Who are you? Throughout history people have been identified with or by a land area they resided in. Some by a country, a region, or even more local features like a canyon. Where are you from? Well, I’m from Lewis, Colorado, which was once referred to as “Little Texas” when my grandparents homesteaded here. They came here in the homestead days for the opportunity to secure some land that would be theirs to work, develop and live in freedom exercising their God-given liberty while raising a family in their own chosen ways and beliefs. The people that lived and developed this area were independent, tough, hardworking, honest and God-fearing. They had to be, since they were the ones responsible for their own lives and the land. That defined who they were as “Coloradans”, and they were proud of it, and I am proud to have that dryland dirt farm in my heritage. When asked where I’m from in these times, I am quick to say, “Southwest Colorado, in the Four Corners”; otherwise I get a sly grin and snicker from the questioner, thinking I could be from the Front Range.
While land defines us, land is critical for man to exist as it provides a “place to be”, and from it comes water, food, shelter, clothing, pleasure and awareness of creation and need to be thankful to our Creator. If you have not felt and smelled freshly plowed soil or felled a tree for lumber or fuel and harvested vegetables from a garden, then you will never understand the oneness you feel with the Creation you are part of. After all, the dirt is what man was formed from and to the dust he will return, everyone. Yep, the latter has and will continue. I’m thinking that “pushing up tomatoes” would be quite fitting for an old farmer. To make use of all that is provided, we must work, conserve and develop the resources to enjoy the God-given rights of Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness that we were assured would be protected by the Constitution. Of note, the first draft of the Declaration of Independence said “Life, Liberty and Land” – later changed to happiness, as that would include land.
So what is my point? The future of a healthy land depends upon man’s ability to tend it, use it and improve it for man’s benefit. That future is being threatened by special interest groups that call themselves environmentalists, a very misleading term. They seek to end beneficial and economical use and improvement of the resources on the public lands of the state, which is 36 percent of the entire state. These past several years we have witnessed the damage to the critical watersheds and resources due to environmental “do-nothing” policies on the public lands. The lives of the 26,000 residents (and probably that many horses) of Montezuma County are also at stake. Management and use of the land and resources is where the wealth and economy is generated. Agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing and retail provide the bulk of revenue for the economy to enhance the lives of residents. According to the Region 9 Economic Development report, in Montezuma County 63 percent of the wages earned run from less than $27,000 up to $41,000 with only 36 percent higher. The average for all income levels is only $34,900 per year. Recent talk suggests they want to raise wages, especially for teachers, so where is the new income to come from? Where is new wealth generated? From the land through mining, agriculture, manufacturing, etc. However, the environmental groups want mining/ drilling to stop and close road access for management use and protection on public lands. Wood product manufacturing has been seriously curtailed since 1976 on the forest land. If you want a better local economy and jobs for better salaries, then the mining/drilling, forest resource management, manufacturing and agriculture will have to be rebuilt and enhanced.
You say, OK, let’s do it! It’s easier said than done since the county has very little control over the public lands and resources. How did this happen, and is there any possible solution? First answer is two parts: The first is that our “government” is not operating in accord with the “Rule Book” (the Constitution), thus providing for numerous unconstitutional acts enabling outside special-interest corporations’ control of the states’ public lands via the federal agencies and laws. Second is that the education system has failed to educate on how our government was designed to operate. It was established as a Constitutional REPUBLIC with a REPRESENTATIVE government of “We the People”, not a democracy. Education of our full true history must be restored, teaching our history and how to build lives, community and economy from the resources our Creator has made available.
So, is there a solution? The solution is quite simple; however, making it happen these days will be very difficult. First up, the state government must secure the sovereign authority to govern ALL the lands and people within its defined boundary as intended in the Constitution. Next, the state government must fully recognize and implement the representative system where the county’s Board of Commissioners is the responsible representative for all governance of land and people within the county. The counties are responsible for the people and land; the legislature is responsible for enabling, NOT dictating, the county’s needs and concerns to be met under and in pursuance to the constitutions of the State of Colorado and the United States.
How will the land define who we were in history? Were we lazy and selfish or were we hard-working good stewards of the land and resources we were entrusted with? The land is our future and will be our history. We must gain control of our own destiny and future!
Dexter Gill is a retired forest manager who worked for private industry, three Western state forestry agencies, and the Navajo Nation forestry department. He writes from Lewis, Colo.