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Old 06-29-2007, 10:12 PM
 
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I have hesitated to post the following because it will obviously anger a lot of people who continue to think that their "little piece of heaven" property in rural Colorado is not having any adverse impacts on the state's fragile environment. Well, somebody besides me, namely some very knowledgeable individuals in geography and environmental matters, have weighed in on the subject.

I am currently reading a recently published book which analyzes the long-term human impacts on the environment in southwestern Colorado. The book is “The Nature of Southwestern Colorado: Recognizing Human Legacies and Restoring Natural Places” by Deborah D. Paulson and William L. Baker, both professors of geography at the University of Wyoming. The book discusses the century-plus of environmental impacts of “modern” settlement in southwestern Colorado. It talks a great deal about past impacts—mining, logging, and ranching, for example—and makes note of the positive steps taken in those industries to lessen or mitigate environmental damage. Though it discusses the southwestern Colorado area specifically, the book should be required reading for anyone considering moving to the rural parts of the Rocky Mountain West.

However, in a two-page subsection of the book, subtitled “Rural Sprawl and its Ecological Impacts” the authors make a damning indictment of the environmental havoc being wrought by rural residential development in mountain areas. The authors point out that, “Communities across the West are grappling with the effects of rapid growth, as affluent professionals, baby-boomer retirees, and vacation home builders flock to the amenity-rich Rocky Mountain states from all other parts of the country. Population increased in the Mountain West by 25 percent in the 1990s, and growth rates are predicted to remain high.”

The authors continue, pointing out that many of these new residents choose to settle in low-density rural development. The damaging character of this kind of development is then explained:

“Rural sprawl results when large private ranches are divided into multiple homesites, commonly thirty-five acre ‘ranchettes.’ Although this book describes many negative impacts of livestock grazing on natural communities, ranching could be reformed to better coexist with the natural world. Widespread rural subdivision, on the other hand, has inherent negative impacts, many of which cannot be overcome, not even by the most conscientious homeowner. The lower elevations around mountains provide critical winter range for big game, valleys are the most productive farmland, and streamside (riparian) habitat supports two-thirds of Colorado’s plant and animal species. Yet these are the very lands where sprawl is concentrated because they are largely private and are preferred locations for homesites.”

The authors go on to explain these impacts, including the negative impacts on animals and plants by the increased road density necessary for rural development. The authors note that, “Most insidious, roads fragment the landscape, increasing edges that favor generalist species such as skunks and coyotes and reducing large habitat blocks needed by more specialized species.”

The authors then cite a litany of problems of invasive, noxious and non-native plant species that proliferate in rural subdivisions due the disturbance of the ground inherent in such development, as well as the ignorant overgrazing of subdivision parcels by horses and other livestock that their owners allow. They also catalog the increased killing of wildlife, some rare or threatened, by domestic cats and dogs in such rural subdivisions.

The authors finally point out that the presence of rural subdivisions in close proximity to public lands is compromising the ability of those public lands to be effectively managed, particularly in the area of fire management, prevention of fuel buildups, and prescribed burning.

The last sentence of the subsection is, while understated, the most scathing (I added the caps for emphasis): “While homeowners can reduce some of their impacts by the choices they make, THERE IS CONSIDERABLE IRONY TO BUILDING A HOUSE IN THE WOODS TO BE WITH NATURE.”

This is another one of the issues that no one wants to address. The people buying and building on these tracts are often either too ignorant or too self-centered to acknowledge the damage they are doing to Colorado’s natural and historical heritage. The developers generally couldn’t care less—they are only in the business of carving land up for profit. The real estate and construction people won’t say anything—they have prostituted themselves into being part of the destruction because it is often the only way to make a living in many of these places, since most other industry has either been closed down or chased out. And, of course, the elected officials, from the state down to the local level, who could reasonably regulate such development to discourage wanton destruction of rural Colorado, refuse to do so because the development, real estate, and construction lobbies are the most potent political force in the state.

