Contact: Lon Robertson
President, Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition (PCEOC)

Michelle Wiseman
Purgatoire, Apishapa & Comanche Grassland Trust (Grassland Trust)

January 15, 2007

Feds Stonewall Public on Escalation of War Training

Opponents to a proposal for escalated military training in southeastern Colorado are feeling like they've been stranded twice.

First by a series of record-breaking blizzards that have cut them off from the outside world and then by a refusal on the part of the military to give them more time to review and comment upon a 400 page, legally required document which outlines the anticipated damage to the environment and to the social fabric of ranching communities that proposed escalated war training would inflict upon the area.

An alliance of ranchers, archaeologists, environmental conservationists, paleontologists, historians, wildlands advocates, educators, private property proponents, business people, and residents of southeastern Colorado scrambled to meet an imposed deadline for public input on a plan for escalated war training at the 235,000-acre Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado. They had hoped for more time.

Federal Representatives and the Department of Defense stonewalled requests from people buried in snow in southeastern Colorado, now a declared Federal Disaster Area.

Although United States Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, wrote a letter to Secretary of the Army, Francis J. Harvey, requesting an additional 21 days for the public to have their say, there was apparently no response from the Army to the Senator.

“We appreciate Senator Salazar’s letter to assist us,” stated Lon Robertson, President of the Pinon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition. “It’s too bad that Secretary Harvey chose to ignore the Senator’s request and slap all of us in the face in the process,” he added. The 21-day extension would have meant that all residents of southeastern Colorado would have had the chance to have their voices heard through comments on the plans for escalation.

Congressman John Salazar (D-CO) and Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), both members of the House Agriculture Committee, earlier submitted letters responding to the Coalition’s request for an extension of time for public input without success.

Escalation of war training on one of the last remaining healthy grasslands in the American Great Plains would drastically affect the people and environment of southeastern Colorado at tremendous taxpayer cost.

* Southeastern Colorado is vital to agriculture in the region and has a rich history of ranching that is the backbone of the local economies. Much of that ranchland has been passed down through several generations.

* Las Animas, Huerfano and Otero counties will be impacted most heavily; approximately 44,000 people live and work in these counties and will be severely affected.

* Las Animas County will lose millions of dollars in annual tax revenue if the proposed expansion is approved. Similar losses can be expected in the other counties near the maneuver site. Without this revenue, local governments will not be able to pay for fundamental services such as police and fire protection or social infrastructure including schools, hospitals and clinics.

* Pouring more taxpayer money into the existing facility -- when the military already holds 25,000,000 acres in the United States -- to escalate war training on a fragile grassland will contaminate water resources with lead, petroleum products and other hazardous materials, rendering water unfit for agricultural or domestic use while introducing more pollutants into the Arkansas River.

* Expanded training activities will destroy vegetation and increase soil erosion, creating the potential for another dust bowl in the area. These ecosystems contain critical habitat for many diverse species of flora and fauna and cannot be replaced if destroyed. According to The Nature Conservancy, “the lands surrounding the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site represent one of the largest blocks of native grasslands on the western High Plains.”

* The archaeological and historical sites located on the PCMS form an important cultural record and should be protected to the fullest extent possible. War training damage to archaeological resources is permanent, and incremental damage is cumulative and adverse.

* The Purgatoire River valley, its tributaries and the surrounding areas contain an abundance of diverse paleontological resources that include trace plant, and invertebrate fossils from the Permian through Cretaceous geological periods (about 250-145.5 million years ago). Dinosaur fossils are harmed and/or destroyed by mechanized training exercises and dismounted training exercises.

Public input was limited by disastrous blizzards, and then later by the refusal of the Secretary of the Army and Federal Representatives to allow adequate opportunity for many affected by the storms.
Even though expressions of concern were limited, Pinon Canyon Opposition Coalition and the diverse alliance of groups and individuals who value this important bio-cultural region will continue to strongly oppose the continued use and escalation of war training on the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.