The environmental disaster happening in Routt County

Todd Hagenbuch
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Maybe you’ve heard, but in the event you haven’t, you should know that thousands of acres in Routt County are being damaged this week by people who mean well, but don’t understand the damage they are causing to our local lands. These people are ruining a native ecosystem, impacting water quality, degrading soil health, causing light pollution, and negatively impacting animals, both domestic and wild, due to the damage they are causing to the landscape. If you’re not outraged by this behavior, you should be.

Many of you who recently raised this flag on social media or through letters to the editor of this paper have been fuming. Unlike you, however, I’m not talking about attendees of the Rainbow Family Gathering; I’m talking about land-owners and managers in our community who don’t properly care for the land under their control.

All too often, well-meaning people purchase and/or lease property in our area in an effort to enjoy what so many landowners do: an opportunity to have space, a place to enjoy animals, a chance to have part of the American dream. But all too often, for a variety of reasons, these well-meaning people fall-short of completing the actual and necessary management land takes.

With the right to own land comes the responsibility to manage it properly. This means controlling noxious weeds, managing grazing properly, and taking care of the soil and water resources of the property to improve their health and quality, not degrade it.

Too often, whether because of ignorance, a lack of time, or a lack of resources, landowners who make a commitment to the land by purchasing or leasing it don’t realize the long-term commitment they are making to the management of that land. Damage happens quickly when land is mismanaged but takes many, many years to reverse. If you have the resources available to invest in land in this (or any) real estate market, you need to budget up-front to manage the property for the long term. If you don’t have those types of resources, or don’t care to be responsible for managing the land, then you shouldn’t purchase or lease the land, period.

CSU Extension, Routt County and the Community Agriculture Alliance constantly work to educate new and aspiring landowners on best management practices so we can curb this injustice that happens across Northwest Colorado every day, not just this week. We will offer our Land Stewardship course again this fall to help educate landowners and real estate agents on best management practices, and CSU Extension is currently working on a new “Rural Living Guidebook” to help our land managers know where to find solid information on land management issues.

If you own or manage land and don’t know what you don’t know, start your educational journey today by visiting the CSU Extension Small Acreage Management website at Local resources include and our online “Guide to Rural Living,” and the Routt County Weed Program website.

Ignorance is not an excuse for poor land management whether you’re a visitor, part-time resident, or property owner and manager. Our community is well-known for being a beautiful, resource-rich area that is worth preserving. We all have the responsibility to do our part to help with that preservation.

Todd Hagenbuch is the Ag/Natural Resources Extension Agent for Colorado State University in Routt County. 

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