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Aspen Valley Land Trust has worked with the properties involved in the Two Shoes Ranch/Sutey Ranch land exchange for many years and strongly supports the current proposal. More information is available from the BLM website at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/fo/crvfo/sutey_ranch_land_exchange.html and is summarized below along with AVLT's comments:
Please submit your comments to the BLM on the Sutey Ranch land exchange by June 20. Comments can be submitted via email to: BLM_CO_SI_CRVFO_Webmail@blm.gov
or by mail to:BLM, Attn: Sutey Ranch Land Exchange
2300 River Frontage Road
Silt, CO 81652
BLM would acquire:
- The 557-acre Sutey Ranch adjacent to the popular Red Hill Special Recreation Area in Garfield County, including the historic water rights from the ranch.
- 112 acres in Pitkin County along Prince Creek Road near the Crown. This private parcel is a highly popular area with mountain bikers and is used to access BLM roads and trails.
- A $100,000 donation from the proponents to develop a site-specific management plan for the newly acquired land
- A $1 million donation from the proponents for the long-term management of the newly acquired land
BLM would exchange:
- Three parcels totaling 1,269 acres in Pitkin County south of Carbondale. These parcels are mostly or entirely surrounded by private land and extremely difficult for the public to access. They receive little to no public use.
- Three parcels totaling 201 acres on Horse Mountain southwest of Eagle which have little public access.
Sutey Ranch: This exchange would put AVLT’s highest priority parcel into public ownership and open it to seasonal public use while protecting the critical winter wildlife habitat. AVLT worked for more than four years without success to secure the conservation of the 520-acre Sutey Ranch. The high cost and Sutey family issues were prohibitive and the ranch went on the market for development. It was a true gift when Two Shoes Ranch agreed to buy the Sutey Ranch and include it in a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land exchange. The Sutey Ranch is unique in our area for its pristine condition, natural beauty, quality of habitat, proximity to popular public trails, location among high-value, fast-growing suburban development, amount of water, and physical seclusion from roads or development. By putting the Sutey Ranch into public ownership, all of those characteristics will be preserved. In addition, Carbondale’s Red Hill recreation area could be expanded to include seasonal public access on Sutey Ranch.
Two Shoes Ranch: Since 1997, AVLT has worked to conserve the Two Shoes Ranch and 1,067 acres are under permanent conservation easement. This exchange would join an additional 1,269 conserved acres to the ranch creating a permanent 2,300-acre wildlife “safe zone.” Like the Sutey Ranch, the BLM parcel contains important wildlife habitat. The rugged, dry parcel provides critical winter habitat for major elk and deer herds and the Crystal River’s bighorn sheep herd.
Misconceptions: If the 1,269-acre BLM parcel is converted to private conserved land, Pitkin County will lose .0002 percent (two one-thousandths of one percent) of the federal land holdings in the county, but this parcel will be protected by a conservation easement which allows no future development.
Second, Pitkin County proposals and reviews have stated that the Sutey Ranch can be acquired for the public by other means. The owner of Two Shoes paid $6.5 million to buy Sutey Ranch. The sources of public funding available to land trusts and open space programs for such projects include Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW), and the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). For a single project the maximum amount of funding that one agency will provide is about $1 million. Grant restriction generally stipulate that GOCO and DOW funding cannot be used for the same project, meaning that a maximum of $2 million could be raised from grants for the purchase of Sutey Ranch. The additional $4.5 million would have to come from other entities such as Garfield County and the Town of Carbondale, in addition to the cost of managing the land.
Another funding source is the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). A Pitkin County memo dated Feb. 24, 2010 states that the BLM could use LWCF money to acquire the Sutey Ranch and not have to dispose of any land. The proposed 2011 federal budget increases the LWCF funding to levels not seen since 2002, when LWCF received $677 million. The BLM got almost $50 million of that total, or about $1 million per state. Even with the maximum amount of all available grants, the only way to purchase the Sutey Ranch for public benefit is to raise millions of dollars from local governments and private individuals. AVLT determined that this approach was unrealistic.
Finally, there has been concern that the owner of Two Shoes would unfairly benefit financially from the exchange because acquisition of the BLM parcel would add extraordinary value to the combined, larger ranch. The federal appraisal process, which was used in each of the 13 land exchanges involving Pitkin County lands, requires that the BLM parcel be appraised as though it has legal or physical access even though the only physical public access is by foot through steep and remote terrain. The federal appraisal process also requires that the parcel be appraised at full development value, which in this case would be 36 35-acre parcels, even though, under the terms of this exchange, all development is prohibited. In addition to those factors, two MAIA-licensed appraisers, both of whom are used by AVLT and Pitkin County to value land transactions, have explored the assemblage value of adding the BLM parcel to the Two Shoes Ranch; independently, both found that there would not be significant financial benefit to Two Shoes Ranch. The bottom line in the federal appraisal process is that the land the federal government acquires must be equal to or worth more than the value of the land it is giving up. If the BLM parcel appraises for more than the Sutey Ranch, Two Shoes Ranch will be required to pay the difference. The BLM information website states that even without the $1.1 million donation, it is likely the land appraisals for this proposal will show the exchange to favor the public.
What if there is no land exchange? On the BLM parcel, probably nothing will change. The grazing lease on the land has been allocated to Two Shoes Ranch for many decades. It would still be largely without public access and would not be permanently conserved, but the wildlife habitat would remain intact. Eventually, the BLM could place the land on its disposal list and sell it to Two Shoes, which could develop the property if it desired. The Sutey Ranch would presumably again be put up for sale. The highest and best use of that land is probably as a large-lot subdivision of around 50 lots. The critical winter habitat would be lost, as would public access opportunities. The question of whether or not to support the proposed land exchange is very simple: to permanently conserve 1,938 acres and expand the Red Hill recreation area - more than 3 square miles - as permanent open space, at no financial cost to the taxpayer -- or not.
AVLT encourages local governments, area residents and environmental organizations to send a letter of support for this unusual conservation opportunity.
Aspen Valley Land Trust
Board of Directors and Staff