North Fork Valley image

The bucolic North Fork Valley in its present state. – Photo by Celia Roberts

How many of you have driven to the Western Slope to buy Paonia cherries or West Elks wines? How many have spent the night at one of our bed and breakfasts or guest ranches, fished the Gunnison, or biked the scenic loop? Maybe you’re a chef who has featured the North Fork Valley’s heritage pork, grass-fed beef, Avalanche cheese, Peak Spirits’ eau de vie, Ela Family Farm peaches, Thistle Whistle Farm vegetables, or purchased Big B’s ciders and juices at Whole Foods?

If you have been to the North Fork Valley or enjoyed its distinctive foods, I’m glad.

Because if the natural gas industry has its way on November 1, a deceptively routine process called a Resource Management Plan will start the industrialization of this special place.

The North Fork Valley, which includes the towns of Paonia, Hotchkiss, and Crawford, is home to the largest concentration of organic farms in the state. It’s also a designated Colorado Creative District and an American Viticulture Area. The region is a checkerboard of private farms and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) parcels laced with a web of irrigation ditches, many of which run through or by BLM land. And almost all the BLM spaces have been targeted for fracking, according to Natasha Leger, interim executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community, a grassroots organization established in 2009 by residents concerned about the risks of large-scale oil and gas development in the community.

The Uncompahgre field office, which manages more than 900,000 acres of BLM land, has proposed opening 95 percent of the area above and below ground, including split estate leases under organic farms, to oil and gas extraction, Leger says. What does industrialization mean to our farms and vineyards? Drinking water contamination; health problems from methane pollution, ozone smog, and soot; well pads, roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure; heavy truck traffic on our two-lane country highway and subsequent road damage; water source depletion; increased demands on public services like 911 and police; and the plugging and cleanup costs of orphaned wells.

Eugenia Bone

5280, October 18, 2016

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