Thursday, May 25, 2017

What’s RGNF/USDA learned from Judge Matsch’s rebuke?

The VWC Saga continues.  I have been in contact with the Forest Service and want to share our correspondence in keeping with my goal of being an information kiosk for those interested in helping save Alberta Park from destructive development. 
For this post I’m going to start with my second email to the Rio Grande National Forest and backtrack from there:
Dear Communication Officers Blakeman, Lujan and Superintendent Dallas,

Communication Officer Lawrence Lujan responded to my questions with a one-liner:  "We are evaluating the court’s ruling and have no further comment at this time."  Nothing more.  

No hint of when the public can hope to hear RGNF/USDA’s response to the reprimand it received from Senior Federal Judge Matsch regarding its handling of the Village At Wolf Creek land swap negotiations and subsequent Environmental Impact Study and Draft.

This matters because from the public’s perspective the RGNF/USDA has maintained a decidedly pro-development stance during the past decades of negotiating with the wheeler dealer from the Texan lowlands.  In the process it has relegated environmental issues such as wetlands, fens concerns, wildlife corridor issues, health issues, fundamental feasibility issues with the project - to irrelevant externalities to be addressed by someone else, somewhere down the road after the irreparable damage is underway.

Judge Matsch made clear how inappropriate that outlook and actions were.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Village At Wolf Creek developments - collection of news stories, May 2017

In a significant win for opponents of the Village at Wolf Creek, a federal judge on Friday invalidated the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to approve a land exchange that would have essentially served as a green light for a new resort atop the remote mountain pass.

“The order rules in the favor of community groups who have been fighting this ill-conceived project for decades,” said Travis Stills, an attorney with Energy & Conservation Law. “This is an important decision that respects the law, the environment and, importantly, agency staffers who tried to protect the national forest, despite the constant barrage of political pressure.” …

For nearly three decades, Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture has sought to build a resort with a capacity for an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people on the mountain pass at nearly 10,000 feet and more than 20 miles from the nearest town.

… Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch in no uncertain terms agreed with those concerns. …  


San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council

We did it!! Denver Judge Matsch ruled that federal agencies did not complete the work that must be done to review developmental impacts a large scale ski resort would have on the National Forest at Wolf Creek Pass, and that any future village proposal must include that review. Thank you to Rocky Mountain Wild, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Wilderness Workshop for making this possible! See the press release and court document at the links below.


BIG WIN: Judge Nullifies Land Exchange Critical to 
Village at Wolf Creek (development)

Judge Matsch’s decision validates nearly every complaint we had regarding the Forest Service’s botched attempt at an Environmental Impact Statement. They shirked their responsibility to assess the impacts of development and disregarded significant public input. Your input.
In a world where billionaires too often get their way, regardless of how they play the game, this is a reassuring testament to the power of democracy and everyday people to speak out and make a difference,.

See full Press Release below:


PRESS RELEASE: Federal Judge Sets Aside Forest Service Wolf Creek Land Exchange

Denver, CO — The Honorable Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch issued an Order today affirming that the Forest Service “failed to consider important aspects of the issues before them, offered an explanation for their decision that runs counter to the evidence, failed to base their decision on consideration of the relevant factors, and based their decision on an analysis that is contrary to law.” This Order concludes another chapter in this decades long saga to protect Wolf Creek pass from a large scale residential and commercial development that could accommodate 8,000 to 10,000 visitors.



MONDAY, JUNE 29, 2015
Pictures of Alberta Park the proposed site for the luxury Village at Wolf Creek

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Concise History of the Village at Wolf Creek - San Juan Citizens Alliance

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The Back Story ~ Village at Wolf Creek ~ presented by Ryan Bidwell 
(at the time Executive Director of Colorado Wild)

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Alberta Park's Rio Grande Nat'l Forest Service....... 'open house hike' September 20, 2011
(revised 2/26/12 to reflect final draft)

… Considering the great controversy surrounding this project the Rio Grande National Forest decided to sponsor a four hour field trip/hike September 20th through Alberta Park, site of the proposed development. Led by District Ranger Tom Malecek the tour was intended to inform the interested public about the project as well as offering a friendly setting for folks to speak with various participants. …

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June 4, 2015 - Wolf Creek Land Exchange - Inside Durango TV

Updated 6/6/2015 - Supervisor Dallas responds to my questions 

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Index of Posts - NO-Village at Wolf Creek - Rio Grande National Forest ( January 2016)

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RGNF asks for patience, wait for the judge to judge.

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When is enough, enough - Rio Grande Nat'l Forest and Red McCombs?

