Take care of our own backyard

We live in a magical place in a not-so-magical time. Those who are born and live their lives under western skies accept the wide open expanses of land as the norm. Those who travel here from eastern states or other parts of the world marvel at the public lands. "You mean no one owns this?" I've been asked. "You do," I reply. A challenging concept, these public lands, for those whose lives center on ownership and taming of a piece of property. A challenging concept, too, for those who think that it stays pristine without some help.

So while we, the citizens of the United States, own the public lands, the federal government is charged with its preservation and maintenance. They do a pretty good job of it, too. Let's take our own Canyons of the Ancients National Monument (CANM). Some folks in our community are unaware that just west of Cortez we have close to 180,000 acres that are part of the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS). This system was created in 2000 "to conserve, protect, and restore nationally significant landscapes with outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations." This sounds pretty impressive because it is. When people travel to New York, they expect to see the Statue of Liberty. When people travel to Paris, it's the Eiffel Tower. When people from around the world visit our little corner of Colorado, they are here to see the natural and cultural wonders that we have to offer. We live in a geographically stunning area that can also boast the highest density of prehistoric archaeological sites in all of North America.

So back to its maintenance ... NLCS land receives funding from the federal government (yes, your tax dollars). Its federal funding pales in comparison to other public lands: the National Wildlife Refuge System receives twice as much and the National Park System receives 13 times as much as NLCS land.

This is where you and I, as owners of the land, come in. The federal government (in this case the Bureau of Land Management that manages CANM through its headquarters at the Anasazi Heritage Center [AHC]) cannot seek additional funding to provide services on public lands. They must partner with non-profit organizations to do so. A small group of us has stepped forward to create a partner group dedicated to these two remarkable entities. The Southwest Colorado Canyons Foundation will support the missions of CANM and AHC through both volunteer participation and funding efforts. We need your help to do this.

Why do we now feel the need for an additional partner group? CANM and AHC have long partnered with several outstanding groups, including San Juan Mountains Association, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, and McElmo Canyon Research Institute to acquire funding for a variety of projects, and these partnerships will continue. These fine organizations, however, have missions that differ in significant ways and do not maintain a focus solely on CANM and AHC.

Additionally, because CANM is a part of NLCS, its significance and needs have been raised a notch. We need a group dedicated to it and its headquarters. It is time for us to stop thinking that public lands will always be there for us without our work to care for and maintain it.

You may wonder why I feel so strongly about this landscape now, in a time that our community is struggling to provide educational opportunities for its children, job creation for its adults, and a safer environment for all. I see these opportunities going hand in hand. To provide a healthy place to live we need a healthy landscape, one that is sustainable and of which we can all be proud. The healthy landscape provides opportunities for work, e.g. research, education, recreation. Opportunities for work provide a larger tax base and a better education for our children. Children will have more opportunities to make good choices for the future of this community. A community that cares about the landscape cares about all of these things that make the community healthy.

I hope you will join the Southwest Colorado Canyons Foundation in its effort to take care of our own back yard. Please call Diane McBride at 560-1643 for more information about how you can be involved.

Diane McBride is the steering chair of the new grassroots organization, Southwest Colorado Canyons Foundation. She lives in Montezuma County with her husband Bob and two dogs.