And so the “Colorado way of life” that so many of those of us who have deep roots in Colorado remember and cherish continues to be destroyed—out of ignorance, selfishness, and greed.
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Old 06-29-2007, 11:07 PM
 
Location: Denver, CO
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Great post jazzlover! Surprisingly, I agree with you almost 100% about rural sprawl. You touched on an important point; often, the mountains themselves are public lands, but the intermountain valleys and flat lands in the west are often private lands-- divided up into a grid, which makes it easier for the property to be sold and subdivided into "ranchettes," or McRanches, as I call them. If you look at a map of the Grand Valley area, you can see this directly; an attempt to put a regular grid over an irregularly shaped valley. Now, you might find my next point a little contorted here, but I would put Front Range suburban communities, Highlands Ranch being the usual example, in a different boat. Compared to McRanches on 35 acres of land with each property having 2 horses, its own access road, its own well and septic tank, the typical tract home suburban development actually looks very dense!

Over time, cities like Denver and Phoenix, where I'm living now, become more built out, more filled in wall to wall, more, not less dense over time. This is especially true for flat cities which sit on seemingly endless expanses of land on a 1x1mile grid. If water wasn't an issue (obviously it is THE issue, but hear me out), Denver could theoretically expand to the east forever, and their would still be a mind boggling amount of wide open land left in the Great Plains. With mountain valleys and pristine rural areas, though, it doesn't take much to destroy a unique ecosystem, since the size of these valleys is very finite in scope. That's basically what has already happened with California; they way I see it, the best land, right by the coast with that famed mild Mediterranean climate and those canyons and hills, is already built out. Pretty much all significant new development in California is taking place in either the central valley or the deserts.

The trend I notice both in CO and AZ is that "rural" areas are really turning into far flung real-estate burbs-- just another investment opportunity from big money city dwellers. In AZ, towns like Sedona, Prescott, and Flagstaff are rapidly becoming real-estate-ville. In CO, this is happening with Durango and pretty much every ski resort town. I think the best way to minimize your individual impact on the environment is to live in a major metro area, like Denver, but live close to your work, try to conserve energy, and find ways to keep yourself entertained and local places to go that don't involve filling up the tank each trip just to get there.
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Old 06-30-2007, 07:15 AM
 
Location: Avondale, AZ
1,207 posts, read 4,139,161 times
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Jazzlover- You've made great points about the damage to the 'Colorado Way of Life'.
Quote:
This is another one of the issues that no one wants to address. The people buying and building on these tracts are often either too ignorant or too self-centered to acknowledge the damage they are doing to Colorado’s natural and historical heritage. The developers generally couldn’t care less—they are only in the business of carving land up for profit. The real estate and construction people won’t say anything—they have prostituted themselves into being part of the destruction because it is often the only way to make a living in many of these places, since most other industry has either been closed down or chased out. And, of course, the elected officials, from the state down to the local level, who could reasonably regulate such development to discourage wanton destruction of rural Colorado, refuse to do so because the development, real estate, and construction lobbies are the most potent political force in the state.
You've failed to point out that this whole cycle would've never started if the ranchers did not sell. I don't blame them. This is America and you should be able to sell your property if you decide to. In Monument there is a 900 acre chunk of land that developers have tried to buy for years. The school board with the backing of a local developer(go figure), tried unsuccessfully to break up the parcel for a new high school. The lady that lives there does not want to sell or move. The land's been in the family for many years. She has stopped the process you describe. If the land is ever sold, which it will eventually, than the process(development) will start. I don't know if the majority of the blame should be put on the end user.
I would be interested in what you would do if you were the 'King of Colorado' and did not have to worry about being 'PC'.
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Old 06-30-2007, 08:25 AM
 
