Correction to This Article
In the Nov. 4 early Sunday edition, an article about the U.S. Army's bid to expand its Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in Colorado incorrectly identified a rancher as Bob Harris. He is Bob Hill.

Colorado Ranchers Angry Over Army Site Expansion

Kennie Gyurman, above, was forced to sell 5,000 acres to the Army in the 1980s and is fighting to not lose more. The Army says it needs this Colorado land for maneuvers.
Kennie Gyurman, above, was forced to sell 5,000 acres to the Army in the 1980s and is fighting to not lose more. The Army says it needs this Colorado land for maneuvers. (Photos By Peter Slevin -- The Washington Post)
By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 4, 2007

WALSENBURG, Colo. -- Herman Moltrer returned from Vietnam to be a cattle rancher on the broad shortgrass prairie that stretches as far as the eye can see in southern Colorado. The rugged work earned him a living and a little something extra for his soul, but now he fears he may have to sell his land, at someone else's price.

The U.S. Army wants 418,000 acres of private ranch land to triple the size of its Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site, a training area considered suitable -- some would say essential -- for preparing American warriors to do battle in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The 1,000-square-mile facility would be 15 times the size of the District.

Several dozen ranchers and members of 15 county commissions that voted to oppose the project find themselves pitted against the Pentagon and Colorado business interests in a struggle over property rights, personal heritage and the contested priorities of national security.

Amid countless conversations around Colorado dinner tables about the potential for an economic boom or a government betrayal, experts on the environment, archaeology and paleontology are registering their concerns that the land will suffer. Both chambers of Congress voted against funding further work next year, one skirmish in a fight not nearly over.

Colorado may not be alone. Military planners foresee a need for 5 million more acres for training facilities by 2011.

In Piñon Canyon, where prehistoric dinosaur tracks lie near a surviving section of the 1800s-era Santa Fe Trail, the Army sees an opportunity when other training grounds are overtaxed by the demands of war. The move is also part of a long-term reorganization of the armed forces.

To Colorado business leaders, the expansion would help consolidate and enhance the state's growing role as a military hub: It is home to Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Northern Command.

But the government's appeal to patriotism when ranchers could be forced to sell property that has been in their families for generations leaves many landowners cold. They remain skeptical of the claims of national security and frustrated by the lack of answers.

They are also infuriated by what they consider callousness among proponents of the expansion, such as the comment from state Sen. John P. Morse, a Colorado Springs Democrat, that "patriotism is about accepting your cost, even when it is disproportionate."

"It's rude. It ain't right. It's not American," said Stan White, who could lose more than two-thirds of the 9,000 acres he ranches in Walsenburg. "We take our military and our country very seriously, but we're up against something we can't get ahold of. If they get this done, it's a national disgrace."

The land under discussion is an arid plateau that occupies a sparsely populated slice of Colorado near the New Mexico border. It lies alongside 235,000 acres acquired by the Army in the early 1980s. The open spaces provide rambling room for 67-ton tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles to practice maneuvers within a few hours of Fort Carson, home to a dozen Army units.

According to the Army, the training ground needs to grow for two reasons. The first is that training centers in Fort Irwin, Calif., and Fort Polk, La., are operating at capacity. The second is that Fort Carson was approved to receive two new brigades, totaling as many as 10,000 soldiers, in the 2005 base realignment process.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company