Yes on 1A
By Greg Felt, Chaffee County Commissioner
In 2016, while running for County Commissioner, I stated that Chaffee County needed to have “a community conversation about conservation.” The reason was change: Change in the demographics of the county, the volume of tourist visitation, the development of our rural areas, the patterns of outdoor recreation, the demands on our limited water resources, and the health of our natural environment.
That summer there was a palpable feeling of accelerating growth. It was on everyone’s mind. The Hayden Pass Fire further focused attention on forest health and the fact that the spruce beetle was quickly invading Chaffee County. In hundreds of conversations I had that year, the unifying theme was “We better do something soon or we’re going to end up like everywhere else.”
The idea of taking proactive measures to protect our rural landscapes is not new. Twenty-one counties across Colorado already have funding measures that protect open lands through tools like conservation easements. These time-tested approaches provide long-term community benefits – protecting local waters, wildlife habitat, and livelihoods.
The conversation about a conservation funding measure in Chaffee County goes back at least 10 years. But unlike the more traditional measures passed by voters in many other communities, the interrelated challenges we face here in Chaffee County demand a more integrated response.
That became clear to me during my campaign, and subsequently through the engagement of over 1,500 citizens who participated in the Envision Chaffee County process. The approach we have tailored in response, ballot measure 1A, has the support of over 40 local businesses and non-profits, key associations like the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation and Arkansas River Outfitters Association, and the personal endorsements of many individuals. These diverse people and organizations share common ground – the desire to protect our special quality of life in Chaffee County for future generations.
Recently, I met with regional public land managers and local cattlemen at the base of Mt. Shavano. We stood in a circle on hard bare ground, a former meadow denuded of vegetation by primitive camping and recreational overuse. This was what remained of a longtime rancher’s once productive grazing allotment. In the two hours of conversation that followed, the agency leaders acknowledged that they were unable to keep pace with the twin threats of severe wildfire risk and the rapid expansion of recreation use and impacts on public lands and waters. They seemed overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge.
When it was my turn to speak, I reminded them that in the late 1980s, area residents convened to address river recreation impacts through creation of the AHRA, a nationally recognized interagency partnership that is, at its core, a local solution to a local problem. I told them that the same sort of out-of-the-box thinking was underway in the valley again, with the outreach, dialogue and pragmatism of Envision Chaffee County and the referral of ballot measure 1A. The response was heartening and unexpected. To a person, these leaders emphasized that community collaboration driving local innovative solutions had a better chance for success than the top-down approach provided by the federal government.
The state demographer says we should anticipate another 4,000 people moving into our county by 2030. That’s a lot of people. It will mean more change. Are we prepared?————————
Measure 1A provides funding to meet that growth by strengthening our forests and protecting the community from severe wildfire, conserving our rural lands and the many benefits they provide like clean water, wildlife habitat and scenic vistas, and sustainably managing outdoor recreation. The funds may not be spent on any other needs and the measure requires an annual audit and public accountability. I am committed to fulfilling that promise.
All three Chaffee County Commissioners unanimously referred 1A to the ballot. We share a proven belief in the ability of this community to solve its own problems – this measure provides both the means and mechanism to do so. With diligence and deliberation, we set up three clear funding priority areas and firm standards for accountability and taxpayer protection.
Chaffee County is not like everywhere else. We need to take action now to keep it that way. We encourage you to vote “yes” on 1A.