Steamboat Springs Ranching is a key Colorado industry, and like skiing and mining, it’s synonymous with Routt County. No matter where you live, you are never far from a ranch. Protecting our heritage, economy and quality of life is at the heart of historic preservation. It is why Colorado Preservation and its local partner, Historic Routt County, think that keeping ranching viable is one of the most important preservation battles we face.
Why use the word “battle”? Because ranchers in the southeastern corner of Colorado are doing just that to protect their property rights, heritage and livelihood. Ranchers are no strangers to adversity. Their struggles with Mother Nature are just part of the job description. Unfortunately, that struggle pales in comparison with the judicial aggressions they face.
In 1982, the battle for ranch families began when our government condemned 238,000 acres of range to establish the Army’s Piñon Canon Maneuver Site, the largest condemnation action in U.S. history. On May 6, 2004, Fort Carson published its 18-year phased plan for acquisition of 6.9 million acres in southeastern Colorado. It was described in more detail in “The Piñon Vision” document dated Jan. 12, 2006.
On July 18, 2006, the Department of Defense approved Fort Carson’s application for a waiver of the moratorium on major land acquisition. The waiver authorized Fort Carson to acquire 418,577 acres of land. Although last year the Army stated that it would settle for 100,000 acres, and then earlier this year said it did not have immediate plans or funding for expansion, the authorization for 418,577 acres remains. A funding ban for the acquisition is now in place, but under threat. The funding ban for this acquisition must be kept intact, and the waiver vacated.
The Army’s acquisition is the first phase of the 6.9 million acre takeover plan, an area the size of Connecticut. It is the corner of Colorado from Interstate 25 east to the Kansas border and from La Junta south to the New Mexico and Oklahoma state lines.
This is some of the most productive cattle land in the nation. It is rich in biological resources and prehistoric and historic sites of national significance. It now is threatened through the process of inverse condemnation. Since the expansion plans became public knowledge, land values in the area have decreased and investment in ranch infrastructure has dropped significantly. That is how inverse condemnation works — the threat of seizure becomes condemnation.
Job creation is the excuse the Army, defense contractors and a few elected officials use to justify the impending land grab in Otero, Las Animas, Bent, Prowers and Baca counties. While the expansion might assist Colorado Springs, one has to consider the impact it would have in Pueblo, La Junta and the ranchers of the region. Does it make sense to trade the economic vitality of one part of the state for another?
Most ranchers are rich in land, cattle and heritage, but not money. They need support from Coloradans everywhere to be able to afford this fight. To learn more about the opposition to the expansion of the Piñon Canon Maneuver Site, visit www.pinoncanyon.com or call 866-426-7026. This is a preservation battle Colorado cannot afford to lose.
Editor’s note: Adapted with permission from an article by James Hare, executive director of Colorado Preservation. Arianthé C. Stettner is an adviser to Historic Routt County and president of the Board of Directors for Colorado Preservation.