importance of my efforts on Trinchera Ranch, in the breathtaking Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range," said Louis Bacon. "That is why I am proud to announce that, should Interior choose to go forward with the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area effort, I will place approximately 90,000 currently unprotected acres of the Blanca portion of Trinchera Ranch into a conservation easement with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and, thus, protecting all 172,000 acres of the Ranch."
Bacon continued, "This action will protect the Blanca Ranch in perpetuity and create a key connection in the large, diverse system of protected lands here along the Sangre de Cristo range and in the San Luis Valley. As I make this commitment, I want to thank Secretary Salazar, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service and Department of Interior staff for their commitment to conservation here in Colorado and across the nation -- we are well served by their leadership and forethought."
The diverse iconic landscapes of these ranches feature breathtaking vistas of high desert shrubs and mountain grasslands, combined with alpine forest and alpine tundra. The area stretches up to the top of one of the highest peaks in Colorado, Blanca Peak at 14,345 feet above sea level. It falls in the center of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, the longest mountain chain in the United States, and borders the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.
Under President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation agenda, Interior has spearheaded a series of voluntary partnerships with landowners to conserve rural landscapes while ensuring ranching, farming and other traditional ways of life remain strong. These initiatives include new units of the National Wildlife Refuge system, such as the Flint Hills Legacy Conservation Area in Kansas, the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area of South Dakota and North Dakota, and the Rocky Mountain Front Conservation Area in Montana.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has been working with landowners in the San Luis Valley on a similar locally-led, voluntary, cooperative partnership effort to conserve wildlife habitat and keep working lands working. As with any conservation area, the Service only acquires conservation easements from willing sellers.
"This unprecedented land donation will lay the foundation for the creation of the Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area in connection with the Service's San Luis Valley Land Protection Plan," Ashe said. "As part of the America's Great Outdoors initiative, it exemplifies a 21st Century vision of landscape scale conservation for the country built on science and strong partnerships with communities."
The Fish and Wildlife Service will manage the new conservation area as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Ashe said.
For more information about the Service's partnership work in the San Luis Valley or the proposed Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Mountain-Prairie's homepage at: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/.