See below for the latest (edited) membership letter, sent out in December 2017.
Hello Custodian of Public Lands Legacy,
We have so much to celebrate….starting with the Decision by Federal District Court Judge Matsch to protect Wolf Creek Pass, reversing the Forest Service’s Record of Decision for the land exchange, which would have enabled the large-scale development to move forward; recently the Developers have appealed the Judge’s decision and it is now before the Court of Appeals, but we are cautiously optimistic that upon review, Judge Matsch’s decision will stand.
We have just completed the SLV Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling Study, which provides a practical 10-year Plan to move forward with a model that addresses regional solutions to waste reduction and recycling, which in turn will reduce illegal dumping on public lands.
Finally, making recommendations for the twenty-year Rio Grande National Forest Plan revision, which has been reflected in the Forest Service Alternative D.
However, these vital SLVEC efforts are vulnerable to a current national landscape of uncertainty, where public assets and management of our natural resources are being challenged by Presidential Executive Order, coupled with legislative agendas that prioritize energy development over addressing the importance of climate change policy to mitigate environmental impacts and support renewable energy.
So how are we forging ahead? One day at a time. Incrementalism and its day-to-day vigilance has provided SLVEC opportunities to establish better protections for our public lands and grace us with strategic victories. This current national shift requires continued research, focus, outreach, and attention to detail. SLVEC’s leadership believes in a future where common sense policy approaches are embraced by government agencies and no longer challenged, prioritizing benefits to public interest. Political education must include a process that elevates the needs of biodiversity, ecosystems and environmental health.
SLVEC Essential Project work for 2018 and beyond:
1) Resource planning efforts- Rio Grande National Forest Management Plan Revision
The Rio Grande National Forest is revising their twenty year Management Plan under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). A draft Forest Plan was released for public comment. We recommended Alternative D that includes 285,000 acres of additional Wilderness and Special Interest Areas that contain geologic sites like La Ventana, and watershed areas that support Rio Grande Cutthroat like those found in Chama Basin.
SLVEC worked on these and other recommendations throughout the Forest for the past two years; compiling biological and wildlife data, supplemented by ground-truthing to make the most accurate scientific recommendations that support landscape level ecosystems, but are also mindful of traditional uses and avoidance of user conflicts. Go to Rio Grande National Forest Planning.
Forest Service Alternative D prioritizes locations with certain land values including lands with Wilderness Characteristics and Top Tier Roadless Areas in order to protect the headwaters and watersheds. It also encourages inter-agency cooperation and continuity of land management designations with neighboring Bureau of Land Management and adjacent forests.
2) Environmental Health
Solid Waste Management (SWM) -- Illegal dumping and recycling, encourage Regional Planning!
SLVEC worked with the Colorado Dept of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE), Conejos Clean Water (CCW), and SLV Counties to build capacity and develop a Solid Waste Management Regional Study that redirects illegal dumping off public and private lands by developing a 10-year Plan for recycling and solid waste reduction. We assembled a 15-member citizen Task Force to collect baseline data on the region’s recycling capacity, which involved contacting 80 waste generators including landfills, businesses, waste haulers, government agencies, transfer station operations, and organizations involved in waste diversion and recycling. We conducted six stakeholder public meetings throughout 2017, which informed our Task Force who met monthly throughout the year.
Christine Canaly, Director
The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC) is a 501C3 non-profit corporation incorporated in 1998 by a group of citizens concerned about impacts to public lands around the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
We believe in the power of education, stewardship, community involvement and public advocacy. Our mission is to protect and restore the biological diversity, ecosystems, and natural resources of the Upper Rio Grande region, balancing ecological values with human needs.
We have organized several different working groups, including the Friends of Wolf Creek, LEAP-HIGH Water Quality, the Solar Working Group, and others, which include over 100 volunteers. SLVEC has over 400 members, who give what they can in money, time, or expertise. Because of their dedication and support, we have enjoyed many successes in helping to protect this beautiful area. We are very grateful to all of them.
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
Twenty Years of Dedication to Public Lands Integrity
- In 1998, SLVEC submitted a Citizen's Management Alternative (CMA). Approximately one-half of the 1.86 million acres of Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) is now prescribed as either Back Country or Designated Wilderness.
- 1999, SLVEC organized, advocated and testified before Congress for the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000 preserving the 100,000 acre former Baca Ranch, moving this pristine landscape into Public Land. The ranch is now part of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Baca National Wildlife Refuge, and a Baca Mountain Tract addition to National Forest.
