DENVER—Today, the Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) Board awarded $300,000 in conservation excellence grants for four projects that advance innovative approaches to land conservation across the state.
GOCO’s conservation excellence program funds research and pilot projects that tackle land conservation challenges in Colorado.
Funded projects are as follows:
Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) and Yampa Valley Land Trust Merger, $50,000 grant to CCALT
The GOCO Board awarded a $50,000 grant to CCALT for the organization’s merger with the Steamboat Springs-based Yampa Valley Land Trust (YVLT). The merger will result in one entity that can offer a broad range of conservation services to the communities of northwest Colorado.
GOCO funding will help CCALT formulate new strategies for stakeholder engagement and staff and board integration post-merger. Additionally, the merger will allow CCALT to pilot new community conservation strategies, particularly in resort communities, to reduce increasing conflicts between agricultural and recreational interests.
“We feel strongly that this partnership will bring more resources dedicated to safeguarding the scenic landscapes, rushing rivers, trout-filled streams, clean mountain air and working ranchlands that Coloradans love,” said Erik Glenn, CCALT’s executive director. “Together, YVLT and CCALT are planting the seeds for a more beautiful, more wondrous, more awe-inspiring Colorado. And that’s a future worth working toward together.”
CCALT is utilizing the services of a communications strategy group to develop a comprehensive plan for disseminating information to relevant communities, landowners, and stakeholders in the coming months.
Land Trust Alliance: Colorado Advancing Conservation Excellence Initiative, $100,000 grant to Colorado Open Lands
The GOCO Board awarded a $100,000 grant to Colorado Open Lands (COL) and the Land Trust Alliance (the Alliance) to support the Colorado Advancing Conservation Excellence (ACE) Initiative. COL is serving as the fiscal sponsor for this award to the Alliance.
Colorado’s land trusts play a vital role in protecting and stewarding privately owned open lands. As of 2015, they held permanent conservation easements on, or otherwise protected, three million acres of land and were conserving approximately 100,000 new acres per year. The state’s nonprofit land trusts are responsible for the stewardship of nearly 80 percent of private land conserved in Colorado.
The ACE Initiative builds on the work of the Conservation Futures Project (CFP), a collaborative effort launched in 2017 to envision a new statewide coalition to support the land trust community as it evolves to meet current and future conservation challenges. The CFP was advanced by GOCO, the Gates Family Foundation, other funders, the Alliance, COL, and other nonprofit land trusts.
As a result of CFP, a new, statewide association called Keep It Colorado unites land trust community members around a shared goal of increasing their capacity, impact, and long-term sustainability. Modeled similarly to other Alliance programs, the ACE Initiative will provide land trust members of Keep It Colorado and the Alliance with capacity-building services based on specific needs.
The ACE Initiative will lay the foundation for sustained efforts that aim to benefit all Colorado land trusts. The land trusts will be supported with resources to engage their communities in more meaningful ways, increase impact, train and recruit effective staffs and boards, develop strategies to expand collaboration, and become more efficient in the use of conservation resources for funding new conservation.
“The Alliance is excited by this opportunity, and we look forward to advancing conservation impact and sustainability across the state by supporting Colorado land trusts with our proven capacity-building services,” said Erin Heskett, vice president of national and regional services for the Alliance. “We are grateful to Great Outdoors Colorado for their support.”
An advisory committee will be created to support the design of the program and to help inform the services provided to land trusts.
Eastern Slope & Plains Wildlife Prioritization Study, $54,000 grant to Colorado Parks and Wildlife
The GOCO Board awarded a $54,000 conservation excellence grant to Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), in partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), to improve wildlife habitat connectivity in eastern Colorado while reducing costly wildlife-vehicle collisions (WVCs).
In Colorado, nearly 4,000 vehicle crashes involving wildlife are reported each year, costing an estimated $66.4 million annually. This does not include the value of the wildlife that is killed, or the impacts to wildlife populations, and reported accidents represent a fraction of the actual number of WVCs that occur.
In 2019, CPW and CDOT completed the Western Slope Wildlife Prioritization Study (WSWPS), providing an assessment of wildlife conflicts on roads in the Western Slope to guide transportation planning and project development. The study’s objective involved identifying wildlife-highway conflict areas in which targeted mitigation could have the greatest impact on reducing WVCs. The research team then evaluated the feasibility of adapting the WSWPS to the Eastern Slope and Plains.
Building on learnings from WSWPS, the Eastern Slope and Plains Wildlife Prioritization Study (ES&PWPS) will evaluate strategic and cost-effective WVC mitigation methods, including wildlife crossing structures, fencing, and other strategies, and propose a plan to ensure that CPW and CDOT are able to maximize benefits for both people and wildlife. The completion of this research will provide implementable recommendations and decision-support tools to integrate wildlife-highway mitigation strategies into transportation projects, improving safety for wildlife and motorists alike.
“GOCO’s support of this project directly implements Governor Polis’ recent Migration Corridors Executive Order by working to identify and close data gaps associated with safe wildlife passage,” said Brett Ackerman, CPW’s southeast regional manager.
Elevate the Peak: Community Visioning Around Iconic Pikes Peak, $96,000 grant to Palmer Land Trust
The GOCO Board awarded a $96,000 grant to Palmer Land Trust to mobilize the Pikes Peak community around a collective vision that prioritizes land conservation, tourism, and outdoor recreation within the Pikes Peak region.
For Colorado Springs and surrounding communities, Pikes Peak is an iconic local identifier. GOCO funding will help Palmer Land Trust develop a collective vision to leverage Pikes Peak as a place to be inspired and sustained, a place to play, and a place to support the local community’s quality of life into the future, as the area population continues to rise.
This project builds on Palmer Land Trust’s successful Generation Leadership Project, funded in part with a GOCO conservation excellence grant awarded in 2017. That project recognized the importance of community in effective land conservation efforts and focused on how to enhance the Colorado Springs community’s engagement in conservation. The outcome of this project was an awareness-building campaign and engagement opportunities designed to activate a base of conservation champions, specifically targeting the Millennial and GenX generations.
The Elevate the Peak project will build on that project to identify a collective conservation and recreation vision. Two core viewpoints on the future of conservation will guide the visioning process: that effective land conservation must operate on a regional level, and that land conservation goals and priorities must be rooted in the communities where conservation work occurs.
“Pikes Peak is more than another mountain; it is part of the identity and provides a sense of place for the region. You look at Pikes Peak and know that you are home,” said Rebecca Jewett, executive director of Palmer Land Trust. “Palmer Land Trust is excited to galvanize the collective passion for this landscape and turn it into a roadmap for conservation and recreation action.”
With a diverse coalition of organizations at the table, this project will determine key priorities to inform a 10-year vision, priority, and funding strategy for a region that covers El Paso, Fremont, and Teller counties. Three core components will be used to guide a successful community engagement process: engaging community influencers and thought leaders; empowering the broader community in strategic conversations; and educating and inspiring the community through a branding and messaging campaign.
Ideally, this process and the final document produced will serve as a replicable model to assist other conservation entities and communities in conservation visioning and sustained community engagement.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a Constitutional Amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 5,200 projects in urban and rural areas in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more information.