Letter: Wild horse roundup is a warning cry for the West
Wild horses have always been a symbol of the West. Their very presence evokes a sense of freedom and opportunity — the essence of Western culture.
Earlier this month, the Bureau of Land Management led the largest wild horse roundup in Colorado history to prevent thirst and mortality amid the intense drought conditions.
The West is changing, and these horses are not alone in the face of drought and steep competition for grazing land. The people of the West are struggling to maintain their livelihoods amid the changing climate and rising cost of living. The magnitude of these challenges means we need help from the government to create more public land and water access to sustain our culture.
Colorado temperatures have increased by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit between 1977 and 2006. Warmer weather affects many aspects of the environment and impacts people’s ability to make a living. As snow evaporates earlier, less water makes it into rivers and underground aquifers. This results in drier, less healthy forests, grasslands and rivers.
Ranchers, farmers, anglers and those in tourism and other industries need access to more land and more reliable water as conditions become hotter and drier.
To lessen the impact of drought on the land, some ranchers move cattle quickly from pasture to pasture so they don’t overgraze any one spot. Others have turned to culling or selling off part of their herd when they can’t afford to purchase the supplemental feed that they now need.
The rising cost of living in western Colorado makes adapting to the changing climate difficult, if not impossible.
In Steamboat Springs, single-family homes now cost an average of $1.27 million. Routt County homes appreciated 44% this year alone. Purchasing extra land is simply not an option for most Coloradans.
Such is the dire reality we face in the West.
We cannot let our neighbors fail under the weight of climate change and soaring real estate prices. I urge you to attend Steamboat Springs City Council meetings. Ask council to prioritize open space and conservation easements to keep agricultural land intact. Landowners, please consider working with organizations like Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to protect your land from future development.
We must act now — together — to protect the land and culture of the West we love. The West where freedom, opportunity and yes — wild horses — have the space to run free.
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