Thursday, May 28, 2015

Clean Water Rules highlight increased need to protect Alberta Park

Looks like friends of Wolf Creek and Alberta Park may have another tool to bring to bear in the long standing struggle to protect Alberta Park watershed from destructive development and hopefully convince Mr. Red McCombs and his LMJV to abandon their 10,500' elevation village in the sky dreams and look at more down to Earth and realistic offers of a land parcel further down the mountain and closer to existing infrastructure where development would be more appropriate.

The bottom-line regarding Alberta Park Watershed is that it's a precious national resource just as is, a highly productive, complex living organism above and below ground.  It's integral to the Rio Grande River's good health.  Not to mention that it's also a key wildlife corridor.  That habitat is worth saving.  As is.

{ h/t to Gail at the Four Corners Free Press }

EPA News Release May 27, 2015

Clean Water Rule Protects Streams and Wetlands Critical to Public Health, Communities, and Economy

Release Date: 05/27/2015
Contact Information: Robert Daguillard,

Washington – In an historic step for the protection of clean water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army finalized the Clean Water Rule today to clearly protect from pollution and degradation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Problems with the VWC Access Project EIS - Ignoring the Lynx Issue - San Juan Citizens Alliance

Here's another news release that I'd like to add to this collection.  It's from the San Juan Citizens Alliance along with the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and Rocky Mountain Wild, it's an update to the SJCA news article of last November that's featured in the preceding blogpost.

Friends of Wolf Creek: 

"Wolf Creek Access Project Administrative Objection 

+ 38 supporting Exhibits"


Forest Service ignores objections to land exchange at Wolf Creek Pass

By Erika Brown  |  March 31, 2015

For Immediate Release:
March 26, 2015
Matt Sandler, Attorney, Rocky Mountain Wild,
Christine Canaly, Director SLVEC
Jimbo Buickerood, San Juan Citizens Alliance

Forest Service Ignores Concerns Raised in Objection to Proposed Land Exchange at Wolf Creek Pass, and Confirms that Decision Does Not Protect Lynx

Golden, CO – ... The Forest Service’s response to formal Objections filed by numerous organizations and individuals largely ignored concerns that have plagued the Forest Service for decades. However, the land exchange cannot take place until Rio Grande Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas explains why he didn’t follow existing Lynx protections in deciding to approve the land exchange. ...


There is a slim chance that the Forest Supervisor could still choose protection of public land and Lynx over the private development proposal. “This land exchange decision violates the Southern Rockies Lynx Amendment and the planned development is in the middle of a lynx corridor that connects habitat critical to lynx survival and recovery,” said Christine Canaly, Executive Director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. “It will forever compromise and destroy good lynx habitat and impair the chances for this threatened species to recover to a full, secure population in Colorado. The Forest Service response confirms that the development is not compatible with the lynx, but it also gives the Forest Supervisor permission to approve the exchange after explaining why he decided to violate existing lynx protections, ” noted Canaly. 

Problems with the VWC Access Project EIS - San Juan Citizens Alliance

I'll admit when the Village at Wolf Creek Access decision came down last November, I was neck deep in other projects and it all seemed so hopeless that I really didn't tune in too much.  After all it's not like I can do anything about it.  

Then a couple days ago a chance conversation made me aware of the planned Saturday June 20th "Honor Wolf Creek" celebration up at Wolf Creek Ski Area.

It seemed to matter again, at least it seemed worth trying again.  Perhaps there were some more friends of Wolf Creek out there who are ready to become informed about the current situation and become involved.

Thus, this flurry of blog posts, while I myself have been catching up on news stories I'd avoided, such as this one from Jimbo Buickerood of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.

It makes the point that there are some serious flaws, gaps and legal issues with the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project EIS.

To me, that means there is hope and there is need for more people to become proactive - because there is the possibility of forcing the Rio Grande National Forest and their regional bosses to reassess this situation from a more realistic contemporary perspective rather than their current attitude that the government is beholden to Mr. McCombs' ill-considered development obsession, simply because he got thwarted in his sneaky back room high stakes political poker game.  

After all, we the people are supposed to be boss, it is our land.  But that only works if we assert ourselves. 

Forest Service paves the way for Pillage at Wolf Creek

By Jimbo Buickerood  |  San Juan Citizens Alliance  |  November 20, 2014
(I added the bold highlights)
Today’s decision by Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas to approve a land exchange on top of Wolf Creek Pass requested by billionaire Red McCombs is both a disappointing and absurd decision to “green light” a development that would deface the inherent wild beauty of the area and ignore the widespread public opposition to the huge development.

