March 08, 2007

The Piñon Canyon quandary

The proposed expansion of Fort Carson's Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) makes a lot of southeastern Colorado residents nervous.

Coming back from last weekend's class trip to Vogel Canyon, we saw several versions of "this land is not for sale to the Army" homemade billboards.

Colorado's Congressional delegation has been hearing from them. Senator Wayne Allard has made some noises. Is he trying to slow the process--or just make it more palatable?

Some Colorado legislators want to limit the Army's ability to condemn land, although they know that the bill might not stand up in court.

A lot of wildlife and botanical research takes place there.

SE Colorado was wracked by this same issue in the late 1970s, when the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site was created. In the 1990s, I went quail hunting there several times. You had to buy a special permit, but it was not much trouble.

Once my friend and I strolled into one of the former ranch houses--we could tell that the owners had just packed and left without tidying up at all. Perhaps they were some of the unwilling sellers whose land was taken by eminent domain. A 1978 Sears catalog still lay open on the kitchen counter. It spoke of pain.

Yet despite the Humvee tracks and the occasional bit of military debris, PCMS had lots of wildlife when I was there--maybe more than when it was grazing land. Windmills were maintained to pump water for wildlife. Certain sensitive areas were cordoned off and treated as "minefields." Like Fort Carson itself, PCMS was turning into something of a wildlife sanctuary. (Some hunting and fishing at Fort Carson is open to the general public.)

As a visitor, I was able to go places and explore things like the ruined stage stop that I probably could never have done before, unless I was the previous landowner's cousin or something.

On the other hand, expansion could restrict public access to areas in the Comanche National Grassland that are now open. And of course the ranchers who lease grazing rights there would lose them, further cutting into their economic base.

1 comment:

JP Hibler said...

Chas,

You bring up some good points on both sides of the issues. I know that nature finds a way to not only exist, but to thrive in the face of adversity. Still, I cannot help but think that a better alternative exists---maybe I am wrong.