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Protecting the Prairie

“There are several reasons we decided to do a conservation easement, but I think the big one was to keep a large tract of native grass and riparian area intact and unchanged as much as possible.”

-Dana Shaw, Colorado Rancher

When you think of Colorado, what comes to mind? Majestic mountains, pristine rivers, hiking, skiing, fishing? How about eastern Colorado’s shortgrass prairie?
“Shortgrass prairie often gets the short end of the stick, but it makes up nearly half of the state,” says Chris Pague, Colorado’s Senior Conservation Ecologist. “A lot of folks have no idea just how critical this landscape is to our quality of life.”
“Colorado’s prairie catches and purifies our water, cleans the air by storing carbon, provides habitat to countless plants and animals, and is home to many of our state’s farming and ranching communities that provide our food,” Pague explains.
Unfortunately, our prairies are in peril. They are the most altered and least conserved habitat in Colorado.
For ranchers and farmers, conservation easements are increasingly seen as tools to help them sustain their livelihoods while protecting critical grasslands. A conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement that limits certain types of uses such as development on a piece of property now and in the future, while protecting ecological or open-space values.
For the Shaw Family in Yuma County, a conservation easement with the Conservancy protects 7,800 acres of ranchland that the family has owned for more than a century. This land is not just important to people—the property includes shortgrass and sandsage prairie, two miles of the Arickaree River, a cottonwood gallery, and habitat for greater prairie chickens and other grassland birds.

The Shaw Ranch received critical funding from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.  GOCO is a fund created by Colorado voters that uses a portion of lottery proceeds to conserve the state’s wildlife, parks, rivers, trails and open space.

In His Own Words

Dana Shaw is clear on why a conservation easement was the right choice for his family.
“There are several reasons we decided to do a conservation easement, but I think the big one was to keep a large tract of native grass and riparian area intact and unchanged as much as possible. We enjoy the wildlife and the birds that migrate through this area and want to maintain a good habitat for them while still keeping this property a viable working ranch. This easement has given us the means to ensure this will always be an undeveloped area for them.”
“We are very concerned about the effect development is having on wildlife, the environment, and our water,” Dana continues. “This easement will protect our property. Also, I feel it will help identify and maintain the history of the Shaw Ranch through future generations. I hope others interested in conservation look into the value of an easement for their properties.”

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