Nature and Chicanos in Southern Colorado
Devon Peña and Joseph Gallegos
The exploitation of natural resources is a major cause of environmental degradation in this nation's rural, mountainous West (deBuys 1985; Worster 1985; Gottlieb 1988; Field and Burch 1988; Peña 1990a, 1991a, b, 1992). A hundred and twenty years ago, railroads opened up to rapid exploitation vast timber stands, gold and silver deposits, and grassland pastures in the Rocky Mountain region. The pace of this environmental and social disruption accelerated as the region was subjected to capitalist industrialization. In agriculture, this meant not just mechanization, but the increasing use of agro-industrial chemicals-for example, fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.
This chapter examines the ecological problems associated with industrial mining in rural southern Colorado's San Luis Valley. Rural industrialization here led to social displacement and long-term economic decline, particularly in areas subject to the boom/bust cycle of extractive industries like mining and timbering ( Marston et al. 1989).
Industrial agricultural systems have significantly increased surface and groundwater contamination. They have both accelerated the loss of topsoil and reduced the biotic diversity of the land, thus diminishing its long-term fertility and viability. Overgrazing, caused by the rise of large-scale commercial sheep and cattle industries, also has contributed to land degradation in the region ( Westphall 1983; deBuys 1985; Peña 1991a, b; also see Jackson 1980; Jackson, Berry, and Colman 1984; National Research Council 1989). The mining industry, through the use of modern extractive and processing technologies, has seriously disrupted and damaged ecosystems in the intermountain West ( Wentz