Appreciating Fens Part 2. USFWS Category 1 Resource (highest protection rating)

To support of my claim that when it comes to Alberta Park, the watershed as it currently exists is far more valuable to Rio Grande River stakeholders than the prospect of some speculative "luxury village" development scheme.

I submit this policy statement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Fens landscapes are a "category 1" resource because they are "essentially irreplaceable."  USFWS mandates that every reasonable effort should be made to protect them.

Such as stopping the destruction before it begins!

Consider the reality - bulldozing that land for a huge development is guaranteed to irreparable destroy the hydrologic integrity of the Alberta Park watershed with it's interlacing fens landscape, which stores and filters water for the Rio Grande River.  Not to mention the destruction and disruption of that huge wildlife sanctuary.

Furthermore, consider the economic, environmental and water supply realities of 2015 and moving forward in time.  The value of Alberta Park 'As Is' increases in leaps and bounds with every new year.

While the financial outlook for a "village" dedicated to the luxury vacation home market, hours and hours from the nearest airports of note, at over ten thousand feet elevation with it's 66% oxygen supply, get shakier with every season.

I submit the following evidence for the importance of leaving Alberta Park unmolested by speculative "development."

Regional Policy on the Protection of Fens, resource category 1, as amended
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Region 6 
January 20, 1999 
From page two: 
"Because of their uniqueness and importance, Region 6 decided that all its functioning fens, which were identified on U.S. Geological Survey, National Wetlands Inventory, ... fall within Resource Category 1 of the Service's "Mitigation Policy" (Federal Register Vol.16, No.15, February4, 1981).  
The mitigation goal for Resource Category 1 is no loss of existing habitat value.  In other words, because of the irreplaceability of the type habitat, every reasonable effort should be made to avoid impacting that habitat type."

Appreciating Wolf Creek's ‘old-growth’ fens. Part one

Here is a Durango Telegraph article from December 2005, written by Adam Howell, it examines an interagency conflict that was triggered by the Army Corps of Engineers interfering with the Environmental Protection Agency's mandate to survey the Alberta Park wetlands, site of the proposed Village at Wolf Creek.

I share it because it highlights the conflicts between blindly pro-development where everything is viewed through the Land Developer's Lens - while those who are trying to assess landscapes for their own intrinsic values are rejected as valueless and ignored despite their own statutory mandates.

Though the article is ten years old, nothing has changed about the value of that wetlands, just as it is, nor about the inevitability of any development in Alberta Park at ±10,300' causing irreparable damage who's cascading consequences will negatively impact the entire watershed and the interstate international Rio Grande River plus it's stakeholders!

The fact that LMJV is moving the project a few hundred yards and slightly uphill and closer to the highway will not mitigate the unavoidable destruction.

Think before digging!

Reprinted with permission from The Durango Telegraph 
and posted here to information the interested.

Wetlands heat up Wolf Creek debate
Agencies clash over mapping of ‘old-growth’ fens

Skiers and snowboarders meander through the base area of Wolf Creek on Monday. 
The Village at Wolf Creek, proposed not far from the current base area, is continuing 
to stir up controversy. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental 
Protection agency are currently at odds over wetlands regulation.
/Photo by Todd Newcomer. 

by Adam Howell  

Wetlands are currently boiling with controversy in the vicinity of Wolf
Creek Ski Area. According to recently obtained e-mails, two agencies
are throwing jabs in a recent bout over the regulation of wetlands as
they relate to the proposed Village at Wolf Creek. According to the
exchange, the Army Corps of Engineers’ Albuquerque District has
prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from verifying the
locations of wetlands at the site of the proposed developed.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Questioning ANILCA and Village at Wolf Creek

Since I want to help a new generation become familiar with what's happening up at Wolf Creek Pass regarding the LMJV land swap with the Rio Grande National Forest - and to question certain assumptions they based their decision on, I'm sharing a few paragraphs Joe Hanel of the Durango Herald wrote in his February 15, 2014 article "Delayed but not derailed."  It deals with how ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980) has been interpreted to create a legal right to access... even for a heavy traffic.

Delayed but not derailed 
Joe Hanel, Durango Herald, February 15, 2014  
(...) Roadblocks 
"… McCombs obtained his property in a 1986 land swap with the Forest Service. Its only access is a dirt road that doubles as a ski trail in the winter.The lack of road access has kept the Village at Wolf Creek stalled for the past decade.  
Forest Service officials say they are bound by law to give McCombs access to his land one way or another. A 1980 law called the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act contains a provision that requires owners of inholdings to be given reasonable access to their property. The Forest Service has interpreted that to mean year-round access to accommodate McCombs’ development plans.  

