'Our first focus is the landowner'

  • Lynne Sherrod

  • Jay Fetcher

    Florence Williams photo

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

The Colorado Cattlemen's Agricultural Land Trust is the first land trust founded by agricultural producers. Jay Fetcher, a rancher in Colorado's Yampa Valley, hit on the idea of a cattlemen's land trust when he and his family put an easement on their land in 1994. With the cooperation of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association, the trust was incorporated in 1995, and executive director Lynne Sherrod, also a Colorado rancher, was hired in 1997. The group has protected 28,000 acres of land with conservation easements.

Lynne Sherrod: "I sometimes feel a little schizophrenic: I'm very much part of the land-trust community, and very much part of the livestock industry. I go to an equal number of meetings and conferences on both sides of the fence. It's very important for us to be responsible members of the land-trust community, for us to play by the same rules.

"Most other (land trust) organizations have a focus on the resource, but our first focus is on the landowner. Our main thrust is that we want to make sure that landowner needs are met, that this is going to be a valuable working landscape. We don't want to tie their hands so severely that they can't stay in the business of agriculture."

Jay Fetcher: "A lot of land trusts, especially those in the East, were very interested in land management. I knew that would never work in the West, both because of the nature of the landowners and the nature of the ranching business. Yet here was a tool that I thought would be useful to Colorado ranchers.

"People in land trusts could see that a land trust put together by a commodity group would bridge the suspicion that often exists between landowners and the typical land trust, which grows out of the environmental community. Another thing that added a level of comfort (for landowners) is that the board of the land trust is controlled by the Colorado Cattlemen's Association. So the board is made up of peers.

"When we started out, we drew a lot of the investor ranchers, those that were attracted by the tax breaks. We're still working with some of those, but we're mostly working with struggling landowners, those who are land rich and cash poor, but want to keep the land intact.

"I had no idea that we'd be where we are now. I thought we'd be working with 15 or 20 ranchers around the state. I had no idea that Lynne and I would be flying all over the country, being asked to change policy on conservation easements at the national level."

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