When I learned about the proposal to develop 1,100 acres around the pastoral Cow Creek Ranch in San Miguel County, I couldn’t help drawing comparisons between those plans and the fictional story depicted in The Milagro Beanfield War — a film I directed 30 years ago.
Milagro tells the story of a cultural clash between a small community with deep ties to water, land and tradition — and the arrival of a wealthy developer hoping to make a profit — threatening the community’s life-giving water and traditional way of life.
I am a longtime resident of New Mexico, and I believe what we develop for our survival and what we preserve for our survival is crucial. Particularly now, as we all witness and sometimes experience the impacts of climate change: the devastating fires, rising seas, extreme weather and megadroughts brought on by the changes to our environment, most of which are human-caused.
Here in New Mexico, where water is life, 2021 has been one of the driest on record. Soils are parched, our mountains are receiving less snowpack, and that snowpack is melting earlier. All of this translates into lower stream flows needed to replenish our rivers, streams and groundwater.
Moving forward, we need to make our development decisions carefully, and particularly with future generations in mind.
The 1,100-acre privately owned Cow Creek Ranch that is at risk of development is part of a large key watershed adjacent to U.S. Forest Service lands. Historically, this island of private land has served as a wildlife refuge, supporting diverse plants and animals that don’t recognize ownership boundaries.
The pastoral valley is also home to a shallow aquifer fed by Cow Creek, providing irrigation water via ancient acequias to ranchers and farmers. Their crops, orchards and livestock have relied on the groundwater this watershed has provided for hundreds of years. Interrupting this crucial water supply would be hugely damaging.
Sixty-five homes on 1,100 acres may not sound like a lot. But when you factor in the infrastructure of roads needed for construction, emergency vehicles and the drilling of wells that will siphon groundwater for residential use, it becomes clear this development would forever alter the rural character and traditional culture of San Miguel County.
I appreciate the need for development in New Mexico, but we must be responsible about where we choose to build, particularly when it threatens our state’s already-scarce waters and when droughts are expected to worsen as our climate continues to warm.
There has got to be another way. I’m a strong proponent and supporter of land trust organizations and conservation easements. I’ve been greatly inspired by private landowners, people from all walks of life, many with both humble beginnings and deep ties to the land, who have chosen preservation over development. I’ve witnessed firsthand the collective power of communities coming together with land trusts, local, state and federal leaders with the goal of protecting vital landscapes for future generations.
Personally, my family and I have been fortunate to participate in the gift of preservation by permanently protecting hundreds of acres in partnership with Utah Open Lands in Utah, and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to protect our land in Santa Fe from future development, too.
I urge San Miguel County commissioners and state regulators to closely scrutinize the long-term economic, societal and environmental impacts this proposed development will bring to this region. This land, its wildlife and those who rely on its protection for future generations deserve nothing less.
If you would like to voice your opinion, please reach out to Amanda Salas: email@example.com.