Forest Service Actively Concealed And Destroyed Information Concerning Planned Development On Wolf Creek Pass
Advocacy groups push for release of records from senior officials 

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Judge rules agency inexplicably withheld information from public

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Celebrating Alberta Park and Honoring Wolf Creek

Art for the Endangered Landscape:  Honoring Wolf Creek 
Friends of Wolf Creek is planning an informative and inspiring art opportunity this summer, honoring Wolf Creek Pass. Artists of all disciplines will converge at the Wolf Creek Ski Area on Saturday June 20, 2015 to spend the day in the creative process. 

Judge Has Ruled - Red McCombs and LMJV land swap nullified. Text of Ruling.

US District Court Colorado, Judge Matsch's ORDER: 
"Where an agency action is found to be arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or 39 otherwise not in accordance with law, the Court must “hold [it] unlawful and set [it] aside.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2). The Court finds and concludes that Defendants‟ actions violated the APA in the respects specified in this decision.  
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the Record of Decision dated May 21, 2015, is SET ASIDE.

I recall back in January 2016 having Mike Blakeman (Public Affairs Specialist RGNF) advise against speculation and to let the judge judge based on the merits of the case.  He reminded us that Judge Matsch had a distinguished record and could be trusted to take the time to wade through the documents and sort out the facts, then to make a reasoned and fair decision.  It's now May 20th, 2017 and the judge's considered and legally binding decision was released yesterday.  In essence Red McCombs' Village at Wolf Creek land swap deal has been rejected by the Federal Court.

Without comment, though I did add emphasis, I'm sharing the text of Judge Matsch's full decision, I thank for posted it at:


Case 1:15-cv-01342-RPM Document 67 Filed 05/19/17 USDC Colorado

Senior District Judge Richard P. Matsch
Civil Action No. 15-cv-01342-RPM


DAN DALLAS, in his official capacity as Forest Supervisor;
MARIBETH GUSTAFSON, in her official capacity as Deputy Regional Forester; 
a Federal Agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture; 
a federal agency within the Department of the Interior,


Saturday, May 20, 2017

UPDATE - VWC-RGNF deal tossed out! Judge Rejects Flawed Process - RockyMtnWild Press Release

ROCKY MTN WILD, PRESS RELEASE: Federal Judge Sets Aside Forest Service Wolf Creek Land Exchange

For Immediate Release, May 19, 2017

Federal Judge Sets Aside Forest Service Wolf Creek Land Exchange

Any future Village Proposal Must Address Development Impacts on the National Forest and Lynx

Denver, CO — The Honorable Senior Judge Richard P. Matsch issued an Order today affirming that the Forest Service “failed to consider important aspects of the issues before them, offered an explanation for their decision that runs counter to the evidence, failed to base their decision on consideration of the relevant factors, and based their decision on an analysis that is contrary to law.” This Order concludes another chapter in this decades long saga to protect Wolf Creek pass from a large scale residential and commercial development that could accommodate 8,000 to 10,000 visitors.
“This ruling is an incredible victory for the flora and fauna that rely on Wolf Creek pass for their survival,” stated Tehri Parker, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Wild. “This order specifically recognizes the ‘unique’ environmental qualities of this region, and the role that it plays as a wildlife movement corridor between the Weminuche and South San Juan Wilderness areas. We couldn’t be happier with this outcome and getting this great news on Endangered Species Day!”

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Village at Wolf Creek Lawsuit UPDATE, Rocky Mountain Wild

From: Chris Talbot-Heindl
Communications and Membership Manager

The Wolf Creek Case briefs are in!

At the start of this month, Rocky Mountain Wild submitted the Reply brief for the Wolf Creek case! Now we wait on Judge Matsch to make a decision. If we are successful, the lawsuit would reverse the 2015 decision by the Forest Service to approve a land exchange providing critical road access needed for the 8,000 person "village" on Wolf Creek Pass.

This case details how the Forest Service unlawfully limited the scope of the environmental analysis and used the process to benefit a private business over the good of the public. Despite the site of the proposed development being located in crucial habitat for the endangered Canada lynx, a wildlife corridor linking two major Wilderness areas, and containing rare fen wetlands, the Forest Service did not properly analyze protections or demand mitigation as part of the land transfer.

In a related Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case, Judge Martinez ruled that the Forest Service did not have to collect and disclose records in the possession of the contractors who prepared the environmental analysis underlying the Forest Service's land transfer decision. Although we already succeeded in obtaining thousands of government records in this case, the Court's decision on this issue insulated the private contractor records leaving unanswered questions as to whether or not the developer exerted undue influence over the private contractors and what information was before the contractors that didn't make it into analysis provided to the public. While the denial is troubling, we believe the merits case is still strong.

