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Pion ranchers stay on guard

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Sen. Wayne Allard says the Armys short 5 million acres of training land  so Pion Canyons still on his radar. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sen. Wayne Allard says the Armys short 5 million acres of training land so Pion Canyons still on his radar.

An amendment that would prevent the Army from expanding Pion Canyon Maneuver Site for a year likely to pass with the country's 2008 military construction spending bill hasn't calmed fears in cattle country.

Not with the state's two senators, Wayne Allard and Ken Salazar, now pushing a separate provision calling for an extensive study of expansion.

"They're keeping a cloud over everybody's head," says Lon Robertson, a Kim rancher. "With as much opposition as there is to this, you'd think they'd pull away."

Robertson leads the Pion Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition, a group of ranchers, rural businesses, conservationists, scientists, town, city and county councils, even schools, together aiming to keep the maneuver site at 235,000 acres. Aside from cattle and cowboys, the grassy lands east of Walsenburg are rife with rare animals, centuries-old native rock art, American Indian remnants and dinosaur footprints.

The Army, however, now is facing a nationwide deficit for training land 5 million acres, according to Allard. The Army says it needs to expand the Fort Carson site by some 418,000 acres in preparation for possible future wars to be fought with evolving technology.

Allard spokesman Steve Wymer says the senator is "in favor of study for a myriad of reasons," citing concerns ranging from the environment to military needs.

Salazar, in a statement Tuesday, said he supports the delay, but also legislation to create a "requirement that the Army justify their proposal."

Months ago, Fort Carson released a map of areas of interest, including private ranches that could be bought from "willing sellers."

Robertson says if it comes to that, the Army would discover few, if any, such sellers. Rather, he predicts, the Army would resort to eminent domain a taking of land. Or, perhaps ranchers would be forced to sell one by one as property values sink.

The plan appeared dead in June, when the House voted 383-34 for the one-year ban. In September, the Senate passed a similar provision 47-45, with Ken Salazar, a Democrat, voting for the ban. Allard, a Republican, voted against.

Robertson says that confused him, since Allard has a good relationship with the agricultural community.

Wymer says Allard's ties to that community are as strong as ever and that Allard is "not supportive of any hostile seizure of land" or condemnations.

Robertson also chides Salazar for working with Allard in calling for an expansion study. The study seeks research enhancing "economic development opportunities" at a current or expanded site, such as the Army leasing land back to ranchers for grazing; tax incentives for sellers; aid to local governments; and an outreach office to help local businesses hoping to bid on Defense Department contracts.

Environmental impacts would also be studied, Wymer says.

Robertson says ranchers are offended.

"The last thing I want is the military doing an economic development plan for me," he says. "We know what's good for our business."

deyoanna@csindy.com

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