Final decision released for Village at Wolf Creek Access Project, May 21, 2015

I'm mirroring today's RGNF/USDA press release unaltered and free of comment:



Contact: Mike Blakeman,

Final decision released for Village at Wolf Creek Access Project

MONTE VISTA, Colo. – Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas has approved the proposed land exchange between the United States and Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV). The land exchange proposal, which was Alternative 2 in the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project analysis, will provide the opportunity for LMJV to develop year-round access to their property.

“I have signed the final record of decision approving the land exchange between the U.S. Forest Service and Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture,” said Dallas. “I believe this is the best decision to minimize disturbance to public land while meeting the agency’s legal obligation to provide access to the private property.”

Alternative 2 conveys approximately 177 acres of privately held land to the Rio Grande National Forest in exchange for approximately 205 acres of National Forest System land managed by the RGNF. The land exchange creates a private land parcel of approximately 325 acres extending to U.S. Highway 160 and will accommodate year-round vehicular access.

The existing Tranquility Road will be extended east across NFS land to the private land. This road will provide restricted seasonal access between Wolf Creek Ski Area and the private land.

The primary benefits of the land exchange proposal over the previous right of way proposal include relocation of most of the proposed private land development to an area farther away from the ski area and Forest Service acquisition of a net gain of 40 acres of wetlands and more than 8,600 linear feet of perennial stream.

LMJV previously sought a right of way access across RGNF from U.S. Highway 160 to their private land. Since their private land is within the boundaries of the National Forest System, the Forest Service is obligated by federal statute to provide LMJV with such access as the Forest Service determines is adequate to secure reasonable use and enjoyment of their property.

For more information about the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project, visit the Rio Grande National Forest website at


Further information resources:

June 20th, 2015 at Wolf Creek Ski Area
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.

Celebrating Alberta Park and Honoring Wolf Creek

Rejecting the Village At Wolf Creek, list of go-to info and resources
(San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Rio Grande National Forest: Village at Wolf Creek Access Project

The Rio Grande National Forest is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze the effects of the proposed Village at Wolf Creek land exchange.

Location Summary
The federal and non-federal parcels to be considered are entirely within Mineral County, Colorado
District: Divide Ranger District

Project Documents
Date Published
  1. Scoping

    1. VWC Final Scoping Notice (PDF 57kb)
    2. Scoping Letter for the Village at Wolf Creek Land Exchange Proposal
    3. Fig1 (PDF 993kb)
    4. Figure showing the current private parcel surrounded by the Rio Grande National Forest
    5. Fig2 (PDF 1007kb)
    6. Figure showing the proposed land exchange Federal and non-Federal parcels
    7. Fig3 (PDF 998kb)
    8. Figure showing potential access location from U.S. Highway 160
    9. 20110419VWCNOI (PDF 53kb)
    10. Notice of Intent to prepare and Environmental Impact Statement for the Village at Wolf Creek Land Exchange Proposal

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rejecting the Village At Wolf Creek, list of go-to info and resources

Now that the Rio Grande National Forest and USDA seems to have given LMJV a green light for their grandiose speculative venture, it's time for We The People to take up the slack.

The challenge is to convince the powers-that-be, both political/regulatory and McCombs' LMJV principles, that bulldozing Alberta Park watershed is akin to a crime against present and future Rio Grande River stakeholders  -  and that frankly, it's unacceptable in this day and age of decreasing water availability.

The Alberta Park watershed is in need of concerned citizens who will speak up to defend and explain the wisdom in allowing it to remain the unmolested biologically productive natural resource that it is.

Here are introductions to the three organizations who have steadfastly defended the interests of Alberta Park's biological community, literally a keystone of the Wolf Creek watershed, source waters for the interstate international Rio Grande river.


Celebrating Alberta Park and Honoring Wolf Creek

This afternoon I heard about plans for a big celebration up at the Wolf Creek Ski Area, (a short walking distance from the targeted Alberta Park), it'll happen on Saturday June 20th.  The spirit of the event is "Honor Wolf Creek" and what better way to honor this wonderland than to spend some time being in the middle of it.  

It also seems that it could be an excellent opportunity for people from all over the state, and beyond, to come together and make some new friends, while graphically showing the powers that be how many people are opposed to allowing the destruction of this natural resource, that is the Alberta Park watershed.  A keystone component of the Rio Grande river's source waters. 

If you believe the biological productive Alberta Park watershed is more than just another "externality" to be bulldozed by tunnel-visioned developers in pursuit of a 1980s pipe-dream, join the celebration! 


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. 

Then, a traveling art show and sale featuring art works, interpetation and music inspired from Wolf Creek will run in Pagosa 9/26 to 10/26 and Alamosa 10/30-11/29. Durango and Denver dates TBA!