Starting in the southwest: County explores agricultural preservation and enhancement

A remote corner of La Plata County could break new ground for agricultural preservation. County planners are currently taking steps to ensure that agriculture remains viable and profitable on the lands of Fort Lewis Mesa.

As it continues to revise its land-use policies, La Plata County is taking a hard look at its southwest corner. There has never been any specific plan in place for Fort Lewis Mesa, and the sparsely populated area has been relatively free of governmental oversight. That is currently changing, however, with La Plata County taking a firmer grasp on land use in the region. In exchange, the county is also hoping to offer a carrot in the form of agricultural preservation.

“We’ve been hosting a series of meetings and workshops on Fort Lewis Mesa,” explained Erick Aune, long-range planner for the county. “We’re trying to make agricultural preservation and enhancement a big part of that district’s plan. We’re trying to balance it with the increased regulation.”

The county has definitely been met with skepticism, particularly from longtime farmers and ranchers in the region, Aune explained.

“What we’re hearing is a lot of folks saying agriculture is dead, it’s not viable, don’t regulate us,” he said. “But we’re also seeing smaller operations that are viable, and we want to raise awareness about them.”

The starting point for any kind of preservation plan

will be the creation of a vision statement, and Aune hopes to present that to the La Plata County Planning Commission later this summer. Beyond that, a plan would be developed, and then the county would commit resources and finances to keeping area farms and ranches in business.

“We’ll need to convey that we’re going to spend time, money and resources over the long term,” Aune said. “That’s part of the culture of trust that needs to be built up. The county isn’t just here to regulate.”

Eventually, Fort Lewis Mesa would provide the kick-off for an agricultural preservation and enhancement push that would stretch throughout La Plata County.

– Will Sands