Grass fires, ignited by lightning strikes, have burned more than 40,000 acres of southern Colorado. The fires started on the maneuver site and then spread to federal, state, and private lands adjacent to the Army training zone. (Have a look at this story in a Colorado Springs newspaper, which in a wishful faux pas refers to the military grounds as a recreation area.)
Area landowners say the fires highlight the Army’s poor stewardship of Pinon Canyon. They single out two primary causes. The first is that the Army didn’t respond quickly enough to contain the wildfires, which escalated out of control are now being fought by hundreds of firefighters. The second reason has to do with the long term effect of the maneuver site on the prairie ecosystem. For thousands of years, native grasses have sustained cattle and bison on the American Plains, but with the acquisition of this property by the Army in 1983 the ungulates were removed. The lack of foraging animals means that native grasses now grow out of control, and the maneuver site has now become a huge safety hazard. A quick check at the Fort Carson’s website shows one press release pertaining to the fires.
Be sure to get up to speed on the backstory of one of the biggest land grabs by Uncle Sam by reading Trey Garrison’s excellent report from June 2007.