The 0.25 percent county sales tax initiative to fund conservation efforts is a good idea whose time has come. Funds would help enhance forest health and protect against severe wildfire, preserve water quality, wildlife habitat and agricultural lands, and help manage the impacts of increased recreation.
The combination of dense same-aged forests, beetle infestations and drought have made our forests ripe for a severe wildfire. The Weston Pass and Spring fires are examples close to home of what could happen here without more forest treatment.
Also, with the growth in population and popularity that our valley is experiencing, recreational use on our public lands is increasing, causing more erosion, illegal roads and trails, land compaction, and a need for more bathroom facilities. Budget and staff cuts to the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service have created a real need for a county fund dedicated to forest and watershed management.
This fund can also help preserve agricultural lands, protect associated wildlife habitat and recharge groundwater. Securing conservation easements is consistent with the county goal of concentrating development around existing towns and limiting sprawl.
Having a dedicated conservation fund can attract matching grants and leverage USFS and BLM budgets. A sales tax will grow with increasing population and tourism. This initiative shows great foresight and would represent a new and unique collaboration between federal, state and county agencies on behalf of the land. Chaffee County should come together to pass this sales tax initiative this November.