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Dear Editor:

Having observed and participated in a small way in a well-organized Envision Chaffee County effort over the past year, we can’t say enough about the positive, extensive and inclusive results of this campaign to plan a sustainable future for our county.

The 1,500 or more participants who took part in this major effort, directed by Central Colorado Conservancy board chair Cindy Williams, arrived at three major themes to preserve the unique environment we treasure here: forest health and wildfire prevention, monitoring environmental impacts of increased outdoor recreation and the role of agriculture in the community.

The role of commissioners Greg Felt, Keith Baker and Dave Potts in shepherding this extensive study cannot be overstated. The process was a true progressive community-government partnership crafting a well thought-out vision to preserve the health of our local environment is a real accomplishment.

Former Governor Bill Ritter and former Republican County Commissioner Frank Holman are the latest officials to support this innovative local self-sustaining community effort that could be a model for similar campaigns.

The Ballot Issue 1A small county sales tax increase of one-quarter of one percent is both reasonable and conservative (25 cents per 100-dollar purchase), providing funding for critical conservation measures at a minimal impact on residents’ household budgets.

And a citizens’ advisory committee will recommend how the funds and matching grants are prioritized for projects. Administrative expenses are capped at 5 percent.

The little opposition that has been voiced in the media seems to be reactionary lack of understanding of the concept or appreciation for this thorough planning approach after an extensive community survey.

The critical areas in this plan – protecting forest health, clean water and working lands – can be realized with this effort and the aspects of life we cherish most in Chaffee County, the natural assets, preserved.

We recently took a train ride from Alamosa to La Veta through the Big Spring fire area in the Sangre de Cristos. We were shocked at the miles upon miles of blackened tree stands on ridge after ridge over an area of 108,000 acres. The trees, many standing beetle-kill, burned fiercely, as photos show, and it will be decades before this area will be a healthy forest again.

We are at risk here for just such a wildfire with the growing beetle-kill timber nearby. Efforts to mitigate that risk, working with forest agency partners, is a no-brainer. That’s just one aspect of this conservation campaign to preserve what we care about.

By leveraging these funds for larger grants, the county can also help preserve our rural and working lands and protect water quality and wildlife habitat with funding recommendations coming from an independent citizens committee and a required annual audit.

We wholeheartedly support this far-sighted effort in issue 1A and urge all voters to support this community-inclusive plan to help preserve the unique environment we cherish in Chaffee County.

Daniel Smith and Lelia Coveney