Trust for Public Land, The Nature Conservancy and Palmer Land Conservancy Announce Multi-Year Partnership to Conserve Priority Open Space, Sustain Military Operations
Under New SOAR Initiative, First Phase Acquisition Completed of Bohart Ranch, a Portion of Larger 48,000-Acre Property
Colorado Springs Business and Philanthropic Leaders Step Up to Support Initiative
Colorado Springs, CO – Trust for Public Land (TPL), The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Palmer Land Conservancy (Palmer) announced today the launch of a major, new, multi-year initiative working with local military installations to conserve high-priority wildlife habitat, open spaces and agricultural landscapes that buffer or serve as critical training areas for Colorado Springs-area military installations, including the United States Air Force Academy (the Academy).
In addition to announcing the new initiative, dubbed the Security, Open space, and Agricultural Resiliency Initiative, or SOAR, the partners today also announced the initiative’s first project, the acquisition of 11,900 acres of the historic Bohart Ranch, a 48,000-acre (or 75-square mile) ranch owned by the Colorado State Land Board located east of Colorado Springs. The skies above the Bohart Ranch and a remote runway on the property known as Bullseye Auxiliary Airfield are critical Air Force training areas.
Several training zones used by the Academy in recent years have been compromised by encroaching development as the region’s population grows, threatening pilot proficiency and training. Conserving key lands, like the Bohart Ranch, will limit encroaching development that negatively impacts military training operations, while protecting critical wildlife habitat and ensuring agriculture remains a vital part of the region’s economy.
“This partnered effort protects the continued viability of Bullseye Auxiliary Airfield and continues to ensure the safety and effectiveness of the Academy’s Airmanship programs,” said Air Force Col. Nancy Taylor, 306th Flying Training Group Commander at the United States Air Force Academy. “The ability to conduct flight operations at both Bullseye, and from the Academy’s Davis Airfield, decongests our training airspace and demonstrates the power of partnerships.”
Air Force Academy Cadets participating in powered flight training have used Bullseye since its construction in the 1990s. Currently, the Academy is exploring limited use of the auxiliary airfield to support freefall parachute training and non-powered flight (glider) soaring instruction, both currently conducted at the Academy. Beyond the Academy’s use, the 1st Flying Training Squadron, a part of Air Education and Training Command, headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, also uses the auxiliary airfield to support Air Force initial flight training conducted from Pueblo Memorial Airport.
The Bohart Ranch is owned by the Colorado State Land Board, which is a state agency that oversees three million acres of trust land and leases the land for the financial benefit of public schools. TNC has held a lease on the property since 1998 to sustainably manage the property’s ecologically important shortgrass and sandsage prairies, which together support over 200 plants species, over 40 species of native mammals, numerous declining grassland bird species, and over 48 miles of streams. TNC, in turn, subleases the ranch to a multi-generational ranching family known for their stewardship of the land. The family will continue to lease and steward the land after this purchase. This acquisition of nearly 19-square miles of the Bohart Ranch is the first phase of a multi-phase project that in the coming years will result in the purchase and permanent conservation of the entire 75-square mile ranch. The Colorado State Land Board will direct the proceeds from this and future SOAR acquisition projects to its mission in support of public education.
The State Land Board rarely sells land and only does so when it is clear that the reinvestment of the proceeds can provide a greater benefit to the trusts. In January 2023, the Governor-appointed Commissioners at the State Land Board voted unanimously in favor of making the Bohart Ranch available for disposal to a conservation-focused buyer.
“The conservation partners involved in this project know that by working together to address common goals we can achieve the large-scale conservation that truly makes a difference for nature, people and communities both for today and tomorrow,” said Carlos Fernandez, Colorado state director for The Nature Conservancy. “TNC began working with the ranching community and the State Land Board on the future of the Bohart Ranch 25 years ago to protect the extraordinary biodiversity it supports. Today, the solution to protecting the ranch’s and region’s natural heritage is found in a partnership that will also prioritize agriculture, open space and the military installations that are a critical part of the economic and cultural fabric of this community. This conservation partnership is our best opportunity to protect these treasured resources into the future.”
