A Joint Faculty-Student Project of the
Colorado College
Sustainable Development Workshop

Prof. Walt Hecox
Economics Dept. and Sustainable Development Workshop

And students (plus dates of project work):

Jeremiah Centrella
American Pol Economy Major
Class of 2002 (1/02-8/02)
Frank Patrick Holmes
LAS Natural Resources Major
Class of 2003 (10/00-5/03)
Robert David Pilz
Environmental Science, Biology Major
Class of 2002 (10/00-8/02)

With Support from:

Colorado College Slade-Strand Sustainable Development Fund
Colorado College Hulbert Center for Southwestern Studies
Colorado College Social Science Division Research Fund
Colorado College Tutt Presidential Discretionary Fund


Faculty-Student Cooperative Studies

The Sustainable Development Workshop brings together students and faculty at Colorado College on a continuing basis to jointly explore dimensions of sustainable development through class work, research, speakers and symposia. The study of sustainable development is necessarily interdisciplinary, in the tradition of the liberal arts. It requires that students gain an understanding of the organization and operation of economic systems, with their benefits and costs, along side knowledge of the dynamics of natural systems. Students in liberal arts institutions have the advantage and challenge of spreading their coursework among the disciplines as well as concentrating their learning upon a chosen major. Thus, Colorado College students are prepared for and can contribute to studies like the work being done here on the Colorado Plateau.

Project Background

The Colorado Plateau is a physiographic region of immense natural beauty and world-renowned cultural resources in the southwest. And yet, its 130,000 square miles are splintered into multiple political and administrative jurisdictions, being spread over parts of 4 states and 31 counties as well as many federal and state land management agencies and Native American Indian reservations.

The "integrity" of a region that is defined by its natural and cultural amenities, rather than concise political boundaries, is a recurring question. Can the resources that define such "amenity" regions be protected and managed appropriately? Or does the splintering of political jurisdictions threaten the very resource base that defines the region?

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Impetus from Greater Yellowstone Study

The original impetus for exploring or "charting" the social and economic dimensions of the Colorado Plateau came from work done on the Greater Yellowstone region. Ray Rasker, an economist then working for the Wilderness Society, led a team that prepared a socio-economic profile of Yellowstone:
The Wealth of Nature: New Economic Realities in the Yellowstone Region(Wash. D.C.: Wilderness Society, 1992)
The report showed that
"…the region's economy has moved away from dependence on extractive industries over the past few decades. In large part, the new, more diversified economy depends on preserving the area's 'amenities' - its ecological integrity and beauty."

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Colorado College and Colorado Plateau

Located close to the Colorado Plateau, Colorado College has long used the region for field courses and as the focus for a Southwest Studies Program. Our faculty, students and curriculum are well aware of the natural and cultural treasures that make the Southwest in general, and the Colorado Plateau in particular so special and yet fragile in an arid climate with vast distances and cycles of boom-bust economic activity.

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Cooperation with Grand Canyon Trust

Creating a socio-economic profile of the Colorado Plateau was given impetus by the Wealth of Nature work done on the Greater Yellowstone region. The Grand Canyon Trust was approached as a cooperating environmental group directly located in and focused upon the heart of the Colorado Plateau. In May, 1990 they had published a report: "The Future of the Colorado Plateau: Preserving Its Natural Wonders While Securing Economic Opportunity for Its Residents." Working with Brad Ack and the Trust's Greater Grand Canyon Ecoregion Program, financial support was solicited by the Trust from the Bureau of Reclamation and the Salt River Project in Arizona (for printing of the Charting book) and a position created for Walt Hecox to serve as a Senior Fellow with the Trust during the 1994/95 academic year.

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Original Studies of Colorado Plateau: 1996 & 1997

The results of this joint effort with the Grand Canyon Trust were contributions to two separate studies of the Colorado Plateau:

(Click on the image to view the books)

Charting the Colorado Plateau findings can be briefly summarized:

"The Colorado Plateau is undergoing a profound economic and demographic transformation. A region settled by pioneers with an economy built largely upon natural resource commodity production is being transformed to a new western frontier - one being re-settled by a new type of pioneer, … The economy is increasingly being driven by service-based enterprises, led by tourism and recreation, but encompassing financial, legal and health services, retail trade, construction and technical professions, … The plateau's population is growing rapidly, as is the surrounding region…"

This original socio-economic profile of the Plateau extensively used economic data from 1969 to 1993 from the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis and demographic data from the newly available results of the 1990 Census of Population and Housing.

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Reasons for Revisiting A Plateau Socio-Economic Profile

What has happened to the social and economic dimensions to the Colorado Plateau since 1993? Have the trends towards tourism, recreation and services continued unabated? Have demographic dimensions to the Plateau maintained their pace observed in this earlier study? Are employment and income levels and mix still reflecting a diminished role for natural resource production in favor of tourists, recreationists and new residents building their livelihood and lifestyle on the natural and cultural "amenities" that help give the region a physiographic definition?

All of these questions are now possible to address, with the results of the 2000 Census of Population and Housing becoming available in 2002. Additional new employment and income data is now available from the Department of Commerce's Regional Economic Information System time-series of yearly data from 1969 through 2000.

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2002/03 Project Plans

Revisions to the mid-1990s work done on socio-economic dimensions to the Colorado Plateau include the following, with expected dates of completion:

Regional Management Issues: June 2002 and on going --- Sketches of key land and resource management issues on the Colorado Plateau are being prepared and posted to the web. The intent is to add a management issues dimension to revising the original Charting studies. These sketches are posted on this web site under Regional Management Issues.
Regional Data Profile: by August 2002 --- updates to the demographic and economic information available about the Plateau, using 1969-2000 REIS employment and income data and preliminary 2000 Census of Population and Housing results. This information will be posted to this web site under Regional Data Profile.

Place Profiles: June 2002 and on going --- Sketches of some key towns and places on the Colorado Plateau are being prepared. The original Charting book contained some brief "boxes" giving the flavor of people and places on the Plateau. Revisions to the Charting work will draw more extensively from these "place" sketches. These are posted on this web site under Place Profiles.

Charting Revisited Study: August 2002 and on going --- A major revision to the original Charting the Colorado Plateau: An Economic and Demographic Exploration (February 1996) will be drafted using the work above. It will extend the time period over which economic trends can be analyzed to 1969-2000 and will introduce new demographic information about the Plateau from the 2000 Census of Population and Housing. It will also add a section on Plateau Management Issues and strengthen sketches about Places on the Plateau. As this draft becomes available it will be posted to this web site under Charting Revisited Study.

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