Protecting natural surroundings without sacrificing free enterprise

Hundreds of birds are singing and chatting as I sit at our kitchen table in the early morning and write this column. It is a joyful sound that always lifts my spirits and helps me to be thankful for the environment that surrounds us.

But the sound of happy, chirping birds has not always been the case on the modest place we call home, which has sustained and provided a living for Debbie and me, our four boys and our hired help. In fact, 36 years ago, there were very few birds on our place because there was no feed for them and quite frankly, during the years, Debbie and the boys and I also had pretty slim pickings. The place that I bought in 1976 was sagebrush, piŮon and cedar trees and that was about all. Luckily, our land was under the South West Pine River Ditch, an extension of the Morrison Ditch. This ditch delivers storage water out of Vallecito Reservoir via the Pine River.

During a period of several years, we were fortunate enough to buy water from the ditch and pay to get it delivered to our place. We proceeded to cut down some of the sagebrush, dig ditches, plow and plant fields, irrigate those fields and eventually establish green pastures.

Green is my favorite color, always has been and always will be. Green is the color of spring, the color of new life. On our ranch, green is the color of the emerging feed for not only our sheep, cattle and horses, but also for elk and deer and, yes, even myriad species of birds that tickle our ears every morning with joyous melodies. Also, we have built many ponds which are habitat for geese, ducks, beaver, muskrats and hundreds of other critters.

Little by little, through lots of hard work and with the help of some trusting bankers, we have been blessed to develop a ranch that sustains our familyís livelihood and the livelihood of several hired hands. Our story is not much different from any other ranch family. We are all conservationists at heart and were fans of sustainability before sustainability was cool. We would go broke in a heartbeat if we didnít plan for the future and manage in a way to maintain and sustain our resources. Ranchers are also practical and know the difference between true environmentalism and science fiction.

So far, we are blessed to live in a country where anyone has the right to work hard and try to succeed at a vocation. The biggest threat to our nationís environment is a poor economy. To see what I mean, one can go south of our border into Mexico. When people are hungry, they could care less about clean air or clean water. Because of the freedom that we enjoy, citizens of the United States are well fed and have the time, money and energy to protect and conserve our natural resources.

Lately, unreasonable federal regulations are threatening farmersí and ranchersí ability to produce food. If we donít have a strong agricultural economy, the environment will suffer. It is imperative that we strike a balance that protects the environment, but does not kill the free enterprise spirit.

J. Paul Brown represents House District 59 in Coloradoís General Assembly. The district encompasses San Juan, Archuleta and La Plata counties and parts of Montezuma County. Call Rep. Brown at (303) 866-2914 or email jpaul.brown.house@state.co.us.