TPL and TNC have significant experience in Colorado and across the country in working with community partners and military installations to protect lands and waters identified as priorities for buffering bases, protecting ecosystem health and securing mission- and training-critical areas. In Colorado, TPL worked closely with the Air Force to successfully acquire lands around Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, most of which now are managed as public open space. In Colorado Springs, TNC has partnered with the U.S. Army to protect priority lands around Fort Carson.
“Through the SOAR Initiative, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make major progress in securing the natural, economic and cultural vibrancy of the Colorado Springs region,” said Jim Petterson, Mountain West Region vice president for Trust for Public Land. “You know you’re onto something when a project emerges that conserves important wildlife habitat and open space, supports agricultural production, provides much-need funds for public education and enhances national security and military readiness. I also want to express our partnership’s gratitude to Northrop Grumman and El Pomar Foundation for recognizing the importance of this effort and stepping up as early investors in the SOAR Initiative.”
A portion of funding for this purchase was provided by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program, which for more than 20 years has supported significant nature and community conservation efforts across the country, including here in Colorado.
“This initiative is a win-win for conservation and our military installations, driven by local collaboration. It’s a no-brainer,” said Senator Hickenlooper.
The REPI program, its goals and the funding available is an important component of the SOAR Initiative, of which the purchase of Bohart Ranch is just the first step. This larger regional effort is supported by a coalition including TNC, TPL, Palmer, the U.S. Air Force, Space Force, and Army, together with partners Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), Colorado State Land Board, the Defense Mission Task Force (DMTF), and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust, with a goal of protecting nearly 80,000 acres, or 125 square miles, of land in the Colorado Springs area over the next 5-10 years through the purchase and conservation of properties owned by the State Land Board.
“The Defense Mission Task Force is proud to participate in this large regional effort, many years in the making already, along with our dedicated coalition partners,” said Keith Klaehn, DMTF Chair. “Unplanned and incompatible uses of the lands immediately proximate to the military bases and training areas of the Pikes Peak Region can compromise the military mission of the installations. This coalition has hit on a strategy to address the issues in a way that benefits the community as well.”
The initiative’s goals are to bring together many interests to conserve intact landscapes that support the continuation of agricultural operations and rural communities, protect priority open space and ecological and cultural resources for ecosystem and community resilience, lower wildfire risk, help mitigate the impacts of climate change, and support the continuation of military operations that provide for national security and the region’s economic and cultural vibrancy.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to work together to strengthen and permanently protect our nation’s military resilience and readiness in southern Colorado while also achieving critical conservation,” said Rebecca Jewett, president and CEO of Palmer Land Conservancy. “The SOAR project will bring tremendous value and benefits to the Colorado Springs community now and for future generations.”
Northrop Grumman, a leading global aerospace and defense technology company, has demonstrated its commitment to this effort by contributing catalytic funding of $1 million to support the SOAR Initiative. An additional $1 million in funding for this project has also been pledged by El Pomar Foundation. Private supporters such as these will play a pivotal role in ensuring the success of this regional conservation initiative.
“Northrop Grumman is proud to support the successful development and training of our nation’s aviators,” said Agartha Larbi, vice president, global corporate responsibility, Northrop Grumman. “As members of the Pikes Peak Regional community, balancing the needs of the USAFA, the local economy, and the ecosystems is important for all who live, work, and grow in this area.
About Trust for Public Land
Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. As a leader in equitable access to the outdoors, TPL works with communities to create parks and protect public land where they are needed most. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 4 million acres of public land, created more than 5,364 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $93 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected nearly 9.4 million people to the outdoors. To learn more, visit tpl.org
About The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy in Colorado has helped protect more than one million acres and over one thousand river miles. You can learn more about The Nature Conservancy at www.nature.org/Colorado.
About Palmer Land Conservancy
Established in 1977, Palmer Land Conservancy has protected over 138,000 acres of land and is one of the most trusted and experienced conservation organizations in Colorado. They have the expertise, relationships, community trust, and organizational excellence to tackle Colorado’s most pressing and challenging water and land conservation needs.