OPINION | Land Matters: natural disasters

Jeremy D. Krones
Colorado Headwaters Land Trust

For those in Grand County who don’t have any connections to the east coast, be comforted knowing that the Atlantic states finally know what it’s like to live days on end under a blanket of wildfire smoke.

At least, that’s how some friends acted, both here in the Intermountain West, as well as around New York and New England in early June as wildfires in Canada blew smoke down the east coast. I even got a text from a friend asking if he should walk his dog when there was such heavy smoke.

I have become the “Westerner” of some of my friends groups – most of my childhood friends returned to the east coast not long after college, if they ever left. They enjoy seeing photos and reading stories I post about living in the west. My work in land conservation puts me in direct relationship with the landscape and people who have the closest ties to it – the owners, managers and users.

I am asked from time to time why a guy born and bred in Maryland came west to conserve land. They say, shouldn’t it be left to those from here, just as I should stay in Maryland to protect what is left of the Old Line State from being developed even more?

I see their point.  We live in a massive country with a great many divisions – cultural, ecological, industrial, social and political. They all change as you move about the country.

Sometimes it makes sense to stay in a place you know deeply. Especially in the field of conservation, having intimate knowledge of both the landscape and the people in can be a huge benefit to do good work, protecting what’s out there from being lost to overuse, pavement or pressure.

But other times, there’s great value in being a transplant. You bring with you a perspective to share both with your new neighbors, as well as to bring back to your old home.

Himebaugh Gulch is 275 acres of open space located near the southside of the Town of Hot Sulphur Springs. The land provides public access between the town and the adjacent Arapaho National Forest.
Stephen Lee/Colorado Headwaters Land Trust

One of the earliest white Americans to explore the Colorado River was John Wesley Powell (1834-1902), a known figure for students of conservation, exploration and American history. Powell grew up in Illinois, exploring the Mississippi River and its environs. He turned his attention westward after the Civil War, with Congress funding his explorations to understand more about the western territories.

Through his childhood adventures up, down and around the Mississippi River, he learned how important water systems are even in temperate environments. That perspective guided his reporting about the Colorado River and its tributaries.

In his 1878 “Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions of the United States,” Powell proposed using watersheds, instead of surveys, to outline new western states. His proposed map looks more like eastern states than what we have in the West today: Borders weaving around each other, following rivers and mountain ridges. It was a more thoughtful and sustainable vision for the arid environment, given the limited water resources and the future needs of growth and development.

Powell clearly lost that argument, but now the whole country knows that especially in drier environments like in Colorado, the use of water must be done with intention. And as Powell learned in the Midwest, with water management comes the management of all other natural resources.

Fires are getting worse around the continent. Even in our fire-hardened state, events like Cameron Peak, East Troublesome and Marshall fires were anomalies, just as the days of heavy smoke settling over the Interstate 95 corridor was unprecedented.

It’s not a competition about which region gets hit worst by their own unique weather or climate issues – we won’t get hurricanes here in Grand County, but we do get dangerously heavy rains and winds. The Mid-Atlantic states might not get the same intense wildfires as we do, but they must deal with fire and smoke all the same.

What we can do to help others is to share our experiences and lend advice when necessary. I can help my friends and family handle the smoke because I have the perspective both of living in a very smoky and fiery west, as well as in the congested and crowded east. As natural disasters like fires and floods get more frequent and more intense, think about how you can share your experiences with others to help them whether the storms (or the disaster of the day). That’s community conservation, on a large scale.

Colorado Headwaters Land Trust’s Executive Director Jeremy D. Krones.
Colorado Headwaters Land Trust/Courtesy photo

Jeremy D. Krones is the executive director of Colorado Headwaters Land Trust. The land trust’s mission is to conserve and steward the open lands and natural character of the headwaters of the Colorado River in partnership with the local community, and works with private landowners throughout Grand County to conserve their land in perpetuity. To learn more, please call (970) 887-1177 or email:

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