Cows or condos? |

Cows or condos?

News about the Flying Heels Rodeo reducing the number of shows this year and controversy brewing over development of Byers Peak Ranch in Fraser may appear, at first glance, unrelated. There is nevertheless a common thread residents and local government officials alike would do well to consider.

The issue underlying the rodeo’s struggles – which will result in only two shows this season, down from a high of eight – boils down to a significant decline in both support for that aspect of western heritage and substantially fewer people in Grand County who are living the traditional western lifestyle.

At issue in the Byers Peak Ranch development is impending loss of the open space residents have enjoyed courtesy of a large, undeveloped parcel of land close to town that used to be a working ranch.

The relationship between the two issues is apparent enough: As Grand County’s western heritage fades and these ranches become less viable, the threat that remaining open spaces will be developed escalates.

Not coincidentally, the majority of respondents to surveys conducted during the scoping phase of Grand County’s recently adopted Master Plan clearly indicated that preserving the county’s rural character and open spaces should be a top priority.

Problem is, after the dust settles, that is more easily said than done.

It’s natural enough to sympathize with those who would bemoan the loss of the Byers Peak Ranch open space, regardless of how worthy what ends up there may or may not be. Fact is, no one stepped up when that property was on the market to buy it for the sake of preserving it, which is the only way to guarantee such lands won’t be developed.

Those who would conscript private lands for the public good – though over-regulation after the fact or otherwise – do so only by ignoring the “takings clause” of the U.S. Bill of Rights. It states, “… nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

No ifs, ands or buts, case law regarding the clause, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, is settled: If you want it preserved for public reasons, the owner has to agree to it or the public has to own it.

Efforts to place sensitive parcels of land, particularly parts of the remaining large Grand County ranches, into conservation easements through organizations such as the Middle Park Land Trust are highly commendable. However, there will come a time and place they will not be sufficient to preserve that which is valued most by local residents.

The effort to preserve this county’s natural heritage should begin sooner rather than later while prevailing market conditions are favorable. If not through outright public purchases, perhaps public money could be used to leverage greater results through conservation easements. As it is, public entities are conspicuously uninvolved in these efforts.

And that is despite the fact that the public made its sentiments crystal clear and at least two highly sensitive parcels in the Fraser Valley and near Granby are on the market right now.

The question is, what would we prefer to see on these lands in coming decades: cows or condos? If current path continues to guide us, the whims of the open market will make that choice, and we can all tell our grandchildren how wonderful it used to be.

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