Additional information:
Press Release: "Final Arguments, Filings Against Massive Development at Wolf Creek in Judge's Hands"
Article in The Durango Herald"Future of Village at Wolf Creek awaits judge's decision"
Blog post about ski area character: "Glitz and Glamour at Wolf Creek?"
Blog post about Canada lynx: "The “Village” at Wolf Creek Pass – a disaster for the Endangered Species Act listed Canada lynx"
Thank you for supporting the fight to keep Wolf Creek Pass wild!

P.S. If you want to follow us on social media, we do have a Facebook page, which has up-to-date information from all Friends of Wolf Creek partners.
P.S.S. Consider making a donation to the Friends of Wolf Creek. Select "Friends of Wolf Creek" in the "Direct My Donation" drop-down.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Canada lynx factor in lawsuits over Village at Wolf Creek

On account of the Village at Wolf Creek development once again being engulf in a legal quagmire, (where the process grinds along at a glacial pace), it seems nothing has been happening.  

But, as Gail Binkly, editor of the Four Corners Free Press, reports in their October issue some significant things are happening.  

Since she's done such a clear job of explaining, I asked permission to reprint her article and she said sure.  I've added the highlights.  Not much to add, except for thank you Gail.

Cat fight: 
The threatened Canada lynx is a factor in lawsuits over the Village at Wolf Creek

The future of a seldom-seen feline and the fate of a luxury development on Wolf Creek Pass, seemingly distinct issues, are inextricably entangled.

The status of the shy, snow-loving Canada lynx, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, influences discussions about the proposed resort, while the final decision about the project – whenever it comes – will certainly impact the animal.

The lynx, a threatened species,
is a factor in discussions about the controversial 
Village at Wolf Creek proposal in Colorado’s southern San Juan Mountains.
photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

A recent court decision has complicated the picture. On Sept. 7, a U.S. District Court in Montana ruled that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had wrongly decided not to include southern Colorado when it designated critical habitat for the rare animal. 

In a lawsuit brought by five environmental nonprofits including WildEarth Guardians, Chief District Judge Dana L. Christensen ordered the service to reconsider its “final rule” regarding lynx habitat, issued two years previously.

Court proceedings are also a big part of the picture regarding the “Village at Wolf Creek,” a Texas billionaire’s proposed development high on the snowy pass, south of U.S. Highway 160. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

J.Paul Brown lies about serious climate science (dist.59)

I want to share a letter than appeared in this past week's Durango Telegraph.  Since a new issue is coming out today, I figure I'll give Peter Veals' (climate scientist) Letter to the Editor at the Durango Telegraph a little more exposure.  It's worth reading and considering.  I follow with links to authoritative resources 

Mr. Brown is a perfect example of the old school that believes faith is more important than facts and that experts can be disregarded because his ego makes him believe he's smarter than actual trained, experienced experts.  And why are people wanting to re-elect this man?  

J. Paul’s ill-informed science
August 4, 2016  |  Durango Telegraph
To the editor,
J. Paul Brown’s remarks to the State Legislature (as reported by the Herald, May 4, 2016) regarding human-caused climate change reveal him to be an ill-informed and irresponsible representative of Southwest Colorado.
Scientists and their work published in peer-reviewed scientific journals are the bedrock upon which mankind’s incredible achievements have been built. The polio vaccine, chemotherapy, the fact that the earth orbits the sun, semiconductor chips, GPS satellites … almost no one questions these discoveries made by the scientific community. Why? Probably because most of these things are immediately tangible: your phone and computer with semiconductor chips do amazing things before your eyes. It is easy to say “my pastures don’t look any different” and think that the global climate isn’t being affected by greenhouse gas emissions.
But science tells us that, undeniably, CO2 is what re-radiates the sun’s energy back toward the Earth’s surface, keeping our planet warm. Science tells us that burning fossil fuels produces CO2, and that we produce over 20 billion tons of CO2 per year by burning them. The vast majority of Earth’s glaciers are shrinking, high-temperature records are being broken at double the rate of low temperature records, and the Arctic sea ice continues to shrink nearly every year. Science tells us that when the long-term weather stations around the world are averaged, 2014 was the warmest year since records have been kept. And then 2015 shattered that record to become the warmest.
But it is difficult for someone like Brown to understand these facts because it still snows on his pastures every winter. That’s why he should leave the science to the professionals; 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing climate change. Instead of turning to farcical sources that recirculate the same, paid nonexperts and debunked claims to “refute” climate science, J. Paul Brown should examine some legitimate scientific literature and consider the future of our corner of the state.
Peter Veals, atmospheric scientist, Ph.D candidate, University of Utah, DHS Class of 2007

The evidence for rapid manmade climate change is compelling:

Climate change: How do we know?