The Nature Conservancy has signed an agreement to purchase the Baca Ranch, encompassing approximately 97,000 acres on the border of the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve in Colorado's San Luis Valley, for $31.28 million.
Funding for the purchase was provided by an existing $10.2 million appropriation from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, a $7 million low-interest loan from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, a $5 million partial purchase by the Colorado State Land Board, a $3 million loan from the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, and private fundraising by the Conservancy. The acquisition is the first in a set of transactions that will result in the establishment of Great Sand Dunes National Park, the creation of a Baca National Wildlife Refuge, and a significant addition to the Rio Grande National Forest by 2005. Until the land is transferred fully to public ownership at that time, the ranch will be jointly held by the Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Colorado State Land Board.
The ranch, which covers slightly more than 151 square miles, harbors many rare and at-risk plant and animal species in its sand dunes, cottonwood groves, forests, and wetlands and is home to eight insect species found nowhere else in the world. Because the streams and wetlands on the ranch continually create and replenish the dunes system, the purchase of the land and its associated water rights will also protect the existence of the Great Sand Dunes themselves.
"This project represents conservation and partnership at a truly heroic scale," said Steve McCormick, president and CEO of the Arlington, Virginia-based Conservancy. "Not only will the protection of the Baca Ranch create a protected area large enough to sustain the area's natural diversity for the long term, but it brought together an unprecedented coalition of local, state, and federal partners, all aligned with the same goal in mind: the conservation of this awe-inspiring place."