Location: Colorado
431 posts, read 2,501,252 times
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It is true if ranchers, farmers etc did not sell, land and water rights then there would not be all this building in rural areas and water would not be leaving to other parts. But as you say you don't blame them. The reason I don't blame them is because they are going broke being ranchers and farmers. Many of the younger generation are not interested and Mom and Dad need money to retire or even survive. What is the answer? To keep ranchers and farmers, the cost of food from the local market needs to be addressed. The imports don't help there any more than it does in other industries. I don't pretend to know the answers and I probably won't be here when something happens but something will, sometime. Either pro or con. Something will have to give.----------Another sad note. Our public lands are being sold to big money. Not much of that with Colorado people. I have personally seen areas, one in particular that was a favorite of my family. We would go and camp, fish and just enjoy about once maybe twice a yr. and did many others for sometimes there were others in this same area as we. We had not gone for 2 yrs. When we went back, it was all fenced off with signs everywhere. Private property. We checked into and were told it was sold and the huge "little cabin in woods" built there was occupied for about a wk a yr. The price for that land was way out of sight of normal wage earners in Colorado.. Somehow this just does not seem right. Public lands. That means you and me of the USA. And yet were we asked whether or not we wanted our lands sold? If so I sure did not know about it!
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Old 06-30-2007, 10:20 AM
 
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A couple of points about some of these responses: First, vfrpilot, the ranch you speak of at Monument, I know well. The lady who owns it is the sister-in-law of a late friend of mine. Second, about ranchers selling out--that IS a big problem and I don't blame them in many ways. Selling the ranch is often the only way they can have any retirement income at all. Conservation easements are a great way to address some of those issues, but there aren't enough of them being created; and--all too often--they are used as a tool for developers to enhance the value of remaining property (I'll deed "X" acres into a conservation easement, so that my remaining multi-million dollar homesites will have open space to look at that somebody else paid for."). Third, something that I haven't mentioned is the abuse occurring with the sale of patented mining claims for homesites. Under the Federal Mining Law of 1872, a patented mining claim is a fee simple title to the claim. Thousands of these are located in the high mountains of Colorado. Obviously, they were created with no thought towards environmental considerations, and were created for the purpose of facilitating mining. They are nearly always islands in the middle of the national forests and public lands. Now, they are being sold for home development, often for hundreds of thousands of dollars. That use was never contemplated by the framers of the mining law, but the fee simple title granted to those claims now allows that perversion of intended use. That probably can only be stopped through federal legislation. Opponents will argue that amounts to a "taking" of land by restricting the use of the claim to mining purposes, but my opinion is that the original intent of the law was to encourage mining, period. Incidentally, I know an individual who has made his living (a very good one for years) by buying sensitive private inholdings in the national forests, then blackmailing the federal government into buying them by threatening to develop them or engage in some obnoxious, but legal practice upon them. Ah, your tax dollars at work . . .
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Old 07-01-2007, 12:48 PM
 
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Default So, what does one do?

What Jazzlover articulately bemoans in Co. can be seen at its fruition in my community. My family settled here in "Occupied Mexico," California's "Gold Coast," even before the occupation, and farmed/ranched here for over a century. My forbears' philanthropy gave this community its library, hospital, fairgrounds, several parks, etc.
I grew up enjoying country living; water & wildlife; friendly neighbors; peace and quiet were obtainable. No longer. It is gone now. The farms are paved, covered with homes, the occupants keep making babies, driving cars with "boom-boom" stereos that can be heard from a half-mile away when they aren't on their "mufflerless" motorcycles rattling resident's windowpanes.
I also contributed to this community over a lifetime, but I am sick over what it is today. I am tired. I long for a place to retreat to whenever time allows; somewhere quiet, with trees and water and critters, and fewer people.
If I take some of these threads to heart, then I am an unwelcome intruder to any such place, if indeed it exists and I could find it! So what does one do?
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Old 07-01-2007, 07:10 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vegaspilgrim View Post
I think the best way to minimize your individual impact on the environment is to live in a major metro area, like Denver, but live close to your work, try to conserve energy, and find ways to keep yourself entertained and local places to go that don't involve filling up the tank each trip just to get there.
I live in Phoenix. I just started a job that I can walk to in 7 minutes. I'm very happy with this situation on a superficial level; however, I'm smack in the middle of 4 million other people. I really want to live elsewhere, in more natural surroundings. I chose a home off of US50 somewhere in Colorado and made an offer on it last month, but retracted it due to financial concerns, now somewhat mitigated by my new employment. While I like that I can recycle my plastic/glass/paper and can avoid adding to the daily commute here in this metropolis, I'm not satisfied. The need to see deer, to see the stars, to hear actual quiet, to connect with something far larger is too overpowering for me to be content (on paper anyway) in my current state.

