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A tale of two ranches, past and future

The Southwest Land Alliance (SLA) is honored to announce the December 2009 closings of the 1,788-acre Fallview Conservation Easement on the Catspaw Ranch on the Upper Navajo River above the Town of Chromo, and the 86-acre El Rancho de Los Luceros on the San Juan River south of Pagosa Springs near Trujillo.

As I reflected on New Year’s Day about our work in 2009, I thought about these two ranch conservation easements. Fallview is the fourth of four easements, and Rancho de Los Luceros is the first of what I hope will be more. Both ranches are owned by women, one of whom, Lavinia Currier, I have never met. The other, Celina “Sally” Trujillo Espinoza, I have come to know as we went step by step through the conservation easement donation process.

Sally’s family settled their land near the Town of Trujillo many generations ago. Her great grandfather, Jesus Maria Lucero, was deeded 160 acres by Homestead Certificate No. 1630 on Sept. 10, 1907, under the Congressional Homestead Act approved May 20, 1862. The original deed was hand-signed by Teddy Roosevelt! Her roots are as deep as they are wide in Archuleta County. She loves her land, period, and does not want condos, RV campsites, neon signs, gravel pits and land development companies destroying the pristine beauty of the San Juan River and Archuleta Mountain.

Lavinia Currier’s roots, although necessarily shallower, are no less firmly planted on her ranch. In fact, her central reason for owning the Catspaw Ranch is to preserve it. Over several years, Lavinia has worked to manage and preserve nearly her entire ranch in its current, near-pristine state. She loves her land, period.

Sally and Lavinia each possess a clear vision that goes well beyond her lifetime in deciding the fate of her ranch. The conservation easement is a practical tool, maybe the best we currently have, to ensure that their ranches will remain as they wish them remain, forever.

Lavinia recently wrote via e-mail that, “My family is pleased to complete another step in the process of conserving this beautiful valley for future generations and for the wild animals that flourish there. Especially as the San Juan Mountains face ever increasing population and exploitation of minerals, permanent private conservation refuges are the best gift a family can give the earth community … ”

Sally has said to me many times over the course of our work together that she simply wants the ranch “to be there, saved for generations of (my) family to enjoy,” as she and her siblings have. Each woman appears to see her moment on a continuum stretching from the past into the future. In this moment, while she holds the reins, each has chosen to preserve the land for as long as possible. And for that, we thank them.

For our part at SLA, as other large ranches are purchased and split into grids of smaller parcels, we hope we will be able to continue to help landowners like Sally Trujillo Espinoza and Lavinia Currier to preserve enough of the migration corridors and ranchlands upon which our hunting, sight-seeing and vacation home tourism depends. In the process, we need to keep working hard and provide the financial resources to help ranch families hold onto their places, and continue to ranch or farm if they choose.

Contact the Southwest Land Alliance for more information on private land conservation. We’re in the book and on the Web: (970) 264-7779 and www.southwestlandalliance.org.