Pagosa Springs, Colo. — ''What can you do with a million dollars? Will it make you happy?'' asks Genelle Macht, who along with Betty Feazel is a member of the board of Upper San Juan Land Protection Inc.
''Here we have a million-dollar view every day,'' she continues.
On her lap is a photo album. The faded tintypes show her husband Ray's ancestors who settled in the area in the 1890s. ''Our roots are deep and we don't want them chopped off by developers,'' she explains.
Out the Machts' living room window looms the dramatic landscape of southwest Colorado: ragged mountains highlighted with snow; aspen groves coloring the hillside with a soft, dove gray; the rich black of the pine forest. Yet, today, Mrs. Macht's million-dollar view has become a threat to her way of life.
Partly because of the magnificent scenery, development has come here to Archuleta County with a vengeance. For miles the county's major thoroughfare is lined with giant billboards offering the passer-by ''a cabin in the woods.'' The county now has 20,000 residential subdivisions.
This mountainous area, with its long winters and short growing season, has always been marginal agriculturally. The state Department of Agriculture estimates the agricultural value of land like the Machts' at $300 to $350 per acre. Developers will pay as high as $3,000 per acre.
Some ranchers are willing to take the money. Others, like the Machts, want to continue ranching and pass the land on to their children. But the Internal Revenue Service's ''highest and best use'' principle means a farm like the Machts could be assessed an estate tax of over $1 million.
The farmland conservancy approach practiced by Upper San Juan Land Protection Inc. can help ranchers like the Machts bring this figure down to a more reasonable level - if they are willing to agree not to develop their land ''in perpetuity.'' The trust decides what land qualifies for its program and makes sure it's not developed in the future. To support this monitoring, the trust charges the landowners a percentage of their tax savings in return for accepting an easement.