What 500,000 Acres Means To Us

By the end of 2016, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust (CCALT) will have conserved more than 500,000 acres of productive farm and ranch land. 

Founded by the membership of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) in 1995, initial leaders of CCALT hoped to complete at least 15 conservation easements. Just 15! Now, as we approach this historic milestone, we also celebrate our partnership with more than 250 ranching families on nearly 300 conserved properties. To celebrate where we have been, and how we got here, we asked several people who either were involved in CCALT’s founding, or who have been influential along the way what 500,000 acres means to them. Here are their answers. 

Bill Fales (past CCALT board president and CCALT landowner): “Wow! 500,000 acres, what an incredible milestone and a great start. CCALT’s work is making such an important impact on Colorado’s future.” 

Bill Fales and Chris West pose for a picture early on in CCALT’s history. Bill still owns and wears this hat.

Tim Wohlgenant (past CCALT board member and former executive director): “Wow, 500,000 is a big number.  This is going to date me, but when I began working with CCALT, only about 100,000 acres were protected by conservation easements in the entire state of Colorado.  Today, CCALT has protected over a half of a million acres, which represents about 25% of all the easement protected lands in the state.  That is truly remarkable! On a side note, if you had a penny for every acre, and you stacked those pennies on top of one another, you’d have a pile 250 stories high.  That’s a lot higher than the highest building (the Burj Khalifa in Dubai) which tops out at 160 stories.  Thank goodness each of those acres is beautiful, productive ag land instead.  What good would a ½ mile tall stack of pennies be to any one?” 

Tim Wohlgenant and Chris West participate in a spring branding on a conserved ranch.

Ben Duke (current CCALT board president): “Few could have imagined this milestone 20 years ago.  It represents a huge commitment by the farmers and ranchers across Colorado to help maintain both the Western spirit and the strength of our rural, agricultural economy.  Perhaps more important, though, it represents the promise and the ability for countless Colorado families to stay on their ranches and farms for many generations into the future.” 

Jay Fetcher (founding and current CCALT board member): “Wow!! 500,000 acres!!  This number is amazing, but the real success is the number of ranch families that have committed their lands to Forever Colorado.  CCALT was founded on the premise that families were the real measure of our achievements and these 250+ landowners need to be honored for their dedication.” 

Jay Fetcher hosting one of the first CCALT sunset BBQ’s.

Kenny Rogers (current CCALT board member): “I care so much about how many families are still in business and were able to transfer their ranches to the next generation because of CCALT, but that is a boatload of acres! Good work!” 

Vince Kontny (first CCALT landowner to do a conservation easement): “First off, I want to offer hearty congratulations! I am very proud of CCALT and all parallel organizations in the state that are working to conserve ranchland. I am dedicated to ranchland conservation and to see others joining in the cause makes me very happy. Congratulations!” 

Randy Rusk (former CCALT board member and CCALT landowner): “500,000 acres means a lot. When we started CCALT, the first easements we closed, we were so excited that we just jumped up and down and got crazy. To have CCALT go to this level is unreal. CCALT was a shot in the dark, but it was a good idea then and it’s a good idea now. I’m proud of you guys.” 

Randy and Claricy Rusk at an early CCALT Sunset BBQ.

Chris West: (former CCALT executive director): “500,000 acres is such a huge accomplishment and should absolutely be celebrated! What’s behind those acres means the most to me. The ranching communities themselves got us here; they have been proactive in ensuring that their ranching legacies live on and that is inspiring. I hope we hit one million acres conserved in the next decade. I think we can do it!” 

A young Chris West on a CCALT site visit.

Larry Kueter (CCALT legal counsel): “Reaching a half million acres of conserved property on nearly 300 ranches means to me that CCALT has been successful in creating a legacy of a protected agricultural landscape to support Colorado’s food production and the communities that provide it.  That happens one ranch at a time, and 500,000 acres is a sign of the common ground that now exists between agricultural production and private land conservation.” 

Larry Kueter at a CCALT event.

Reeves Brown (CCA president during CCALT’s formation): “To me, 500,000 acres means that the bold experiment that CCA embarked on in 1992 to create the first land trust of its kind has proven to be visionary leadership that was way ahead of its time. Through CCALT, the Cattlemen’s Association is protecting more than just livelihoods, it is also protecting legacies for future generations. This number is also a testament to the fact that no one cares more about these landscapes than the very people who make their living from them.” 

Bill Silberstein (CCALT legal counsel): “I was present for both the very first conservation easement done in 1997 by CCALT and the most recent. 500,000 acres conserved is quite an accomplishment for the organization. Thank you for preserving this magnificent land for agricultural families and the rest of us.” 

Bill Silberstein and Jay Fetcher in the early days of CCALT.

Carolyn Aspelin (former CCALT project staff): “This achievement showcases the resiliency of Colorado’s ranching communities, and provides another reason to keep on working to preserve the ranching legacies that will continue to define the state of Colorado!” 

Carolyn Aspelin as an intern at CCALT.

Terry Fankhauser (current CCA executive vice president): “500,000 acres is a real milestone for conservation in Colorado.  Of even greater importance are the landowners, communities and commitments to conservation that those acres represent.  In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Conservation will ultimately boil down to rewarding the private landowner who conserves the public interest.” 

Terry Fankhauser at one of the first CCALT National Western Stock Show dinners.

Carolyn Durrand (current CCALT landowner): “This conservation milestone is important to me because it means that when I am gone, my land will remain the same, and that can also be said for nearly 300 other ranches and half a million acres. Future generations will be able to enjoy the land the way it is now, and that is so important.” 

Looking back at a successful past is a well-deserved treat, but CCALT isn’t quite there yet. 500,000 acres is in our reach, but we need your help in the final push. Before the year comes to a close, we ask you to think about what 500,000 acres means to you and if it matters to you, make a gift, save an acre, and be part of our biggest milestone yet. 

To all who have played a part in the first 500,000 acres, thank you. We hope you’ll join us on the next set.