Dan and Anita Fernandez completed a conservation easement with MLC on their approximately 1,100 acre Sundown Farm in 2012. The property is a mix of agricultural fields and sage brush habitat. Sundown Farm is adjacent to the Coalbed Canyon State Wildlife area as well as another privately owned conservation easement.
The farm was established around the turn of the century and the house on the property was built in the early 1920s. Dan and Anita bought their first 80 acres in 1990 from the family of the original homesteaders. Over the next fifteen years, Dan and Anita purchased surrounding properties as they became available to piece together Sundown Farm.
Originally, the Fernandezes planned to keep the 80 acres surrounding the house but to sell the remainder of the property for development. But they later decided they “couldn’t stand to see house out here,” because they enjoyed the property’s isolation and privacy too much to see it developed. Instead, they decided to pursue a conservation easement.
Much of Sundown Farms is mapped as Gunnison sage-grouse overall range and as a Gunnison sage-grouse production area. Consequently, MLC and the Fernandezes were able to work with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to secure funding for Sundown Farms Conservation Easement.
Today, Dan and Anita lease approximately 200 acres of Sundown Farms to a local rancher to graze his cattle. The remainder of the property, historical farmground, is enrolled in CRP. Dan and Anita hope to see the property managed as an active farm and ranch operation in the future. In regards to operating the farm with a conservation easement, Dan says that the “main thing is to be cognizant of the reasons for the conservation easement.” Here, one of the primary purposes is to protect the sage grouse so it is important not to destroy sage grouse habitat. In the process of negotiating the easement, everything was carefully mapped out and planned. The Fernandezes worked carefully with CPW to develop a management plan for the property. While the terms of the management plan regarding grouse habitat are strict, “it was not a mandate. It [the plan] was all worked out together.”
The Sundown Farm easement is a fantastic example of local efforts to protect the Gunnison sage-grouse. And, MLC has continued that effort by working with neighboring property owners and other landowners in the Dove Creek area to protect approximately 3,300 acres of sage grouse habitat while simultaneously preserving the area’s agricultural economy and heritage.