The environment of the mountains is indeed more fragile than say the vastness of the Great Plains, but everywhere man plants his feet, he does damage. It's not enough to simply demand that growth cease or that limits be imposed. Nothing can change the fact that tomorrow there will be more people. The place I chose in Colorado was 23 paved miles from town where the nearest grocery and gas station would be. Am I to be made to feel guilty for wanting the kind of lifestyle that promises spiritual growth? Am I to restrict my nature-loving self to random vacation weekends and leave nature at some respectable distance from my daily life? I don't want to be regarded as one of the enemies. Nothing means more to me than the preservation of nature, with mankind living in balance with it. There is no future without that reconnection. But, how can I or anyone else hope to achieve that if we live surrounded by 4 million other people who don't have a clue that that connection is quickly going to become mandatory?

I don't have a clue how to operate a chainsaw to cut firewood, but I'm willing to learn. I don't want to resort to burning my trash like other mountain dwellers do because I think that may be more damaging (but, again, I'm willing to learn the right way). Are there others who feel this way? I've got to start somewhere. Sitting behind a computer locked into air-conditioned cubicles isn't doing it for me!
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Old 07-01-2007, 07:19 PM
 
51 posts, read 156,393 times
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Default We hang in there

A1wdcrvr, from your writing, I can see that you already know the answer to your question. But I can't resist a thoughtful, calculated question (or almost any chance to add my opinion!) We find ourselves in a changing world and neighborhoods. The alternative would seem to be a society so oppressive that we wouldn't even allow ourselves the luxury of a forum such as this. It would hurt too much to dream and hope for a better life, you know? You identify yourself, I assume, as an A-1 wood carver. What a treasure to have that talent and skill! The noisy young folks you describe probably haven't known the joy and satisfaction of developing their real gifts. But I digress. Most of the time, in fact.
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Old 07-01-2007, 10:49 PM
 
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"So what does one do?"

First--recognize what the enemy is. Saying that it's just growth is too simple. What is destroying Colorado (and most of the U.S.) is our completely resource-dependent lifestyle. It doesn't have to be that way. The biggest single thing that we can do to help mitigate sprawl and the myriad of problems associated with it is to end our increasingly sick relationship with the automobile. I like driving as welll as anyone, but I understand what the automobile is doing to this country. It is destroying our landscape, negatively affecting both our environment and social structure, and--with our depleting energy situation--threatening our national security. Our dependence on the automobile and the massive public investments being lavished on highways and roads is also a major contributor to the load of public and private debt that we are passing on to our children and grandchildren.

If one looks at Colorado (or anywhere else in the U.S.) even fifty or sixty years ago, one sees a different picture. Small towns were pedestrian-friendly, quite livable, with copious open spaces nearby. Had they continued to be inhabited under that model, their populations could have increased several times over without having the disastrous impacts that sprawl now has. Similarly, Colorado's larger cities had livable, quiet residential areas--both pedestrian-friendly and served by mass transit. They make a big deal about the new light-rail systems in Denver (which were sorely needed and are well-patronized), but the Denver area had a mass-transit system (trolleys) far more extensive nearly a century ago. That transit system was even privately owned and operated--at a profit! As it did all across the country, the massive direct and indirect tax subsidization of highways and local roadbuilding that began after WWI, and accelerated with the New Deal (and has continued to grow ever since) put an end to most mass transit.

