Westward Ho, the wagons! The pioneers moving westward was the third of many movements of peoples into the North American Continent and specifically here in the Southwest, over many centuries, especially following the last Ice age with the receding glaciers (had climate change back then too). All those people, including our pioneers, came from somewhere else, all looking for the same thing, “a place to live” and hopefully survive.
The world was very different early on, for example, the Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde was being built and used at about the same time as Notre Dame Cathedral in France was being built. Very different cultures but they all had one thing in common, they wanted LAND as a place to be and to survive and worship their god. So why did the Anasazi move on? Why did Spanish and Europeans move into where the Anasazi moved out of ? All peoples have always been on the move seeking better land, food, wealth, safety, escape from tyrannical governments and for some, seeking power and control over others.
So what is our fascination over land? Unless you are a fish, land is a necessity for life, as God “formed man from the dust of the earth.” Once formed, man then and now fully depends upon the earth or dry land to live. What are lands and resources for? What are the basics that mankind needs to survive, a place to be (everybody has to be somewhere), food, shelter, clothing and water. Anything above the basics are wants and luxuries, which are really nice to have, but basics come first for all in any given area. Now, can you name even one basic need or even luxury in life that does not come from the earth, directly or indirectly? Nope, can’t be done.
Now skipping forward to our lifestyles of today demands we have some form of wealth as a medium of exchange to trade with each other to obtain the basic needs and todays many wants. How do we generate this wealth? We grow food for sale or manufacture a tool or implement, or invent something like the Internet, oops too late, Al Gore already invented that. Anyway, there is no form of wealth and economy that can be manufactured or generated that does not come from the earth and its natural resources. That establishes the basis of all mankind’s quest to obtain and control land and resources throughout history, and is especially prevalent today throughout the world. One group of people wants what another group of people have.
As early as 1765 the Spanish came here to Southwest Colorado looking for gold and later in 1776 Spaniard Escalante was back again looking for land and wealth,(notice that they were here when the 13 English colonies were just fighting for independence). By 1790, Spain controlled western Colorado and most of the Southwest States. Then the Ute Indians controlled SW Colorado, followed by trappers in the 1830s looking for wealth from the resources. By 1850 it was Westward Ho, the wagons coming west from the Mississippi River, American settlers looking for wealth and land to live on in freedom. And everyone lived happily ever after. Well, not quite! Living requires food, clothing, water, shelter, fuel for heat and cooking the food and a place to be — LAND. It works best when a local community works together exchanging goods and services creating a local economy and sharing costs of law enforcement and roads. How were they to create wealth and economy?
All wealth comes from the land and its resources. Our area had good soil for farms, water, grazing lands, minerals, coal, oil & gas, timber. Farms and ranches were established to help feed the miners and timber industry. Reservoirs and irrigation systems were built to provide the needs for all parties. We have been blessed by having our American dream of having one’s own land and access to resources to develop and improve our economy and living.
Today our county is said to be one of the lowest economic areas in the state, why? There are peoples that have determined to take the lands and wealth of our county and state for themselves, preventing use of the natural resources to enhance the local economies. The public lands are the center focus of this conflict, where natural resource use has and is being severely limited and even eliminated from economic opportunity. Over 55 percent of the public forest lands have been locked up in wilderness and roadless areas, eliminating any opportunity to create jobs and economic products of value from minerals, wood products and watershed improvement. To create economic opportunity on the small areas left open are being politically challenged to try to prevent jobs and economy from happening there as well.
The new thinking is to increase economic well-being for the county residents by increasing property taxes while eliminating development of natural resource businesses and jobs to pay the taxes. Additionally, what little private land we do have that may be suitable for housing for population growth is being “sold out” to low-taxable land-conservancy groups locking out more landowners’ opportunity to be independent and provide for a larger tax base for the local needs as well as preventing locations for new businesses. Quite the conundrum, We want better economy and county government services, but we don’t want the economic business development and workers to provide the economy. We are like the stories of the destitute old person that died of starvation, only to discover he had a million dollars under the bed and a garage full of dusty Bentleys and Rolls Royces that could have been used. Our natural resource wealth is being wasted and burned. Whose land is this? Who will come after us?
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.