The Crestone Eagle, October 2002:

Baca Ranch acquisition moves toward completion
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 the ranch.

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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