Monday, June 29, 2015

Update: Lawsuit filed to Stop Wolf Creek Land Swap

Here's another slightly overdue update.

Lawsuit Filed to Stop Wolf Creek Land Swap

By Erika Brown | San Juan Citizens Alliance
June 24, 2015

We’ve been telling you that the process the Forest Service used to approve the land exchange, which paves the way for the Pillage at Wolf Creek, was highly flawed and illegal.  After sifting through tens of thousands of documents released through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), our lawyers have put together a compelling legal case.  And today we filed the lawsuit with our partners.

Meanwhile, our delegation is in Washington meeting with members of Congress and agency officials. We are educating them about why the process was so flawed, why Wolf Creek Pass deserves protection and asking for their help.

The public has been amplifying our message all along the way.  If you haven’t already, please make your voice heard.

Here is the press release regarding the lawsuit:

For Immediate Release: June 24, 2015
Media Contacts
Matt Sandler, Attorney, Rocky Mountain Wild,
Christine Canaly, Director, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council,
Dan Olson, Executive Director, San Juan Citizens Alliance

Conservation Organizations File Lawsuit to Stop Controversial Land Swap at Wolf Creek Pass

Denver, CO – A coalition of conservation organizations filed a lawsuit today in Federal Court to stop a controversial land exchange that would pave the way for the development of a tourist “village” to accommodate 8,000 people at the top of Wolf Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado. The land exchange, which was approved by Rio Grande Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas last month, would trade approximately 205 federal acres for 177 acres of private land within the boundaries of the Rio Grande National Forest. As a part of this exchange, the U.S. 

Government will also pay Texas billionaire Red McCombs $70,000 as a “cash equalization payment.” The land exchange connects McCombs’ private land to U.S. Highway 160, thus securing the ability for a larger population to access the developer’s private inholding.

“This land exchange was completed without the full and transparent analysis of the impacts that is required by law,” states Matt Sandler, lead attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild. “These laws are in place to protect the public interest; this Forest Service decision protects the interests of big business and billionaires.” The lawsuit asserts that the Forest Service unnecessarily limited the scope of its environmental analysis to avoid fully analyzing the impacts that the development would have on Forest Service land. 

Additionally, the suit exposes a biased and conflicted review process within the Service. “Regional Director Maribeth Gustafson, the Forest Service employee who reviewed and dismissed public objections to this land exchange, was directly involved in developing the land exchange decision – which is contrary to stated Forest Service policy. She came to the table with her mind made up,” explains Sandler.

The coalition filing the suit has also sent a delegation to Washington D.C. to meet with elected representatives, as well as members of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Our goal is to convince the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, to take a hard look at this development, and to immediately stop any real estate transactions,” explains Jimbo Buickerood, Public Land Coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance. 

“The public has been speaking out against the Pillage for almost 30 years, and we are confident that a truly independent review of this project will show that it is not in the public interest. We will not stop until our voices are heard.”

Opposition to the development has been growing, and includes local businesses, skiers, ranchers, local land owners, downstream water uses, hunters, anglers, and conservationists. “The groundswell of support to save Wolf Creek is very heartening, “ says Christine Canaly, Executive Director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. “This area is so important to the health of our local environment and economy. Over 2000 people from around the state, and nation, have sent letters and messages just last week to the Forest Service in an attempt to save this special place.”

Wolf Creek pass has been nationally recognized as one of the top priority wildlife corridors for protecting biodiversity in the face of climate change. Its high elevation and deep snowpack make it prime habitat for snow dependent species like the Canada lynx and wolverine. It is also the headwaters for the Rio Grande and San Juan Rivers, which are a major water source for many downstream communities.

The lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service was brought by: Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, and Wilderness Workshop.

Stay updated with information at:


For a more detailed look at Mr. McCombs, you'll want to read this:

Best: Wolf Creek impasse

By Allen Best
The Denver Post
In late May, Texas businessman B.J. “Red” McCombs got a land exchange with the U.S. government in southern Colorado, and it looks a lot like what he originally proposed 30 years ago. Whether it was a good thing then, or now, is another matter.
McCombs, who owned the Denver Nuggets from 1978 to 1985, has wanted to build a real estate development adjacent to the Wolf Creek Ski Area. No private land existed next to the ski area. In 1986, with partners that included the owners of the ski area, the McCombs-Leavell Joint Partnership got an island of 300 acres of land in exchange for private lands elsewhere that were added to the national forest.
The Pitcher family, owners of the ski area, at the time thought lodging at the base would be good. Many ski areas have such lodging, but not all.
But this land exchange 29 years ago was flawed at birth. At 10,000 feet in elevation, the area gets an average 485 inches of snowfall per year. There were wetlands, never a good thing if you’re planning to build a real-estate complex of more than 2,011 units, as originally proposed.
That parcel was also isolated from U.S. Highway 160, except for a seasonal gravel road that goes through the ski area. In announcing his recent approval of a reconfigured parcel of 325 acres, Dan Dallas, supervisor of the Rio Grande National Forest, said he believes he was mandated by federal law to provide a direct link to the highway. In a sense, he was fixing somebody’s past mistake.
McCombs, who was worth $1.85 billion as of December, according to Forbes magazine, is now 87. Even if he lives to be a much riper age, he still needs a permit from the state highway department and, depending upon his final development plans, a wetlands permit from the federal government and a revised development permit from Mineral County.
The Forest Service assumed 500 units. Environmental groups in Colorado have vowed to challenge the legality of the new land exchange . . .
continue at:

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