Friday, October 2, 2015

Details of the VWC Land Exchange EIS FOIA Federal Court decision

For the interested here is a selection of key quotes from the recent US District Court decision in the Rocky Mountain Wild vs. USFS (and the Village at Wolf Creek Land Exchange Environmental Impact Statement process.).  

Of course, this is a my cherry picked presentation since there was a lot of legalese, background, and Judge Wiley Daniel detailing why he decided as he did - all worth getting acquainted with, but too much to be posting over here.  I thank Rocky Mountain Wild for making the full decision available.

Case 1:14-cv-02496-WYD-KMT Document 31 Filed 09/30/15 USDC Colorado 
Civil Action No. 14-cv-2496-WYD-KMT
ROCKY MOUNTAIN WILD, INC., a Colorado non-profit corporation,
Plaintiff, v.
This case arises out of a request by the Plaintiff on February 27, 2014, to
Defendant United States Forest Service (“Forest Service”) for certain agency records pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, pertaining to the development and construction of the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project (“Wolf Creek Project”) in the Rio Grande National Forest (“RGNF”) of Colorado, a project undertaken by RGNF under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”).

Friends of Wolf Creek News Release 10/1/2015

Media Contacts: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 10/1/15
Matt Sandler, Attorney, Rocky Mountain Wild
Travis Stills, Attorney, Energy and Conservation Law

Court Orders Forest Service to Disclose Documents on Wolf Creek Pass Decision 
Denver, CO — The United States District Court of Colorado has ordered the U.S. Forest Service to fully disclose documents pertaining to its decision to approve a controversial land exchange on Wolf Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado. The Court ruled that the Forest Service did not search for public records, including emails and other communications between the agency’s Regional and Washington Offices and the developers. The 20-page ruling also confirmed the Forest Service failed to justify its decision to withhold thousands of pages from public scrutiny. 
The court order came in response to a lawsuit filed by Denver-based conservation group Rocky Mountain Wild. That suit claimed that the Forest Service had unlawfully withheld public records and communications requested through a February 27, 2014 Freedom of Information Act request. The Court’s order gives the U.S. Forest Service until October 30, 2015 to conduct a search and to fully disclose documents pertaining to its decision. 
“The Court has verified what we have been saying throughout this decision making process,” said Matt Sandler, Staff Attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild. “The Forest Service has failed to be transparent, has withheld documents, and has committed resources to approving this irresponsible development while failing to keep the public informed.” 
The land exchange at the center of this controversy was approved by Rio Grande Forest Supervisor, Dan Dallas, in May of this year, and would trade 205 federal acres for 177 acres of private land within the boundaries of the Rio Grande National Forest. The exchange gives highway access to the private land, making it possible for the owner/developer to construct a proposed “village” for 8,000 tourists. Conservation organizations and local communities oppose this development, siting the environmental and economic ramifications for downstream communities, and the direct impacts to wildlife in the area. 
Opposition to the development has steadily grown, attracting local businesses, skiers, ranchers, local landowners, downstream water users, hunters, anglers, and conservationists. An online petition started this summer has garnered over 79,000 signatures urging the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, to protect the pass.
To sign the petition link to:

Friends of Wolf Creek is a coalition of conservation organizations fighting to keep Wolf Creek Pass wild. The coalition includes: Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and San Luis Valley EcosystemCouncil. More information can be found at

(I added the highlights and I tip of my hat to Jimbo Buickerood at the San Juan Citizens Alliance for sharing this timely news with me.) 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Judge rules agency inexplicably withheld information from public

Here's breaking news regarding one of the lawsuits that objects to the way the RGNF/USDA conducted their Environmental Impact Study for the Village at Wolf Creek Access Land Exchange which they seem to feel obligated to accommodate, which in turn would accommodate a fanciful 1980s speculative real estate adventure and the destruction of that productive wetlands.  

Perhaps somewhere in all this drawn out haggling it will occur to the powers-that-be, it's now 2015 and it's time to put to rest Red's pipe dream and start thinking about protecting that biological productive wetlands tapestry which is doing just fine as is, thank you very much.  

Considering our undeniable water challenges, Rio Grande River stakeholders would also appreciate it.

For more pictures of Alberta Park at Wolf Creek Pass, Colorado see:

Judge rules agency inexplicably withheld information from public
By Peter Marcus Herald staff writer

Published: - Last modified: October 01. 2015 
A Colorado U.S. District Court on Wednesday found that the Forest Service violated the Freedom of Information Act by failing to conduct an adequate search of documents and did not properly explain its decision to withhold thousands of pages of documents from the public. 
Senior Judge Wiley Y. Daniel stopped short of ordering immediate disclosure of the documents but gave the Forest Service until Oct. 30 to conduct a new, more complete search. ... 
“The court has verified what we have been saying throughout this decision-making process,” said Matt Sandler, staff attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild.
“The Forest Service has failed to be transparent, has withheld documents and has committed resources to approving this irresponsible development while failing to keep the public informed.”

