Colorado Futures Project on the Right Track

By: Jeffrey Boring and Suzanne Stephens

  Suzanne and Jeffrey caught up at a conference in Nebraska and debriefed the recent Colorado Futures Project summit.

Suzanne and Jeffrey caught up at a conference in Nebraska and debriefed the recent Colorado Futures Project summit.

As executive directors of mountain town land trusts, we understand how important it is to “keep it local.” It’s true no matter where you work. Getting to know your community, the farmers and ranchers, hikers and skiers, birdwatchers and business owners is crucial to success. The more local – and personal – the better. Our work, at its core, is about relationships.

While focusing on the local community is important, what’s happening at the state capital – not to mention on Capitol Hill – impacts all of us. Problem is, most local land trusts don’t have the capacity to respond to legislative threats, or lobby for our needs. We need a unified voice and an advocate to ensure the work that we do on the Western Slope or in Estes Park isn’t undone in Denver or Washington.

Enter the Colorado Coalition of Land Trusts (CCLT). Both our organizations have depended on CCLT to represent our interests during the legislative session. Frankly, CCLT should (and we believe does) represent ALL land trusts – before, during, and after each session.

The preparation for the 2018 session began in early 2017 with several different ideas and strategies for protecting our besieged tax credit program and creating the best future for conservation in Colorado.  CCLT fielded input from a broad cross-section of the land trust community, and came up with legislative strategy that reflected our collective needs.

Weekly conference calls kept our land trust coalition communicating in concert, and we were able to adapt as positions changed. The result: We were able to create a new Division of Conservation that will help expedite tax credits and conservation across Colorado.

As we work with the Conservation Futures Project to re-envision our coalition for the future, we strongly believe that a top priority should be to continue CCLT’s legacy of advocating for all Colorado land trusts.

But the land trust movement is changing, and we also need our coalition to adapt to these changes. Connecting our neighbors to our work allows land trusts to remain relevant. Simply tying up land with conservation easements that the public cannot access may not be enough for the land trust community to remain relevant in a growing and diversifying state.

Getting involved in community gardens, affordable housing, youth or social issues are non-traditional roles for many Colorado land trusts. We’re known for protecting open space, wildlife habitat and working land – the geography and lifestyles that define the Colorado experience. In some places, the Colorado experience is changing and the land trust community will need to adapt to remain relevant. Our re-envisioned land trust coalition could be a convener and a sounding board to help us adapt together.    

Our coalition could also help the land trust community develop new major partnerships that advance our work. You can’t watch a truck commercial without seeing images of mountains or farmland. Our coalition could put the land trust community in a position for major corporate partnerships, with Ford or Subaru, for example. Why shouldn’t a car company, Patagonia, or Big Agnes provide major funding for a statewide conservation campaign, if it helps with customer appeal? Our coalition could help make these partnerships happen.

Now is the time to take a step back and reflect about our work and the future of conservation in Colorado. We’re excited to build on the conversations we had at the Colorado Futures Project summit recently in Breckenridge, and we hope that the Steering Committee continues to invite broad input and develop an organizational structure that’s as diverse as the Colorado landscape.

Jeffrey Boring is the Executive Director of the Estes Valley Land Trust, an organization that preserves open space and wildlife habitat near Estes Park, Colorado. Suzanne Stephens is a Colorado native and Executive Director of Aspen Valley Land Trust, protecting wildlands, working lands and open spaces in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys of Western Colorado.