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New conservation easement protects archaeology and farmland in Yellow Jacket

Property west of Yellow Jacket has been placed in a conservation easement to protect archaeology sites, open space and farmland. (Courtesy Montezuma Land Conservancy)
Protected private land in Montezuma County borders Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

A Yellow Jacket landowner and two land conservancies have teamed up to preserve private farmland and archaeological sites that border Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

Jerry Fetterman chose to create a 266-acre conservation easement with the Montezuma Land Conservancy on his private land along Sandstone and Yellow Jacket Canyons.

The deed-attached easements prevent the three parcels from being developed and include permanent protection for archaeological sites, open space and agriculture use.

“I want to protect the archaeology and the land and do not want to see it become subdivided with a lot of homes,” Fetterman said in a phone interview.

The conservation easements are attached to two separate areas of his land and include three parcels. They are not open to the public.

As part of the agreements, each parcel retains a 5-acre building envelope, one of which includes Fetterman’s current residence. The other two building envelopes are undeveloped, but a home site could be built in each of them in the future.

The properties now under the conservation easement are rich with Ancestral Puebloan cultural sites, including kivas, surface structures and pottery shards.

The Colorado State Historical Fund has awarded Fetterman a $12,000 grant to help document and protect the archaeological sites on his property. The sites are mostly from the Pueblo 2-3 eras dating between 900 and 1350, he said.

Surveys and research will be conducted by the archaeology firm Woods Canyon Inc., based in Cortez, beginning this week, and will continue for months.

“The documentation has been spotty, so we want to bring it up to the next level and see what we can learn,” said Fetterman, an archaeologist and former owner of Woods Canyon.

A site of archaeological significance is protected and will be further studied on the Fetterman conservation easement southwest of Yellow Jacket. (Courtesy Montezuma Land Conservancy)
Local landowner Jerry Fetterman (center) pictured with Montezuma Land Conservancy Conservation Director James Reimann (left) and Executive Director Travis Custer (right) at the closing of the 266-acre Fetterman Conservation Easement on Nov. 21. (Courtesy Montezuma Land Conservancy)

There will be no new excavations of archaeological sites on the conserved properties, he said. The goal is to make them available for researchers and to provide limited tours to the public.

The Yellow Jacket fire in 2020 burned over portions of the archaeological sites on the property, Fetterman said. Reseeding has been ongoing, and stabilization to prevent erosion near the sites will be part of the study.

Conditions of the conservation easements are monitored annually to ensure compliance. The local Hisatsonim Chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society will assist MLC and Fetterman with site stewardship.

“Jerry is very passionate about conserving the archaeological values and wants to keep the farmland intact for future generations,” said James Reimann, MLC Conservation Director. “Farmland is disappearing at an alarming rate, and to preserve it benefits the agricultural community along with open space.”

He said the project is special because of the land’s impressive archaeological values. The majority of conservation easements by the agency have been to protect agricultural land and open space.

“That it borders the monument adds to that conservation corridor,” Reimann said.

Separate from the Montezuma Land Conservancy easements, Fetterman also donated a 35-acre parcel of his property with an ancient cliff dwelling to the Archaeological Conservancy, based in New Mexico. The agency will study the site, which also borders the monument, and work to protect and preserve it, he said.

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Incentives for conservation easements

Conservation easements provide permanent protection for values such as open space, agriculture, wildlife and archaeology.

The conservation commitment also provides state and federal tax credits for the property owners.

Colorado has been supportive of conservation easements. In 2021 legislation was passed that increased the amount of tax credits on the value of the easement to 90%.

The tax savings helps to offset the easement closing costs for landowners, Reimann said. Colorado is also one of the few states that allows the tax credits granted from conservation easements to be sold by the property owner to a buyer seeking tax liability relief.

Selling tax credits can be a way to keep a farm or ranch operation solvent, Reimann said.

The incentives have generated more interest for property owners considering putting their land into a conservation easements.

“Some projects that may have not penciled out in the past now may be closer to getting across the finish line,” he said.

Development of conservation easements slowed down because of the coronavirus pandemic, but interest is rebounding.

The Fetterman conservation easement is the first one completed by MLC since 2021.

Since it began in 1998, MLC has worked with 75 families to conserve 91 properties totaling over 46,000 acres throughout Montezuma, Dolores and San Miguel counties.