By Michael Whiting
Southwest Land Alliance
Colorado Open Lands (COL) and Southwest Land Alliance (SLA) announced recently that they have merged operations, effective 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31, 2020.
The two groups have similar missions of permanently protecting Colorado’s wild and working lands.
Michael Whiting, board chair and 15-year veteran of the SLA, remarked, “The merger of COL and SLA is a purposeful, mission-driven evolution of two strong organizations two years in the making. It represents larger resources being applied at the local level with the intended result being renewed vigor and velocity in conservation here. This is the next chapter in the story of conservation here in our area.”
COL and SLA share long, successful histories of land protection. While SLA served the south-central part of the state, with work primarily in Archuleta County, COL serves landscapes statewide, with over half a million acres protected in its 39-year history.
SLA has been operating locally for nearly 40 years, has successfully conserved 44 separate properties on over 26,000 acres with project partners, and holds and provides stewardship for 39 easements on 10,175 acres.
COL Board Chair Paul Phillips said, “We’re very proud to be joining forces with Southwest Land Alliance, which has a storied history of working with landowners to protect some of the most spectacular landscapes, ranches and farms in Colorado. Together, we can conserve and steward even more of the striking natural beauty of this part of our state, serving current and future Coloradans and the wildlife and other species which rely upon those lands.”
SLA’s portfolio of preserved lands includes treasured local views like the At Last Ranch, Pagosa Peak and Cats Paw Ranch. The group faithfully fulfilled its mission of “preserving and protecting in perpetuity the biologically, agriculturally and historically important land in our region while there remains an opportunity to do so.”
Whiting added, “When I think of these properties, my heart swells. Forty years of community support of our work has protected these jewels in perpetuity.”
SLA has no full-time staff and was operated by volunteers. By bringing in the resources and expertise of a statewide organization, COL is confident that conservation in Archuleta and surrounding counties can be taken to new levels of engagement and protection.
Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) and the Jacob and Terese Hershey Foundation provided funding for COL and SLA to complete work on this merger.
COL Community Conservation Manager Ben Lenth said, “It’s been a delight to start getting to know the people and landscapes of Archuleta County and beyond. Colorado Open Lands is honored to continue Southwest Land Alliance’s legacy of outstanding — and permanent — land conservation and we’re excited to see what comes next.”
COL is a private, nonprofit land trust that works to enhance Colorado’s quality of life by protecting its most treasured asset: open lands. Since 1981, COL has helped landowners conserve more than 560,000 acres around the state and fostered partnerships responsible for critical innovations in conservation funding, water management, and more. In 2015, COL adopted an ambitious strategic plan to help interested landowners protect a total of 800,000 acres across Colorado by 2025.