In 2007 I started the process of placing the ranch under a conservation easement. There are many trusts out there including GoCo, Elk Foundation, Nature Conservancy, the Yampa Valley Land Trust, and many more. I decided to go with the best of the lot by choosing The Colorado Cattleman's Agricultural Land Trust (ccalt) .
There were many reasons, but the most important to me was the fact that The Cattleman's is the least intrusive of all of them. They are interested in one thing and that is to provide farmers and ranchers in Colorado a means of protecting their land and way of life from the inevitable pressures of development. If you have a ranch or farm and want to protect it for future generations, then you need to use the Cattleman's.
I investigated most of the land trusts out there and I found some pretty scary stuff; like intruding onto your land and dictating what you can do and cannot do with your ranch. The Cattleman's allow you to continue exactly what you and your family have been doing for generations, and that is work your land. You can do just about anything that any rancher can do, with a few restrictions, all of which, in my opinion are minor.
First, as they say, tongue-in-cheek, "You can do just about anything, just as long as you don't build a Walmart in one of your fields :) ! But seriously, the restrictions are few and include the following:
1) You are restricted in development. This means you need to know how many houses/cabins you will build as they will be restricted to those sites mentioned in the conservation deed.
2) You are restricted in the use of your mineral rights. The Cattleman's do not want to promote mining, they want to promote ranching. If you want to pop a gas well in the middle of one of your fields, then The Cattleman's will have a problem. You will have to give up the idea of mining your property except for some surface mining of rock and gravel for personal use on the ranch.
3) The use of the ranch is restricted to what ever a typical rancher would do outside of a conservation easement; which is not too much of a restriction. If you want to run a hair dressing shop out of the house, it is okay. If you want to lease the ranch out to hunters, it is okay. If you want to run a bed and breakfast, it is okay.
4) You will be required to deed over your water rights. This does not mean the Cattleman's can sell them or anything like that, but it does mean that you cannot sell them. The Cattleman's want those rights to stay with the ranch.
Below are some of the benefits of putting your ranch under a conservation easement.
1) First, you will be protecting your ranch for future generations from the pressure of development. This is big. You can receive financial incentives that will offset, to a certain degree, the potential money lost by not developing. I know the money you can receive will not be as much as a developer may give you, however, if you are interested in having your ranch stay in the family, this a way of doing it.
2) You can get both a deduction from your Federal income taxes (schedule A deduction), and a Colorado State tax credit (right off the bottom line).
3) Help preserve the ranching way of life in Colorado.
There are other things you will need to know and as I think of them, I will add to this page. For now, my advise is to contact the Cattleman's and talk to them about your situation. They do not actively solicit business as it is against their rules. Therefore, you will have to make the first move. The Cattleman's success in this state is because of word-of-mouth, just like this page, people have worked with the Cattleman's and they tell their neighbors and friends.
In the sidebar, I will add pages down the line that will explain the process, as we experienced it.