Conservationists, state team up to protect prairie
DENVER (AP)--The Nature Conservancy and the Colorado Department of Transportation have teamed up to protect 32,000 acres of short-grass prairie in eastern Colorado.
The conservation group used about $5 million in state funds to help acquire conservation easements in Prowers, Bent, Pueblo and Weld counties. State officials say the easements will ensure there will be land to offset the impacts of future construction, such as widening highways.
Setting aside the land will also help the state protect mountain plovers, lesser prairie chickens and other species considered at risk, said Sharleen Bakeman, CDOT's environmental policy and planning manager.
The project is expected to save the state up to $30 million in land costs over the next 20 years.
"It helps us to preserve land at today's prices for the future," Bakeman said.
The state works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make sure the effects of development on species is minimized.
"Environmental factors are an essential part of every project plan and decision, in the same way engineering, economic and other factors are considered," said CDOT Executive Director Russ George.
The Nature Conservancy says research by its scientists shows that grasslands are the least protected and most threatened landscapes. Because of the diversity of plants and animals, the scientists say grasslands are vulnerable to development, agriculture, energy and highway construction.
"The Conservancy in Colorado is working to protect 500,000 acres of prairie grasslands in the next five years," said Charles Bedford, the group's state director.