Challenge likely to Wolf Creek decision

VALLEY — Following the Rio Grande National Forest announcement this week of a new draft decision to provide access to the Village at Wolf Creek, conservation advocates responded that they would continue to scrutinize the project and challenge attempts to avoid public review.

The conservation groups, which include the SLV Ecosystem Council, said the July 19 access decision circumvented a federal court ruling that invalidated prior approvals for the Village at Wolf Creek, a controversial real estate development near Wolf Creek Pass.

A Colorado federal district court set aside the Forest Service’s approval of a land exchange to facilitate the development in May 2017.

Travis Stills, attorney with Energy and Conservancy Law, who has represented the groups in several rounds of successful litigation, said, “This proposal flagrantly violates federal laws and the developers’ own agreement to subject any access request to federal scrutiny.  We are disappointed the Forest Service will not honor the binding settlement agreement and federal court orders. Should the Forest Service cave to pressure, we will take the steps necessary to protect the National Forest.”

Not only is the Forest Service violating legal decisions, he added, but it is also cutting out the public in its latest decision. “The Forest Services hopes to prevent the public from reviewing new biological information by fast tracking the approval process.”

Local advocates and conservationists are particularly concerned about the project’s impacts to one of Colorado’s last best places. “What part of creating a massive development in the middle of one of the last remaining core habitat areas in the Southern Rockies do the developers not understand?” said Christine Canaly, director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. “What will it take for common sense to prevail in providing a lasting legacy to future generations of the public, over building a private enclave that enables ecological ruin at the Rio Grande headwaters?”

“We anticipated backroom pressure to bend to the billionaire’s demands, hence over 2,300 people recently contacted Rio Grande National Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas encouraging him to stand up for the public interest,” said Tehri Parker, executive director of Rocky Mountain Wild. “We are disappointed he chose the wishes of a Texas developer over local forest protection advocates.”

“Once again, it falls to the public to demand protection of Wolf Creek Pass, a place long cherished by generations of visitors and residents alike,” said Jimbo Buickerood, lands program manager at San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Though the Forest Service might be inclined to renege on its stewardship responsibilities, we are ready to insist on compliance with the law and the public’s will.”