Crestone Eagle, October 2002:
Baca Ranch acquisition moves toward
by David Nicholas
In the unlikely event that some bidder appears
out of the blue to top Vaca Partners bid of approximately
$34 million, the foreclosure sale of the Baca Ranch should
be completed on November 30. Vaca Partners will then take
control of the ranch from Cabeza de Vaca Land and Cattle Company,
the firm set up to create and operate a water exportation
plan. Under the terms of the foreclosure sale, there was a
180-day period before acceptance of the deal could be finalized.
The Baca Ranch is one of the integral parts for the creation
of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. This inclusion
of the ranch in the Park removes the property as a target
for private water development.
Finalization of the foreclosure means that the sale of the
Baca Ranch by Vaca Partners to The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
can proceed. If all goes well, completion of the deal should
take place by April 30, 2003. Two lawsuits by former partners
of Cabeza de Vaca are still obstacles and will need to be
resolved before the deal is completed. However, all parties
are optimistic that the lawsuits will be resolved before then.
The Nature Conservancy financed the $31.28 million purchase
price through a series of loans from non-profit foundations
and private donors ($16.1 million), a loan from the state
lands board ($5 million), and partial funding from the Federal
Government ($10.2 million).
The Colorado State Land Board
The mission of the Colorado State Land Board (CSLB) is to
“manage the assets entrusted to our care (granted by
the Federal Government when Colorado became a state in 1876)
for our beneficiaries by producing a reasonable and consistent
income with the long term protection of economic values, while
providing environmental stewardship to ensure the conservation
of natural resources.” What all that means is that the
Board can issue grazing, farming, recreational and mining
leases on these lands.
20,000 acres of State Trust Lands, as they are called, border
the southwest corner of the ranch, and these will be incorporated
also into the federal acquisition under the National Park
legislation. In mid-2000, Lexam Exploration, which holds the
mining rights on the Baca Ranch, applied to the Board to drill
natural gas exploration wells on the adjacent lands. The National
Park Service objected and Lexam withdrew the application before
a decision could be made.
The CSLB did lease these lands to Cabeza de Vaca partner
Gary Boyce, when he and his partners acquired the Baca Ranch
in 1995, and as such were included as part of the Baca Ranch
in the National Park legislation.
The $5 million loan by CSLB was an expression of state support
for the National Park by Governor Bill Owens
The Interim Management Agreement
Now, when the ranch passes to The Nature Conservancy, the
operation will be overseen with a different arrangement. At
this time, the Interim Management Agreement for the Baca Ranch
is being negotiated between the United States, the CSLB and
TNC to oversee the transition period at this time. The agreement
calls for a board of three members to determine the use of
As there are three Federal agencies with interests in the
Baca Ranch, the United States Representative will be the agency
which has the appropriate interest. For example, grazing leases
in the southwest corner of the proposed National Park would
be the US Fish and Wildlife Service; while elk hunting, depending
on the area where the culling program takes place, could be
either the US Park Service or the US Forest Service.
The board will decide administrative matters either by consensus
or a majority vote.
Under the transition, leases for grazing and ranches will
be available; there will be a competitive process to determine
who will be the lessee.
There also will be hunting licenses issued to applicants
for the proposed culling of the 4,500 elk herd, which currently
grazes on the ranch. The Colorado Division of Wildlife wants
the cull to reduce elk numbers to about 1500, which is what
they think the land can handle.
How Long Will The Interim Agreement Last?
The Interim agreement lasts until such time as the Federal
Government completes the acquisition of the Baca ranch from
The Nature Conservancy. This is dependent on the final allocations
of funds in the Federal Budget.
In 2002, $10.2 million was allocated, and the funding has
been applied for the acquisition.
The 2003 budget, yet to be voted on by the Congress, will
be between 10.5 and 12.5 million. The 2004 or 2005 Budget
will provide the remaining money. How much this will be depends
on Yale University, whose 50% interest in Vaca Partners was
disclosed earlier this year. Yale has undertaken, in verbal
promises to US Senator Wayne Allard (R-Colorado), to provide
$4 million towards the Federal Government’s costs.
Those in the know believe that all the wrinkles will be ironed
out and make the creation of the Great Sand Dunes National
Park one of the swiftest in history.
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