We hope in a future issue HCN will tell readers what it thinks will happen to the open space around Paonia if those ranchers sell their private lands, which will be the inevitable result if their summer leases on public lands are terminated. We think we know the outcome. Chopping off the public lands will hasten the day when these meadows reappear as housing developments. Paonia will no longer be the beautiful rural place it is now.
Over 400,000 square miles of public land are being grazed in the West. Altogether, there are about 170,000 square miles of private base ranch lands tied to these public grazing leases. Buy out the public lands and you make it more likely that millions of acres of private lands will be subdivided. Doubt that? Then realize that already one-quarter of all the private land in the conterminous United States is already in exurban development.
Buyouts have their place in the West. Not all public lands should be grazed and a buyout is an equitable way to resolve the matter. But grazing, done right, can support wildlife and contribute to the rural West that is so rapidly disappearing.
Albuquerque, New Mexico