Trouble is today, hardly anyone now alive can remember a community or lifestyle not totally dependent on the automobile--and its resulting sprawl. For all of us that is too bad, because the diminishing cheap oil reserves and resulting exploding prices are going to FORCE us to adopt a lifestyle much less dependent on the automobile. It's just a question of when and how quickly the transition will have to be made.

So what could be done right now?

1. Force the driving public to pay the TRUE cost of our highways and automobiles--quit subsidizing the automobile.

2. Quit building new roads at public expense. Send a message that the roads we have are JUST GOING TO HAVE TO DO. People just might start re-thinking where they live.

3. Quit subsidizing developers and sprawl. Quit socializing the costs of new development on existing taxpayers. Make development pay its own way.

The nice thing about these three options--it doesn't cost more tax money, and it doesn't make bigger government. Government can just quit doing some things that it shouldn't be in the first place.

Three books I highly recommend on the subject of transportation are:

Getting There: The Epic Struggle Between Road and Rail in the American Century

Allies of the Earth: Railroads and the Soul of Preservation

Asphalt Nation

All three are real eye-openers about the way the public was manipulated into financing public highways, the methodical plan of auto manufacturers and the highway lobby to exterminate mass transit, and the often unacknowledged and unseen social, environmental, and economic costs our auto-dependency now places upon every American. Anyone who thinks that the ascendency of the automobile had much of anything to do with free markets will be stunned by the revelations is these books.
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Old 07-02-2007, 09:26 AM
 
Location: Eastern Oregon
505 posts, read 1,911,173 times
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Default I'm one

Hi there,

First of all, we had a racoon inside of our house last night (uninvited)! That tells you how rural we are. We have bear, fox, bald eagles, loons, deer and countless chipmunks who cross our acre of land regularly. We spent all day cutting and stacking wood for next winter with the kids (our idea of a "Sunday out"). Yes, we burn our garbage, and I still don't have a place to recycle glass anywhere near me.

I agree with much said. My DH works in wildland fire, and the "WUI" (wildland urban interface) is a great threat to him. As more and more people build houses in the wildlands, he's expected to take more and more risks to defend these places. It's been a huge concern for decades, and as the baby boomers retire, it'll only become more so. People can work from their homes too, which makes it easier to live in the country.

I also wanted to add that once a piece of land is subdivided, it never goes back to it's original size. It only keeps getting split and split.

More than ever are we not only driving to places, but living in places that people aren't supposed to live in. I'm a culprit myself. I don't expect a latte shop or fast food joint in my small town any time soon, but sometimes miss the "comforts" of the city. I love living in the woods. There are plenty of these places in Northern Michigan for dirt cheap. They've already pillaged and plundered these parts over 100 years ago. It's only starting to recover, but it IS recovering. The West just has taken longer to "develop".

Don't know the answer either. I moved from Oregon, where they have no tax base to pay for things like schools or police because there is so much public land there. There needs to be a better way to provide for states like Oregon and Nevada so that we can keep the lands we have public. There needs to be less state to state rivalry. I've never been able to understand the bitterness towards Californians. That state has done a lot of good things. Most people can't help it that they were born in a certain place. And who can blame someone for wanting to live in a place of beauty, or moving from a place that they can no longer afford.

Michigan taxes second homes MUCH higher than homesteads. It's a good idea, IMO. So many homes where I live are vacation homes, and it just makes me sick that they stand vacant for 11 months out of the year. Totally agree that part of the solution is getting away from the consume, consumee, consume attitude. I wonder how many of these second homes were offered to Katrina survivors, or Iraq refugees. But I diverge...

Enough for now...
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