Sunday, August 26, 2012

VWC-DEIS 3.7.6 Fens

{updated 9/2/12}

Reviewing the VWC-DEIS you'll notice a number of points worth a closer look. To facilitate that I will use this blog for my study notes, organized into single issue threads. Each will quote the USDA Forest Service - Village at Wolf Creek Access Project - Draft Environmental Impact Statement section in question.

{For clarity I have added breaks between sentences and highlights where appropriate.  Wording has not been altered.}
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Draft Environmental Impact Statement  Village at Wolf Creek Access Project 
Chapter 3.  Affected Environment  Page 3-55

3.7.6 Fens
There are approximately 28.97 acres of fen wetlands within the Analysis Area (Table 3.7-6).  Fens are wetlands characterized by the accumulation of organic-rich soils and are primarily fed by groundwater sources.  Because the rate of accumulation of peat in fens is so slow, the Forest Service considers these ecosystems to be irreplaceable and makes every reasonable effort to design projects to avoid impacting them (USFS, 2006b). 

For the purposes of this document, the limit of the fens is defined as the outer limit of the organic-rich soils.  The organic-rich soils include Histosols, characterized by more than 40 cm (16 inches) of organic matter accumulation, commonly referred to as peat;  and mineral soils with a histic epipedon, defined as an organic layer at least 20 cm (8 inches) thick. 

Fens are old ecosystems that began forming in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado after the mountain glaciers melted around 12,000 years ago (Chimner et al., 2008).  Radiocarbon dating indicates many of the fens in the San Juan Mountains are between 6,000-10,000 years old (Carrara et al., 1991.)  In Colorado, fens are generally restricted to the alpine, subalpine, and upper montane regions, ranging in elevation from 8,000-12,000 feet (Cooper, 1990). 

Less than 1.5% of Colorado’s total area is occupied by wetlands, and rough estimates indicate that fens account for less than 100,000 acres, or 10% of Colorado’s wetland area (USFWS, 1997).  Although fens are an uncommon wetland type in Colorado, a survey of fen distribution in the San Juan Mountains found that fens were a common landscape feature, and it is estimated that there are approximately 6,000 fens in the San Juan Mountains covering an area of about 19,000 acres (Chimner et al., 2008).

Fens, like other wetlands, provide important ecological functions relating to hydrology, water quality, and habitat. 
In addition, their unique ecology allows fens to perform important functions that are distinct from other wetland types.  Fens are important sites of groundwater discharge, and the nearly permanently saturated soil conditions allow for the development of extensive zones with anaerobic, reducing soil conditions which function in denitrification.  Long-term nutrient retention in fens occurs through the process of peat accumulation. 
Fens are also known to retain heavy metals that bind to the peat.  In addition, fens provide important wildlife habitat, and in some areas are known to support rare or unique assemblages of plant and animal species.  

The fens of the Analysis Area are supported by groundwater flows charged by precipitation that falls primarily as snow.  The nearly continuous groundwater discharge within the fens creates permanently saturated soil conditions.  Due to waterlogging and cold temperatures, the rate of decomposition in fens is quite slow.  Only a portion of the plant matter that is produced each year can break down under these conditions, thus it accumulates on the soil surface, creating an organic layer that is known as peat. 
The rate of peat accumulation is slow, and is estimated to average about 8 inches per 1,000 years in Colorado (Chimner, 2000; Chimner and Cooper, 2002).  
Fens occur within all of the wetland areas described above, with the exception of the Ditch Wetlands.  Table 3.7-7 provides a brief description of these fens, documents the major vegetation types present, and lists their area within each of the major wetland groupings.

Draft Environmental Impact Statement - Village at Wolf Creek Access Project

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"Fens are wetlands characterized by the accumulation of organic-rich soils and are primarily fed by groundwater sources."  
This sterile recitation simply doesn't do Fens justice. Fens are pretty near all organic, no minerals sands as such.  One of the things that makes them so special, these are plants and soils that built themselves out of themselves. Well, maybe with traces of wind blown sand. Still pretty special and valuable to the health of that functioning wetlands since they serve many valuable biological functions.

Special enough to deserve this honorable mention in the list of contra-indicators for Mr. McCombs' development dreams.
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"Fens are wetlands characterized by the accumulation of organic-rich soils and are primarily fed by groundwater sources."  Somehow this sterile recitation simply doesn't do the Fens environment justice. 

These are fragile habitats that have taken centuries and millennia to form and they are the heart of the Alberta Park watershed.  Filtering and retaining water, creating habitat for all sorts of tiny creatures that are an integral functioning part of this tapestry that makes up this healthy watershed. 

Alberta Park can’t be cut up, with one section going to housing, another to parking lots, another section preserved, while next to it hills of road snow are piled up to melt and leach their tea into the tatters of that tapestry.

When you cut out portions of it and disrupt this tapestry of internal hydrologic, biologically active plumbing paths and the critters that inhabit them - you will destroy it along with its biological productivity, the stuff that benefits us humans, like clean water; well destruction’s the price of progress. 

The big question is what kind of progress is building a dangerously speculative luxury residential town at 10,500’ elevation, in a forest that is under attack?  If it can’t be sustained because of low housing sales; inevitable budgetary realities; cash flow crisis; cutting and running?  Who's stuck picking up the tab?

USDA-USFS who will be left to clean up the mess when LMJV’s Village at Wolf Creek goes belly up?

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Dear Friends of Alberta Park and Wolf Creek, 
we have this one moment to tell the Rio Grande Forest Service and the US Department of Agriculture's powers-that-be what a destructive boondoggle this luxury Village at 10,500± elevation would be.

But, they'll never listen to you, if you don't contact them!
Here's where to do that, but you need to do it now, September:

Commenting on This Project
The Forest Service values public input. Comments received, including respondents’ names and addresses, will become part of the public record for this proposed action. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted and considered; however, anonymous comments will not provide the agency with the ability to provide you with project updates. The Forest Service wishes to provide you with as many opportunities as possible to learn about our activities.

Official Deadline for comments: 9/30/2012. (or is that Friday the 28th, or Monday the 1st?)

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