County institutes fresh plan for grazing on open lands

Larimer County is taking a new approach to leasing its open space properties in an effort to raise additional revenues, increase public accessibility, promote competition and encourage creative new uses of the land.

Beginning in January, those holding leases on three county grazing properties are paying more and committed to a five-year lease. Previously leases were renewed annually.

The county made the grazing permit process competitive, in part to realize greater revenues to offset management costs. The change resulted in dramatically increased rates, although Charlie Gindler, a resources specialist in the Larimer County Natural Resources Department, said it’s not yet clear how much in additional proceeds will be realized due to variations in grazing activity.

Previously the county earned $10.78 per animal unit month for each of the three grazing properties. The AUM represents the amount of forage required each month to support an “animal unit” as determined by weight and type.

Through competitive bidding, the county in 2012 will receive $20.50 for each of the 1,300 AUMs at Red Mountain Open Space; $18 for each of the 120 AUMs at the North Property north of Wellington; and $15 for the 144 AUMs at Eagles Nest Open Space.

The change also opens up the possibility of eventually allowing cultivation of genetically modified (GMO) crops on two other county-owned or -managed agricultural properties. The issue was a matter of contentious debate in bordering Boulder County, where county commissioners approved conditional use of GMOs on county-owned property.

The GMO issue is unlikely to appear on the radar here anytime soon. Grindler said there have been no GMO proposals — either in favor or against — in Larimer County and no need now to establish a process for dealing with them. He noted that Boulder County owns far more land suitable for cultivation than Larimer County does.

“I don’t think we would address that unless it comes up. I think we’d do that on a case-by-case basis,” said Gindler, also a rancher and longtime county liaison to the citizen Agricultural Advisory Board.

County ag lands
Larimer County owns two properties suitable for grazing and recreational use — the 14,000-acre Red Mountain and the 640-acre Eagles Nest.

There is no public access to the 640-acre North Property parcel, originally purchased by the county Solid Waste department as a potential site for a future landfill. It is now dedicated solely to grazing.

The county also manages two agricultural properties. It owns the 160-acre River Bluffs site east of Interstate 25 between Timnath and Windsor, which produces grass and alfalfa for hay and grazing, with limited recreational use. The 575-acre Long View Farm Open Space west of US Highway 287 between Loveland and Fort Collins, is owned jointly with the two cities. Long View is dedicated to dryland wheat production with no public access.

The competitive process did not however attract any new grazing lessees. They remain the same as before: Eldon Ackerman at Red Mountain; Jeff and Janeen Weiler at Eagles Nest, and Lynn Downey at the North Property.

Gindler said the county will conduct a similar competitive process this year in setting new five-year leases for the Long View and River Bluffs properties beginning in 2013.

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