The War Next Door

Rich in history and imperiled species, Pinon Canyon isn't like any other place on earth. Locals fear that the Army wants to tear the hell out of it.

1985: "It appears that most damage to posted archaeological sites occurred during daylight hours when signs could be observed rather than during blackout maneuvers...97% of the sites were impacted by vehicles to some degree."

1990: "Numerous violations of restricted area designations continued to occur regardless of combined efforts of management and BDE personnel to abate same."

1996: "A Swift Fox was found crushed in a heavily tracked area, and several Texas Horned Lizards were found crushed under the MSRs. Both of these species are candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act."

The Piñon Canyon region contains one of the richest deposits of prehistoric and historic sites in the West.
The Piñon Canyon region contains one of the richest deposits of prehistoric and historic sites in the West.
Jim Herrell opposes increased military exercises at Pinon Canyon.
Jim Herrell opposes increased military exercises at Pinon Canyon.

2002: "Considered unnecessary destruction (298) and damage (145) of mature trees greater than six feet in height continued to occur...Resulting damage/destruction of both the upper story (trees) and grass vegetative communities (1797 acres) was estimated to cost in excess of $148,460 for accomplishment of mitigation operations."

The most recent environmental assessment dismisses the after-action reports as anecdotal and irrelevant; after all, what's the destruction of 298 trees — even trees that might take 150 years to replace — in an area estimated to contain more than four million trees? The study contends that the Army has become much better at steering clear of sensitive areas since 2002, the last year for which such reports have been released.

But last summer's Warhorse Rampage exercise demonstrated that many of the same problems are still occurring. Troops somehow strayed onto 39 restricted historic sites, as well as into areas that hadn't yet been surveyed for possible cultural resources and were supposed to be off-limits. In five instances, historic structures were "clipped" or run over by vehicles, and one "prehistoric architectural feature" was also affected. "Unfortunately, that exercise revealed a number of flaws in Fort Carson's exercise of its responsibilities with regard to protection of historic properties," the assessment admits.

McLaughlin says the maneuvers caused only minor damage, including "one crack" in a cultural site: "It was a very good learning experience for everybody."

Others are less upbeat. After the maneuvers, Rebecca Goodwin, a boardmember of Colorado Preservation Inc., saw deep tracks near tepee rings above Cowboy Springs, a watering hole used by cowboys and Indians for generations. The site is considered worthy of the National Register of Historic Places, Goodwin says, and is far too fragile for military operations. She's concerned about the ease with which the troops managed to breach so many sites.

"To go past a fence and not realize it until you've clipped a building — it isn't the first time this has happened, but it's never happened on this scale," she says.

Surveys of the Piñon Canyon region have identified over 5,500 sites of historic importance, including more than 600 significant enough to be eligible for the National Register. Among the jewels are five historic ranches, including the Brown Sheep Camp, a large complex that was once owned by Governor Julius Caldeen Gunter and features what Goodwin calls "one of the most remarkable barns in all of southeast Colorado" — a two-story, cantilevered adobe affair.

A wood barn nearby is full of cowboy drawings and brands — the buckaroo equivalent of rock art, detailing a rude history of the area. But Goodwin says the Army is "doing demolition by neglect," letting the buildings fall apart while weeds grow waist-high, awaiting the next lightning strike and grass fire.

Federal law requires that the military formally consult with state preservation officials before taking actions that could impact historic sites, but the Army failed to do so before Warhorse Rampage. In a recent letter to Colorado historic preservation officer Ed Nichols, Fort Carson officials pledged to do better next time.

Aguerre claims the damage from Warhorse Rampage to the environment and the cultural resources was more extensive than the Army will admit. "Any conscientious rancher knows you have to keep the grassland in shape for the next generation," she says. "The military has to keep their training land in good shape, or the next generation doesn't train."


Fifty years ago last month, Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered the most enduring speech of his presidency: his farewell address, warning citizens of the increasing size and influence of what he called the military-industrial complex. Eisenhower recognized that the economic and political forces associated with a thriving arms industry, coupled with a massive defense establishment built on fear, could pose an even greater threat to democracy than a foreign power. America's best hope, he said, rested with the ability of "an alert and knowledgeable citizenry" to keep the generals and military contractors in their place.

Half a century later, the complex is doing just fine. The annual budget for the Department of Defense now stands at $700 billion a year, double what it was before the 9/11 attacks. Outlays for Homeland Security and various intelligence agencies amount to another $125 billion a year or more; no one's really sure how much goes into the black hole of black ops.

And last week an alert and knowledgeable citizenry, several hundred strong, attended public hearings in Trinidad and La Junta. They had come to listen and offer comments in response to the Army's plan for increased training at the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. Almost all of the speakers were strongly opposed to the plan. Several called for the Army to publicly abjure any expansion ambitions by relinquishing the waiver it received years ago authorizing acquisition of more land in southern Colorado.

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Every BRAC'd air base has to be declared a superfund site!  Thousands of gallons of toxic fuel and who knows what other chemicals dumped with impunity by the military.  They don't care--it's not THEIR home they are polluting!  Understand the unlimited arrogance and immorality of military activity--that they consider themselves entitled to land grabs.  Historic site?  Too bad.  They must continue to build their empire, that's how they have TRIPLED the defense expenditure in our federal budget since 1997.  Yes, tripled.  While our highways and schools languish, and after $1.3Trillion spent annually on this immoral folly--the middle class in the U. S. has disappeared.  Look at the resistance mounted around other mil bases--Key West, Norfolk, Whidbey Island; the people whose lives have been profoundly disrupted by this presence CAN fight and CAN prevail vs. the military.  Call and write your elected reps in Washington, D. C.  Tell them you want these bases closed as surplus.  There are hundreds of obsolete, unneeded bases that are way overdue to be closed.  Demand that Congress hold hearings to expedite the closing of bases--this fiscal year.  They are not good neighbors--their presence is a toxic hazard to every resident living in their vicinity. 


Your federal government loves you and wants you to be happy. Stop worrying and keep paying taxes.


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Doug Holdread
Doug Holdread

This is a FABULOUS article that more Coloradoans need to know about. It is a big deal. The Pentagon is trying to federalize and militarize the Southeastern corner of our state. It will cost all of us dearly if they succeed. Not only will it mean the destruction of irreplacable pre-historic and historic treasures and the elimination of a living cowboy heritage, but it will take away from our state to of the largest and most important alternative enegy generation areas for solar and wind. It would be a rotten deal all the way around if we end up using that land to increase our military capability to secure and control foriegn oil fields, rather than using it to secure energy independence for our nation. The ranchers of SE Colorado are not only fighting for their land; they are fighting for the sovereignty of our state and the security of our nation.


Yes indeed this is a fabulous article every American should read to have an awareness of the goal of the Five-sided Funny Farm to turn our nation into a Military State. There are deadly toxic substances at every military base. The ranchers must not cave in to the DOD; they must preserve their heritage once it is gone it cannot be recovered. My family had their land seized in 1942 that had been in the family since 1910 for a Navy base; quality of life has been in a steady decline over the decades with ever increasing loud invasive noise from aircraft. The DOD is attempting to limit the use of the land declaring Accident Potential Zones (APZ). There is a vast source of information on toxic contamination at: