by Bill Goosmann and Jay Thompson
According to statistics available from the state agriculture department, the federal and state government own 42% of the land in Colorado. Add in other public entities and that percentage climbs toward 50%. However, such statewide statistics obscure insights important to the efforts and concerns of CRA members.
At one end of those statistics, fully 88% of the land in Colorado’s 22 eastern-most counties is private. At the other end, federal and state holdings account for almost 60% of the land in the remaining 42 counties. In several of those counties, that percentage climbs over 90%. Again, though, even in counties dominated by public lands, the importance of private holdings hides within those numbers. That importance lies in location.
Grab a map of any national forest in Colorado and look at private holdings in those counties with a majority of public lands. Except for headwater areas, in drainage after drainage, the vast majority of bottomland riparian habitat is in private hands. Although debate continues regarding the proper stewardship of public lands, development and conversion are not among the threats. Not so with these bottomlands. Colorado lost four percent of its agricultural lands between 1997 and 2002. One hardly needs imagination regarding the consequences of that rate over the next several years.
We offer these thoughts to point out the importance of private lands in the protection of our riparian systems. We preach to the choir if we mention again the importance of these systems to wildlife, water quality, quality of life, and the rest of the functions and values of healthy streams and river systems. What does warrant frequent repetition is the central role of private lands in the solution and, therefore, the primacy of the needs and desires of those private landowners.
Last, this edition of the green line represents the passing of responsibilities from the current editors to the new team of Tom Slabe, EPA, and Steve Johnson, NRSI. We very much appreciate their stepping up to the challenge, as should all CRA members.