Alarmed by a rancher's plans to log trees at the top of a watershed, a southern Colorado county is drafting regulations to stop the cut and protect the area's water supply.
Costilla County in the high, cold San Luis
Valley now has no control over its watershed because the high
mountain tracts - considered a commons for more than a century -
are privately owned, says Barbara Green, special counsel to the
county and its conservancy district. Green says the county plans to
create a watershed district that would require a landowner to
obtain a permit to develop lands above 8,000 feet, as well as to
mitigate any damage to the environment.
ranch in question, the 77,000-acre Taylor Ranch, hasn't logged any
trees in 11 years. But manager Stet Edmunds says it now has a
contract with Stone Forest Industries allowing 12 percent of the
ranch to be cut. The yield will be approximately 25 million board
feet over four years.
"This will devastate the
mountain. It would be the greatest shame if the land was logged and
ruined," says Maclovio Martinez, president of the Costilla County
Hispanic settlers grazed
livestock, gathered wood, hunted and fished on the land they call
"La Sierra" or "the mountain tract" since before the U.S. Congress
ratified a Mexican land grant for the area, in 1860. When Jack
Taylor bought the ranch near San Luis in 1960, however, he
successfully sued to clear the land's title. Then he cut off public
access (HCN, 10/18/93).
Martinez says the
authority to establish a watershed district comes from state law.
The Local Government Land Use Control Enabling Act, passed in 1974,
allows counties broad jurisdiction to develop regulations to
protect the environment.
Because the watershed
regulations will take time to develop, Costilla County
Commissioners plan to adopt an emergency resolution regulating the
proposed watershed district. Once in place, the resolution will
require the county to complete an environmental study before any
logging could begin, says Martinez.
Taylor Ranch has been unwilling to show its plan to the county.
Maria Valdez, a member of the newly formed advisory land use
committee, says ranch manager Edmunds refused to submit a logging
plan to her group, although he assured them the harvest would be
Meanwhile, San Luis
residents continue the struggle to win back their rights to use of
the land. Since 1981, the local Land Rights Council, a nonprofit
group, has been working to challenge the decision that cleared
Taylor's title to the mountain tract. Several courts have upheld
the community's right to have the case heard, but Taylor Ranch
still has one more chance to try to throw it out, says Jeff
Goldstein, lawyer for the Land Rights Council. If they finally do
regain their common-use rights, Valdez says, the locals would have
more leverage to determine how Taylor Ranch manages
But most agree that the best long-term
solution is community ownership. State and private non-profit
groups have tried to purchase the ranch, but so far no one has been
able to raise the $30-million asking price.
think the only way to settle this is to acquire the land and let
the county return the use-rights to the residents in a managed
way," says Martinez. "We'll never do away with the trauma of this
whole history until we buy the land and it's ours."
For more information call the Costilla County
Commissioners at 719/672-3372.