BX Ranch Conservation Receives Funding

Palmer Land Trust is pleased to announce that Great Outdoors Colorado has granted funding to secure the conservation of the BX Ranch. This project positions the organization to work closely with other landowners in the Lower Arkansas Valley, and to achieve continued success in the region. As we have stressed the importance of signature landscapes, the BX Ranch has been at the forefront of our conservation plans. Read on to learn more about why this piece of land is vital to our region.

In the southeastern corner of Colorado lie the ancestral grounds of the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and Ute Indian tribes, biologically diverse prairie and riparian ecosystems, and places where human activities have shaped the course of world events. The longest river system in eastern Colorado, the Arkansas, flows here and has delineated parts of three international boundaries over time. One of the greatest expanses of native grasslands left in the country spans this area. This prairie landscape, along with its transect of Arkansas River tributaries, supports a wider diversity of bird species in a single location than can be seen anywhere else on the North American continent. It attracted some of the earliest and most significant trade and agricultural settlements in the American West, and it contains some of the top-producing agricultural counties in Colorado today.

Despite this region’s remarkable ecological and agricultural assets, in addition to its rich history, it is struggling to combat an aggressive economic decline. The loss of agricultural lands to exurban development, destruction of native prairie habitat, and the ‘buy and dry’ loss of water to thirsty urban areas, all contribute to mounting poverty rates, environmental degradation, and a population exodus. Palmer Land Trust is committed to reversing the parallel and symbiotic trends of land conversion and economic decline through strategic land and water conservation projects. The BX Ranch represents a flagship project for Palmer Land Trust in reversing these destructive trends.

The 25,000-acre BX Ranch lies just east of the City of Pueblo and south of the farm communities of St. Charles Mesa, Vineland, Avondale, and Boone. This property is impressive for both its size and location. The conservation of the BX Ranch will establish a protected landscape that preserves an ecologically and agriculturally significant area, buffers agricultural communities from exurban sprawl, and links this landscape with other protected agricultural lands to the south. The property is one of the largest remaining working ranches in Pueblo County, and its proximity to other ranches contributes to a robust landscape of native shortgrass prairie that is used to support an agricultural economy focused on cattle grazing. Colorado loses 90,000 acres of open land each year and the average large farm or ranch shrinks by 80 acres annually. According to the Colorado Conservation Trust, Pueblo County faces some of the greatest land conversion threats in the state, coupled with the least capacity to address it. The BX Ranch may very well represent the most important conservation effort in recent Pueblo County history.

The BX Ranch property has been under constant threat of development in recent years. In fact, it was slated as the site of a proposed nuclear power plant until the earthquake and tsunami that hit Fukushima, Japan, thwarted the land-use approval process. Current economic conditions have created a situation where, without infrastructure improvement, it is cheaper to develop the land than it is to maintain a ranching operation. This leaves the BX in a vulnerable position unless steps are taken to secure the agricultural values of the property. The BX Ranch has attracted the attention of a conservation buyer who is committed to conserving the land and improving the infrastructure of the ranching operation with the end goal of selling it to a local buyer once it is fully improved. This project represents a rare opportunity to protect a strategic parcel of land that will become a model of ranchland conservation.

Palmer Land Trust hopes to close on the conservation easement in 2015.

Photos by Denise Dethlefsen