Friday, May 27, 2016

Seven Western U.S. news outlets partner for six-month series on challenges of rural communities

Seven news organizations in Colorado and New Mexico have teamed up for a six-month series, "Small Towns, Big Change," about rural Western communities as part of a project through the Solutions Journalism Network, Leah Todd reports for High Country News, which is participating. "Many small communities across the Mountain West are confronting complex challenges. How to grow a robust economy and create good jobs without sacrificing the qualities that make a place special? How to navigate competing claims on quality of life, so towns don’t become just weekend playgrounds for the wealthy? How to foster happy, healthy families in rural areas plagued by entrenched poverty?"

Red line is northeastern border of Costilla County
The project "will produce stories that not only examine problems, but also surface and assess emerging responses to those issues," Todd writes. "We hope to catalyze discussion about what works, what doesn’t, and how people, institutions, and communities might change things."

Matt Hildner of the Pueblo Chieftain reports about how a ranch sawmill hopes to improve the health of forests in rural Colorado. "Overgrown and insect-infested forests aren't unique to the Trinchera Blanca Ranch (Integrated Land Services map), known locally as simply the Trinchera. But its response has been uncommon. Last fall the ranch began seeking state and local approvals for a timber mill that could take wood off its ailing forests. It's currently under construction and slated to open for test runs this fall.

"If it opens according to plan, the mill could help improve the health of the Trinchera's forests and boost the struggling economy of Costilla County (left), where it could become the largest private employer. The mill's influence could also extend down the Sangre de Cristos Mountains into New Mexico and to a small part of the San Juan Mountains thanks to its capacity to handle both small diameter timber and larger-scale timber."

In a story on how rural New Mexico towns share water during a drought, J.R. Logan of the Taos News writes, "Most Western states, including New Mexico, have water law founded upon the notion of 'prior appropriation,' legal jargon that loosely translates to 'first come, first served.' Under existing law, each water user is assigned a water right that includes a 'priority date' meant to reflect when water was first put to some kind of use. If your priority date is older than your neighbor's, you get first dibs when there’s not enough to go around―even if that means leaving your neighbor dry. It’s an antagonistic system that pits water users against one another."

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