I think we have a very special opportunity here in Chaffee County to invest now to maintain our character as a rural, agricultural community. Farm and ranch lands across the west are far more productive and well-watered than our public lands. They are the lower elevation, fertile valley bottoms that were first to be homesteaded. The higher elevation, less productive areas were left unclaimed and became our public lands.
This makes agricultural lands disproportionately valuable in terms of the ecosystem services they provide us. These include water filtration, aquifer recharge, soil carbon storage and wildlife habitat, including the pollinators that are essential for one-third of our food crops. This green infrastructure of wetlands, riparian areas and meadows is Mother Nature’s system for filtering, cleaning and storing water and providing habitat for abundant fish and wildlife.
Only 15 to 20 families are still ranching in Chaffee County. It’s a way of life that’s becoming more and more challenging as subdivisions, outdoor recreation and drought all become more common. An investment today in ranch land conservation, whether it be through a traditional conservation easement that ties the water to the land and limits future development, or through payments for ecosystem services that monetize the value of provisioning these services, is our best shot at conserving the lands and waters that sustain our community.
We know that Chaffee County has been discovered. We can look around and see examples of the ranches that have already been subdivided, those that have been dried up. We know that the demand for land and water will only grow in the future. My family will gladly contribute the $40 a year Ballot Measure 1A is estimated to cost a local household. Visitors will contribute the other 70 percent of the funds. There’s no time like the present to invest in the working lands that contribute so much to our community. Vote yes on 1A to provision for our future.