OPINION | Land Matters: housing and land conservation

Jeremy D. Krones
Colorado Headwaters Land Trust
Views of the Elk Vista Conservation Easement in Kremmling.
Jeremy D. Krones/Colorado Headwaters Land Trust

Land use is rarely all-or-nothing. Ranching, logging, recreation and open spaces can coexist and collaborate when we recognize that we all benefit from sharing the land and resource management.

What limits land use most is development, or the construction of residential, commercial or industrial infrastructure. Development destroys natural habitat, removing native wildlife and allowing invasive and non-native species to fill the spaces between buildings and parking lots. These introduced species are often more adaptable to a changing climate and other human disturbances, and will push out native species that make where we live such unique and beautiful places.

However, conservation and development are not inherently at odds. The collaboration of the two means understanding what each one is and how they work together.

A recent article in The New York Times by Talmon Joseph Smith, “Can Affluence and Affordable Housing Coexist in Colorado’s Rockies?” (Aug 17, 2023), debated the current state of housing in Colorado, an argument with which we in Grand County are intimately familiar. I take issue with the article’s reference to conservation easements.

The article quotes a housing advocate from Boulder referring to the conservation easement movement as a “xenophobic attitude of ‘there’s only so much to go around.'”

I find this to be a short-sighted perspective. By blaming conservation for our housing struggles, the quote might just say there is only one good use for land – development.

Conservation easements transfer development and subdivision rights, along with other agreed upon property rights, from the landowner, to an eligible organization in perpetuity. (Note: the article defines easements as agreements with local governments; they are more often held by land trusts, 501(c)(3) conservation nonprofits).

Environmental conservation is the wise use of resources – use what resources we need today to ensure those resources can be used tomorrow. Land is such a resource: We have plenty of developable land already, so let’s protect the land that doesn’t have to be developed today. With that ethic, conservation easements do far more for the communities in which they’re granted than just preventing unnecessary development. By protecting the land, we protect native species, free-flowing waters, clean air, the night sky, viewsheds, recreation, and so much more that sustains the natural world as well as the quality of life for everyone.

The advocate also claimed that land conservation is “restricting access to a hot commodity.” Housing is the hot commodity whose access is being restricted, not land.

The issues driving high housing costs are also not just preventing newcomers – they are driving out existing residents, making the communities more stressed for labor and basic services unrelated to the tourist industries.

Conservation works better on a landscape scale than in bits and pieces. Instead of arguing against land conservation for the sake of redundant homes, we should look to maximizing the density of what’s already been developed, and working to maintain a cost of living that is accessible to everyone.

If we don’t, then what happens when all the land is paved over and there are no more purple mountain majesties to appreciate? Maybe then the cost of living will be low. We can work together to ensure a safer, healthier and more livable world for everyone, including the natural world around us.

Colorado Headwaters Land Trust’s Executive Director Jeremy D. Krones.
Colorado Headwaters Land Trust/Courtesy photo

Jeremy D. Krones is the executive director of Colorado Headwaters Land Trust. The land trust’s mission is to conserve and steward the open lands and natural character of the headwaters of the Colorado River in partnership with the local community, and works with private landowners throughout Grand County to conserve their land in perpetuity. To learn more, please call (970) 887-1177 or email:

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