Children at St. Pat’s. A nightclub on main street. Dogs in the wetlands. Beavers in town. Prairie dogs on the Valley Floor.
They’re all in the wrong place, by some calculations.
But children have to play, youth has to party, dogs have to swim, beavers have to build dams, and prairie dogs, well, out in Nucla and Naturita not too many years back, they were shot in an annual Prairie Dog Shoot whose purpose, at least in part, was expressly to tweak and provoke and outrage environmentalists.
Now, of course, the Valley Floor prairie dogs are our new mascots, a symbol of nature returning to land that was despoiled by river channelization, mine tailings and cattle grazing, lovable evidence that the $50 million we spent to buy the prized land has indeed gone to a good cause.
But if the Valley Floor had not been despoiled, would it be good prairie dog habitat? The Valley Floor, historically covered with beaver ponds from wall to wall, is drying out because the river has been channelized and restricted to the southern edge, not only depriving the bulk of the Valley Floor of its water but also lowering the water table as the river cuts deeper. If the river is returned to a meandering course and the beavers find themselves back at home there, the prairie dogs will be flooded out. And then what will the Telluride Ecology Commission do? Will we honor the historic ecological condition of beaver habitat or the new one of prairie dog habitat?
This is analogous to the return of children to St. Pat’s, a church that is one of Telluride’s oldest structures, suddenly forced to defend its venerable mission in a neighborhood that has morphed into expensive resort real estate. A residential neighborhood should not be subjected to the disruptive laughter and screams of children, in the opinion of some. Weren’t neighborhood schools once an American ideal?
And how about the audacity of a nightclub on main street in a resort town? We’re not even sure if we want to see a hotel on vacant land next to a ski lift. It might have too many adverse impacts and ruin another quiet residential neighborhood.
Whatever happened to the Town Without a Bellyache?
In our imagination, Telluride is permissive, a live-and-let-live kind of place, a zone of protected civil liberties. In reality, Telluride was never without a bellyache, and today it’s a place inhabited by citizens struggling to co-exist with each other, and a town equally struggling to co-exist with nature. If our civil liberties are intact, our ability to survive in Telluride without a trust fund is seriously in doubt, sacrificed at least in part to expensive “mitigations.”
Used to be that bears were mitigated (hunted) by Basque shepherds and beavers were mitigated (channelized) out of here. Now bears feast on our scraps, to their own ill health, and beavers reproduce like the rodents they are and flood structures built near wetlands. In the language of good government, we can sanitize these problems into wildlife/human conflicts that need to be managed. We can try to mitigate with beaver deceivers and bear-resistant trash containers, but, in fact, the problems of co-existence just seem to keep adding up.
I say, let’s bring back the wolf and the Grizzly bear, and sooner rather than later. Man-eating predators outside our door would sharply remind us all that to really co-exist with each other and with nature requires the skills of a good choreographer.
In every good dance, it’s said, there is a step back.