Natural Resources

Colorado’s iconic mountain ranges, farms and ranchlands, public lands, rivers, and open spaces are an undeniable part of our shared identity as Coloradans. We live in a state where three in four residents consider themselves conservationists, and 87% understand that Colorado’s open lands and outdoor lifestyle give the state an economic advantage.

Colorado's Agricultural HeritageYet Colorado’s land and water resources are under enormous pressure as the state’s population continues to grow and urbanize. The Gates Family Foundation plays an active role in conserving Colorado’s unique landscapes, waterways, and agricultural heritage in ways that allow both natural and human systems to thrive. We believe that collaboration, innovation, and non-traditional partnerships are the key to balanced management of limited resources. We also support increasing the numbers and diversity of people engaged in natural resources stewardship statewide to ensure Colorado’s conservation future. We advance these ideals through a number of strategies:

Landscape Conservation

This property along the Rio Grande River in the San Luis Valley is now permanently protected, thanks to Gates grantee Western Rivers Conservancy.

In Colorado, approximately 100,000 acres of farm, ranch, or forest lands — an area roughly equivalent to the City and County of Denver — are lost every year to development. These landscapes are critical for the state’s biodiversity, scenic values, recreation, water protection, agricultural production, rural economies, and cultural heritage.

Gates Family Foundation has been funding land conservation since 1978. Our first project supported the protection of Mueller Ranch, which is now a state park at the base of Pike’s Peak. Since the launch of Great Outdoors Colorado in 1992, Gates has been the state’s largest source of matching funds for public-private land protection. We prioritize projects with demonstrated impact, strong funding leverage, scale, connectivity, and a high degree of collaboration, landowner commitment, and community support.

Our strategic grants program makes large, long-term commitments to land conservation and community partners who are protecting two “focus landscapes” of statewide significance:  Southeast Colorado and the San Luis Valley. In addition, we support land conservation projects statewide through our capital grants program.

Land Trust Capacity Building

Nonprofit land trusts are responsible for the stewardship of nearly 80% of the 2.2 million acres of private land conserved in Colorado. Because of this, the Foundation is keenly interested in building the capacity, vibrancy, and sustainability of the state’s land trusts.

Since 2011, we have invested in leadership development for strong land trusts and supported new operating models and partnership agreements among smaller trusts. We’ve also helped land trusts of all sizes develop and adopt best practices, create and defend tools for conservation, and strengthen collaboration to address complex, statewide challenges and opportunities. In 2018, we helped to steer and support the Conservation Futures Project, a year-long effort that helped Colorado’s land trusts launch Keep It Colorado — a new, statewide coalition with the vision, capacity, and structure to most effectively guide and support the land conservation community as it evolves to meet current and future challenges.

See our recent strategic grants supporting Land Trust Capacity Building

Balanced Water Management

Upper Colorado

Colorado is home to the headwaters for four major rivers (the Colorado, Rio Grande, Arkansas, and South Platte) that flow out of state, supplying water to 19 other states and more than 35 million people. Population growth and urban development in Colorado and throughout the region are intensifying conflicts between the diverse needs of these urban and rural water users, as well as our wild places and ecosystems. The state’s first-ever Water Plan was approved in 2015, and recognizes the need to balance protection of Colorado’s river flows — precious for both environmental and recreational use — with the demands of municipal, industrial, and agricultural water users. 

The Foundation seeks to advance new tools, processes, and ideas to realize a long-term, sustainable balance between all of these demands. We prioritize projects that promote cross-sector cooperation and market-based tools, connect land use and water conservation, support instream flows and healthy rivers, develop better water data and analysis, and advance priorities identified in the State Water Plan.

See our recent strategic grants supporting Balanced Water Management

Colorado Fourteeners Initiative

Stewardship at Scale

More than 75% of Colorado’s residents recreate outdoors on a weekly basis, and the state’s annual tourist population is growing rapidly — bringing 86 million visitors and $1.28 billion in tax revenue to the state in 2018. Increased use threatens to permanently damage the natural areas that are so beloved, just as public land management agencies and their partner nonprofits often lack sufficient resources and manpower for adequate stewardship. The Foundation supports large-scale efforts to engage residents, especially youth and diverse populations, in the care of natural resources throughout Colorado. We also support job training and employment opportunities that create pathways to engage new populations with the outdoors, such as those being developed through Great Outdoors Colorado’s “Generation Wild” programs statewide. We prioritize partnerships and collaborations that result in a much larger and more diverse network of stewards to help meet the needs of Colorado’s threatened outdoor spaces and wild places.

See our recent strategic grants supporting Stewardship at Scale

Ecosystem Services

Sage Grouse (Courtesy of the Environmental Defense Fund)

Decisions regarding natural resources management are often made without data illustrating the real economic cost that can result from damaging or destroying natural systems. Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) tools monetize the value that healthy ecosystems provide to human communities, and utilize market mechanisms to address threats to those ecosystems through “win-win” finance and practice models. This emerging field has great potential, but the practical implementation of these concepts is still in its infancy.

The Foundation supports research and pilot projects in Colorado that advance valuation and market development for ecosystem services, integrate these tools into public and private decision-making, and demonstrate the potential to provide viable, long-term, market-based solutions to conservation’s most pressing issues.

See our recent strategic grants supporting Ecosystem Services

How We Support Natural Resources

Strategic Grants

Foundation staff work closely with a diverse set of partners to initiate and support natural resources projects that advance the strategic priorities and goals listed above. A few examples include the Conservation Futures Project, our multi-year work in Focus Landscapes, and our investments in innovative water projects. If you think your project or organization might be a fit for our Natural Resources program, we encourage you to browse our past strategic grants or contact a team member below.

Capital Grants

Three times a year, we accept applications for natural resources projects that fit the criteria of our capital grants program. In this way, we support land conservation in Colorado geographies not included in our Focus Landscape program; projects that acquire, construct, and improve parks, greenways, and trail systems; and public recreation facilities, outdoor spaces, and community gardens — particularly those in underserved urban and rural areas.

Impact Investments

Alongside grantmaking, impact investments deploy more of the Foundation’s capital in mission-aligned ways. Our natural resources portfolio of Mission-Related Investments includes projects that generate a market rate of return for restoration of ranch properties in Colorado and nearby states, and sustainably harvested timberlands across the U.S.

Natural Resources Team

Our natural resources team brings an array of experiences and talents to work with our partners and grantees. From strategic planning and partnership development, to deep knowledge of water and land conservation issues statewide and nationally, our team is here to help our partners thrive.

Natural Resources News & Insights

Colorado Voters Approve $1 Billion In Local Funding For the Outdoors

Colorado Voters Approve $1 Billion In Local Funding For the Outdoors

In an election where not a single statewide initiative passed, taxes for land, water, and parks were popular with local voters. Learn More

Two 2018 Legislative Wins Brighten Colorado’s Conservation Future

Two 2018 Legislative Wins Brighten Colorado’s Conservation Future

Thanks to these two legislative victories, the state's conservation partners are positioned for even greater success over the next 25 years. Learn More

Study finds temporary fallowing might help in drought

Study finds temporary fallowing might help in drought

A pilot program under which farmers and ranchers in the Upper Colorado River Basin volunteered to be compensated for temporarily ... Learn More

Natural Resources Grantmaking

Year Grantee Amount Type Strategic Priority Area Served
2018 Colorado Industrial Areas Foundation $30,250

Strategic Grant

Education

Adams

2018 Young Aspiring Americans for Social and Political Activism $25,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Arapahoe

2018 New Legacy Charter High School $250,000

Capital Grant

Education

Arapahoe

2018 Rocky Mountain Preparatory School $5,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2018 RootED $4,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2018 Edgewater Collective $27,500

Strategic Grant

Education

Jefferson

2018 Jefferson County School District $40,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Jefferson

2018 Empower Schools, Inc. $21,519

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2018 America Succeeds $252,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2018 Colorado Succeeds $30,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Chaffee County

2018 Grassroots Foundation, Inc. $40,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Yuma

2018 Colorado League of Charter Schools $80,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2018 Colorado Education Organizing Funder Collaborative (CEO) $60,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2018 Colorado Youth Congress $60,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2018 Academy of Advanced Learning $50,000

Capital Grant

Education

Arapahoe

2018 RootED $300,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2018 Charter Board Partners $20,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2018 A+ Colorado $120,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2018 Education Reform Now $150,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2017 Ricardo Flores Magon Academy $200,000

Capital Grant

Education

Denver

2017 Colorado Charter Facility Solutions $80,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2017 A+ Colorado $5,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2017 Valley Settlement Project $80,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Garfield

2017 Lake County School District R-1 $150,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Lake

2017 Bellwether Education Partners Inc. $105,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2017 Colorado Children’s Campaign $100,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2017 Chalkbeat $150,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2016 Colorado Public Radio/KCFR $50,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2015 Rocky Mountain Preparatory School $850,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2016 Roots Elementary School $160,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2014 Teach For America $1,050,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2016 Mesa County Valley School District #51 $298,299

Strategic Grant

Education

Mesa

2018 Keystone Center $100,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Montezuma

2018 Roaring Fork School District $10,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Garfield

2018 Colorado Future Farmers of America Foundation $30,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2018 Civic Canopy $40,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2018 Climb Higher Colorado $40,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2018 Atlas Preparatory School $35,000

Capital Grant

Education

El Paso

2018 National Black Child Development Institute $25,000

Strategic Grant

Education

Denver

2018 Rural Education Community Planning Initiative $75,000

Strategic Grant

Education

* Statewide

2015 Colorado Charter Facility Solutions $5,000,000

Program-Related Investment

Education

* Statewide

2014 AXL Academy $250,000

Program-Related Investment

Education

Arapahoe