“Anyone can love the mountains, but it takes soul to love the prairie.” (A sign at the Comanche National Grassland.)
In southeastern Colorado the last intact shortgrass prairie in America’s Great Plains rolls into juniper woodland landscapes and breathtaking red-rock canyons hundreds of feet deep. This unique combination of canyonlands, forested mesas and grasslands supports a highly diverse range of flora and fauna numbering in the thousands. The hard won environmental equilibrium of these interconnected bioregions – which stretch well into northern New Mexico – cannot be replaced if destroyed.
Yet this ecologically and historically rich landscape is now under threat from a huge and unwarranted land grab by the Pentagon. The existing 238,000-acre Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) between Trinidad and La Junta was created in 1983, largely through the use of eminent domain, and came with promises of no further expansion and no live fire. With promises broken and live fire a regular occurrence, the Pentagon is now seeking to triple the size of the PCMS. Maps leaked from the Army also show that the current plan is merely the first phase of an acquisition plan that could total 5 million acres, which still does not take into account Pentagon plans to expand the military’s large land holdings and air space in northern New Mexico. This highlights the extreme importance of action to stop the expansion now.
Both the National Trust for Historical Places and Colorado Preservation Inc. have placed the region on their “Most Endangered Places” list because of the threat of military takeover. The Piñon area includes not only generational family ranches that are the backbone of the region’s agricultural economy, but also the largest dinosaur track site in the US; pictographs made by the region’s original inhabitants; Native American sacred sites and Hispanic placitas. Preserved ruts are even carved into the landscape from wagons travelling on the Santa Fe Trail.
The expansion plans also threaten the outstandingly healthy National Grasslands (Comanche, Kiowa and Rita Blanca) created as recovery units from the dust bowl as well as state lands and wildlife areas that provide refuge for an abundant and unique range of animal and plants.
Grasslands are the most endangered eco-region on earth and highly effective carbon sequesters. There is no doubt that loss of vegetation and increased erosion due to greatly increased troop maneuvers, heavy-vehicle exercises and the testing of high-tech weapons systems will harm many species and precipitate another dustbowl that will irreparably damage many archaeological and paleontological treasures.The Pentagon is seeking to increase its domestic land control of more than 25,000,000 acres by 5 million acres no later than 2011. Three doctrines are driving the military’s targeting of vital intact eco-regions: the neo-cons’ Transformation project which emphasizes the use of high-tech weaponry and which needs large acreages for testing and development; the “Grow the Forces” process which will substantially increase overall troop numbers; and the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, which is shuttering many urban bases at enormous cost overruns and relocating forces to more remote and fragile environments.
In order to fight the Pentagon’s expansion plans and to ensure long term protection for the region, expansion opponents have built an extraordinary alliance which includes wildlife advocates, school children and school boards, historical groups, conservationists, Native Americans, ranchers, archaeological societies, water and soil conservancy groups, private property rights activists, labor unions, public lands advocates, religious groups, counties, cities, towns, museums, scientists and farmers.
Over the course of the past year our opposition campaign has delivered policy at every level of democracy – grassroots, county commissions, state legislature, US House of Representatives and US Senate. It has fostered an extraordinary bipartisan Congressional effort to win fiscal-year legislation preventing funding of all aspects of expansion at Piñon Canyon.
Not 1 More Acre! is a non-profit 501 (C4) organization which handles the legislative, environmental law and FOIA-related actions by expansion opponents. The next steps for Not 1 More Acre! will be to: mount a legal challenge to the Piñon Canyon Transformation Environmental Impact Statement; expand the campaign in targeted states to support the continuance of no-funding language in FY2009 and beyond; and to strengthen and expand legislative support at federal and state levels. Purgatoire, Apishapa & Comanche Grassland Trust is the educational 501(c)(3) organization working to raise public awareness of the precious diversity and global importance of the shortgrass steppe. Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition is the group of ranchers and rural communities fighting to save their land and livelihoods from military takeover.
The Sangre de Cristo chapter of the Sierra Club is a primary partner in the alliance fighting to save the grasslands and will continue expanding outreach to citizens who support policies to better serve a planet in peril. As Not 1 More Acre! prepares its EIS challenge, the Sierra Club and other 501 (C3) partners will be working hard to raise public awareness about climate issues, and the extraordinary environmental and cultural significance of the lands under threat. Preserving the environment, history, sustainable economy and culture of southeastern Colorado and northern New Mexico is important to us locally, regionally, nationally and globally.
Purgatoire, Apishapa &
Comanche Grassland Trust &
Not 1 More Acre!
PO Box 773
Trinidad, Colorado 81082
Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition
PO Box 137
Kim, Colorado 81049