Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As a human survival resource, water is second in importance only to air. Our fresh water sources in Chaffee County come from the forested mountains and the fact is, our forests are not healthy, in turn jeopardizing our fresh water supply. This Nov. 6, we can be proactive to improve the health of our backyard forests and water sources by voting yes on County Ballot Issue 1A.

Ballot Issue 1A requests a 0.25-percent increase in county sales tax that is forecast to generate about $1 million annually to support these and other efforts. Wisely using some of these dollars as matching funds for grants from foundational, state,and federal programs will compound their power several fold to underwrite fire mitigation and watershed protection.

The Colorado State Forest Service tells us insects affect more than half the forests in the county, drastically increasing the number of standing dead trees – and wildfire risk – each year. High wildfire risk and its consequences are the legacies of a century of fire suppression tactics.

Catastrophic wildfire will be destructive on its own but will likely cause flash floods, debris flows, mudslides and other consequences as with the Arkansas River below Salida, stemming from the 2016 Hayden Pass Fire.

I urge you to vote Yes on County Ballot Issue 1A to help improve community fire resilience and protect our water supplies from the potential effects of a severe fire. The Mesa Antero Water Association endorsed this measure because it could help protect the watershed around Browns Creek, a source for the subdivision’s aquifer. Projects such as forest thinning and establishing firebreaks could help reduce the intensity of any fire, helping to protect our essential clean water sources.

As county commissioner, I voted to refer County Ballot Issue 1A to voters because it will also help manage the impacts of growth in outdoor recreation on our public lands.

Other communities across the West with significant public lands and similar proximity to major metropolitan areas attract high numbers of visitors. Most of those communities were totally unprepared for the onslaught, and we can learn from their mistakes. County Ballot Issue 1A will help us be better prepared. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Those of us who explore the Fourmile Recreation Area northeast of Buena Vista witness these escalation impacts firsthand. ATV, RV, off-road motorcycle, mountain bike, boot hiking, trail running and equestrian use generate more social trails and user-created campsites.

Our federal and state land managers can’t answer the call without our help. Agency budgets and personnel are being cut, so volunteer groups like Friends of Fourmile, Friends of Browns Canyon, Upper Arkansas Wilderness Volunteers and more who fill that management void need our support to protect trails, campsites and streams, and clean up detritus of human use.

Solid accountability and transparency standards are built into the measure to ensure funds are spent effectively. Expenditures will be subject to the recommendations of a citizen advisory committee, similar to the successful Marijuana Excise Tax Advisory Board (METAB), and will be evaluated under rigorous standards.

1A further requires an annual independent audit and a cap on administrative expenses of 5 percent.

County Ballot Issue 1A lets us be proactive about protecting our forests and waters, as well as the ecologically significant agricultural lands in the valley.

A Yes vote on 1A is one way for us to proactively address the impacts of growth and deal with ecosystem health problems in Chaffee County. Please join me in voting Yes on 1A!

Keith Baker

Chaffee County Commissioner