Republicans want to kill the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)

I'm sharing the following (which appeared at as a public service. 


Utah Congressman Bishop Vows To Kill America’s Top Parks Program

 SEP 29, 2015 11:06AM
Barely 24 hours after Pope Francis appealed to U.S. lawmakers to help protect “our common home,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) announced that he intends this week to kill the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which is known as America’s best parks program. The move — which is expected to succeed — places dozens of U.S. national parks at heightened risk of commercial development, including Grand Teton National Park and Gettysburg National Military Park. 
The LWCF is a budget-neutral program that uses fees from offshore oil and gas development to fund national, state, and local conservation projects. Although the program enjoys widespread bipartisan support, it is scheduled to expire on Wednesday, September 30. 
In a press release Friday, Bishop, who serves as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, promised to block all attempts to save the program unless significant changes are made to its structure to prevent the federal government from protecting additional land. “Under my chairmanship, the status quo will be challenged,” said Bishop in the release. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Petitioning Chief of USDA Forest Service, Tom Tidwell: Protect Alberta Park

Stop the destruction of Wolf Creek Pass, an irreplaceable Colorado treasure

Wolf Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado forms the pristine headwaters of the Rio Grande and San Juan Rivers. Bridging the South San Juan and Weminuche Wilderness Areas, the pass is beloved for stunning vistas and ample opportunities for backcountry recreation along the Continental Divide. It is also one of the most biologically-important areas in the Southern Rockies, providing habitat and migration pathways for elk, deer, black bear and the threatened Canada lynx. In fact, Wolf Creek Pass hosts some of the best remaining, critical and high-functioning lynx habitat in the state.

Recently, the U.S. Forest Service approved a land exchange with a private developer, which will set the stage for a large scale development – 8,000 year round residents in over 1,700 units -- in some of the most important wildlife habitat in the heart of West.

Impacts of the proposed development threaten local businesses in nearby Archuleta and Rio Grande Counties, unspoiled backcountry recreation opportunities along the Continental Divide, water supply and water quality for downstream communities, rare and ecologically valuable fen wetlands, one of the most critical wildlife corridors in the Southern Rocky Mountains, and the scenic beauty of our Colorado wild spaces.

Please tell USDA Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to stop the destruction of Wolf Creek Pass, an irreplaceable Colorado treasure.


Letter to: 
Chief, USDA Forest Service, Tom Tidwell

Dear Chief Tidwell, 
Recent actions by the Rio Grande National Forest have set into motion a plan that will destroy one of our nation’s most important wildlife movement corridors – Wolf Creek Pass. 
A national coalition of conservation and climate modeling experts has identified Wolf Creek Pass as one of the top ten landscapes that should receive immediate and lasting protection as part of a national climate change strategy.  
Protection of the area will: 
1) sequester carbon and advance climate change mitigation objectives; 
2) safeguard streams and aquifer sources that provide clean water for communities; and 
3) conserve vital high altitude wildlife habitat that will preserve species biodiversity in the face of climate change.

Alberta Park (Wolf Creek) Construction Moratorium July 15, 2015

Edited Saturday evening 6/18/2015

I've been out of state traveling untethered from the internet, so it was a nice homecoming surprise to read the Durango Herald's July 15th story by Peter Marcus reporting on a new VWC development, pun intended.  Leavell McCombs Joint Venture agrees not to conduct any on-site construction activity until after the current lawsuit is settled.

The lawsuit objects to various failures in the EIS process along with its unjustifiably narrow scope of review.  

It seems to me the best way to describe the problem is that the Rio Grande National Forest (USDA) has restricted their entire line of inquiry and regulatory hurdles on the a priori assumption that construction of a resort must happen up at Alberta Park.  

A judgment call many vehemently object to since it totally ignores the value of the current biologically productive landscape that is the Alberta Park "parcel."  A keystone of the entire Wolf Creek basin!

Towards Alberta Park including Alberta Park Reservoir

Another reason it matters is that this is source-waters for the interstate, international Rio Grande River.

Image from "Cry Wolf Creek: fanatic following at Colorado's snowiest spot" June 28, 2010


From under Elma's chairlift towards Alberta Park and a pond.

The following is the official press release giving further details.

For Immediate Release: July 14, 2015

No Construction on Wolf Creek Pass until Lawsuit is Decided

Denver, CO – Conservation organizations, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture signed an agreement today that will halt all construction and development on two disputed land parcels at the top of Wolf Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado. The agreement will maintain the physical status quo on Forest Service and private land while a lawsuit filed by the conservation organizations works its way through Federal Court.

July 2nd, IDTV report - Wolf Creek Opponents File Lawsuit

Wolf Creek Opponents File Law Suit 
July 2, 2015

The battle against the village at Wolf Creek, 
escalates into a full blown law suit.