Bob Woodmansee: Challenges facing Routt County
The World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 released a report “Our Common Future,” also known as the Brundtland Report that defined “Sustainable development (as) development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
The residents of Routt County have been evaluating and offering guidance about issues of sustainability for several decades, as seen in the Routt County Master Plan, Routt County Zoning Regulations, Vision 2020, Vision 2030 and the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council Mission Statement. That vision is based largely on past and current perspectives.
Realistic visions of the future must include science-based forecasts of interacting dramatic changes in climate (e.g., drought); water quantity, availability and timing; water quality; population growth; demographic shifts based on being a retirement and second home destination; shifting employment opportunities; habitat fragmentation (e.g., 35-acre subdivisions of ranches); and consequences of past and current mismanagement of riparian systems, wetlands and uplands. Further complicating these forecasts are pressures from development, economic and ideological interests (property rights) on elected officials to diminish community visions embedded in the Routt County Master Plan and Zoning Regulations (“death by a thousand cuts”).
Envisioning the future must include three concepts. The first concept is resilience, “the capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb or withstand perturbations (changes) and other stressors such that the system remains within the same regime, essentially maintaining its structure and functions” (Resilience Alliance at resalliance.org). The importance of the concept of resilience is captured in the question “How much can Routt County change before the values expressed in the documents listed above are lost and our community becomes something else?”
To be resilient, we must employ concept two, which is mitigate (“to make less severe or painful”), where we can, the detrimental impacts of changes. Examples of mitigating impacts are reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses; employing “best management practices” on our lands and waters to improve water quantity and quality and improve land health and profitability; continue directing potential new homeowners to designated growth areas; and developing social and physical infrastructure to accommodate a community dominated by retirees and non-resident property owners.
Concept three is we must learn to adapt (“make fit, often by modification”). We all need to accept that change is coming. We need to adjust our attitudes and behaviors to accept we will no longer live in a romanticized version of the Old West based on the notion of an independent and self-reliant lifestyle; an unfettered skiing, boarding, fishing, hunting, hiking and biking mecca; or an untarnished wilderness experience.
These concepts need to become part of everyday education, conversation and collaborative actions by county and municipal governments, state and federal agencies, NGOs, businesses and citizens. Solutions can be achieved through community-based consensus building and decision-making, using the best available scientific (social, environmental and economic) advice in decision-making, and incentivizing “best management practices” for all Routt County lands and waters.
County and municipal elected officials create policies that influence decisions about land use. Those policies can favor individual property rights, community rights of Routt County residents, or “greater good” rights influencing the Yampa River Basin, the State of Colorado, the Colorado River and beyond, now and for generations to come. Which is favored, what is the balance and who decides?
Our challenge is to mitigate and adapt to coming changes so that we stay within the constraints of the concept of resilience for our sake and future generations. If you agree, tell your local elected officials.
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