Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Coalition Building

The head of the Nature Conservancy in Colorado, Charles Bedford, had an op-ed piece (posted below) in The Gazette today lauding a new $7 million buffer zone around Ft. Carson. Turns out, what's good for artillery ranges is good for Bambi lovers too.

The problem for the fort was this: The exurbs of Pueblo West were creeping in on the southern flank. Battalions of doublewides, each on about five acres (none with any water), had taken a position on the eastern front. I was doing trail work with a young captain one day last summer and he was grousing about the doublewide residents complaining every time the practices at Ft. Carson's gunnery range got too spirited. According to him, people even had their windows blown out.
What could Ft. Carson do? It's not going to stop lobbing shells, so it started buying people out to create a strip of undeveloped land around its proving grounds.

It turns out this strip is critical for the Nature Conservancy's master plan to maintain an undeveloped corridor on the rapidly urbanizing (or at least suburbanizing) Front Range. The group already owns the 41,000-acre Bohart Ranch southeast of Colorado Springs, which links up with two other conservation-minded ranches to the west, Chico Basin Ranch and T-Cross Ranch. These lands connect with Ft. Carson. On the west side of the post, the Nature Conservancy owns the 1,600-acre Aiken Preserve. The preserve connects to the Pike National Forest.
Together, these properties form a strand of undeveloped land stretching from the low cholla cactus flats to the icy alpine summits, creating a corridor in which animals can travel relatively freely.

So, everybody wins. Well, everybody except the people who didn't want to move out of the buffer zone.

The thing about this that I think people often overlook is that in this military town, the military bases act like open space buffers already. What would Colorado Springs look like without Ft. Carson and the Air Force Academy acting like bookends? It's not a pretty picture.

The guest commentary by Charles Bedford:
Fort Carson buffer zone a Boon to region
The Army’s recent allocation of an
additional $7 million to conserve buffer zone lands around Fort Carson will
protect not only our country’s military preparedness, but also our state’s natural heritage. The leadership and vision exhibited by U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, Rep. Joel Hefley and the Army have begun a stream of financial and community support to an effort that ultimately will safeguard the open space and beauty of this region. Rapid urban development and loss of natural areas around military bases across the country pose a growing challenge to both military training needs and the conservation of significant wildlife habitat. As housing and other human development creep closer to military base borders, restrictions are often imposed on military activities, which can undercut the realism and effectiveness of training. This rapid development also poses an obvious threat to the relatively undeveloped lands surrounding Fort Carson, including land that is critical for four rare plant species that are found nowhere else in the world. In addition, species of concern such as the
mountain plover rely on the area for habitat. Mexican spotted owls, ferruginous hawks and herds of elk and pronghorn also depend on these lands. Fort Carson is in the bullseye of development pressures. In the last decade, the population of Colorado Springs has grown 30 percent,
topping a half-million and making Forbes Magazine’s list of “Steroid Cities.” As Colorado Springs continues to invest in its growth, we must also invest in preserving the open spaces and diverse wildlife that make Colorado such wonderful place to live. Under the Department of Defense
buffer program, the military, state and local governments, conservation groups, and landowners are all working together to protect training, quality of life, traditional lifestyles and natural resources. Activities involving private land are undertaken with the full endorsement of willing landowners.
In these days of fiscal constraints and increasing conflicts over land use, a policy that accomplishes multiple public benefits with one action and that is based on cooperation and collaboration rather than conflict deserves everyone’s support — and certainly has ours. While Allard’s and Hefley’s leadership has allowed us to make great progress, there is more work to be done. Only about half of the land in the buffer zone around Fort Carson is now protected under this voluntary collaborative partnership. We’re at the 50-yard line with a long way to go. But with the leadership of our legislators and the Army, and the support of willing landowners seeking to preserve their way of life and of the local community, we know we can go the distance. Building on this momentum, The Nature Conservancy of Colorado has launched the Peak-to-Prairie Project in partnership with Colorado Open Lands and the local ranching community to protect a landscape stretching east from Cheyenne Mountain to the Chico Basin and Bohart ranches, knitting together a series of protected lands and preserving open spaces between Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Neighboring ranchers are a critical part of the buffer effort. The shortgrass prairie ecosystem needs large, unbroken landscapes to thrive, and ranches provide some of the best remaining large
examples of this system. Sustaining wildlife and our agricultural heritage go hand-in-hand. Ranchers, military staff, public agencies and local people are coming together in an unprecedented way to make this a very exciting, crucial time for the region. What we do today will determine what this
landscape will be 10 years from now. Here, now, there is the chance to protect huge parcels of land owned by just a few people. In a very real sense, the team effort will define the future of this community. It’s no wonder Fort Carson is becoming a model throughout the country for how to use buffer zones to enhance wildlife and quality of life while preserving traditional lifestyles and military needs. The Nature Conservancy stands with so many others in the Colorado community to say thank you to Allard and Hefley and to the Army leadership at Fort Carson and in the Pentagon for their stamina and wisdom in protecting the community values embodied in this special place. Bedford is state director of The Nature Conservancy of Colorado former director of the
Colorado State Land Board.

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