Monday, December 7, 2015

Petitioning Chief, USDA Forest Service Tom Tidwell

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.

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.

On May 21, 2015 Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas issued his final Record of Decision (ROD), approving a controversial land exchange with Texas billionaire Red McCombs. The exchange was granted for the sole purpose of providing McCombs’ development firm, the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV), with access to construct the “Village at Wolf Creek” – a development of condos, townhomes, and retail stores for up to 8,000 people. The exchange was approved without the legally required transparent analysis of the development's impacts. Additionally, the decision violated the Service’s own requirements for protecting the Federally threatened Canada lynx's habitat. 

During 2014, the “draft final” decision and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) created by local Forest Service officials was significantly altered at the direction of the Washington Office and Regional Office personnel in Denver, including Deputy Regional Forester Maribeth Gustafson. Ms. Gustafson then served as the reviewing officer for the final decision, and not surprisingly, rejected all but one of the Objections addressing serious problems with the EIS and draft ROD. Instead of providing required protections for the Canada Lynx, Ms. Gustafson directed Mr. Dallas to explain away the problems in the final ROD. In short, Ms. Gustafson could not provide the mandated independent review of this decision because she was instrumental in its development.

I request that you use your position as Chief of the U.S. Forest Service to stop the destruction of Wolf Creek Pass. Issue an immediate stay of the land exchange until a full and independent review of the Record of Decision, as well as Objections filed by outside groups, can be conducted. This review should include investigation into both the findings of the decision and the process used to reach that decision. 

As the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service it is your responsibility to ensure that regional and local Forest decisions are in the public interest. The public has spoken out against the development loudly and repeatedly since it was first proposed in 1986. Now, almost 30 years later, we are asking you to uphold the Forest Service motto by “caring for the land and serving the people.” You can stop the pillage at Wolf Creek.

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