- 2001-2004, SLVEC was appointed to the Great Sand Dunes NPS Management Plan Advisory Council by Interior Secretary Gayle Norton, pushing for recommendation of 50,000 acres of wilderness designation. Acquiring the mineral rights beneath the National Park will move this Wilderness recommendation forward.
- 2001-2003, SLVEC, in cooperation with Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance (SRCA) inventoried one-half million areas of Roadless Areas within Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF), using ground truthing forms for documentation and GIS/GPS points imbedded in photographs. Thousands of photos were taken linked to GPS.
- 2004-2005, SLVEC performs a BLM Rapid Assessment Inventory on ½ million acres of BLM roads for the SLV BLM Travel Management Plan and submitted a Citizens Management Alternative. A 51% road closure was recommended by BLM.
- 2005, SLVEC and Colorado Wild filed a lawsuit challenging the Rio Grande County Commissioners' decision on accepting the "Village at Wolf Creek" plat design, a proposed development of 2,122 units near the continental divide. District Judge Kuenhold agreed with the claim because there was no year round access to the land.
- 2006, SLVEC testified before Congress and the Rio Grande Natural Area Act was passed, designating 33 miles of Rio Grande Corridor, from the southern boundary of the Alamosa Wildlife Refuge to the New Mexico State line, extending protection for one-quarter mile from either bank of the river, under BLM jurisdiction.
- 2006, Judge Marcia Krieger agreed with an adjacent landowner and SLVEC lawsuit challenge of the Rio Ox-bow Land Exchange claiming that it was not in the public interest. This decision protected some of the few remaining public access points in the Upper Rio Grande. The case has also brought precedence regarding public/private land trades in Colorado to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
- 2006-2015, Colorado Wild and SLVEC challenged the Forest Service EIS decision granting access to "Village at Wolf Creek". In 2008 Supreme Court Justice Kane agreed with these claims, including the Forest Service narrowing the scope of the EIS. A variation of "Village at Wolf Creek" that includes a new land exchange scenario has been approved bu the Forest Service. SLVEC and associate enviro groups have filed a law suit to contest the Forest Service's decision. An agreement has been reached so that there will be no development until the suit is settled.
- 2005-2012, Water Quality Awareness Project, recipient of EPA Environmental Justice Community Problem-Solving and (CPS) received EPA CARE 1 Grant. Fewer than ten grants were awarded throughout the USA. SLVEC was recipient of the EPA Environmental Stewardship Award (2007) for organizing free household well testing in small communities throughout the SLV. Over 800 household wells have received this free well testing. SLVEC conducted Environmental Health Risk assessments within 13 communities of the SLV. The CARE Project set priorities based on community input and determined next steps for impacting environmental health issues. We also sent out 500 free radon test kits for people to test for this harmful gas within homes and buildings.
- 2006-2015, Challenge of Oil and Gas development within the SLV Baca National Wildlife Refuge, SLVEC spearheaded a legal challenge of Oil and Gas Drilling on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge because the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Process was being avoided. This case was settled with US Fish and Wildlife Service that would reguire a full NEPA process for any further exploration. We continue in our efforts to have the mineral rights transferred to the refuge, which would permanently protect the area.
- 2007, San Luis Hills and Flat Top Mesa, BLM lands in the central SLV slated for minerals leasing -Parcels withdrawn due to SLVEC actions.
- 2008, Mineral leasing offered on the Rio Grande National Forest and BLM lands-144,000 acres deferred indefintely because of SLVEC-promoted citizen input.
- 2010, Co-sponsored a Solar Workshop with other groups at SLV Rural Electric Coop in Monte Vista, CO to bring small businesses and communities together to discuss a community-scale solar siting process.
- 2011- 2015, San Francisco Creek, near Del Norte, CO -Application to Drill (APD) filed with Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) for 5,000 ft exploratory O & G Well by Hughes Oil. BLM releases EA in January 2014 giving OK for drilling to proceed under specific guidelines. SLVEC filed an official legal complaint in an effort to make the drilling comply with findings from an independent study. The study recommends sealing the drill bore all the way through any water bearing formations, which could run the entire depth of the proposed well. SLVEC asserts the protection of our agricultuarally-based industry by keeping the acquifers contaminent free.
- 2011, With Conejos County Clean Water taking the lead, SLVEC reached a settlement agreement regarding the Department of Energy (DOE) proposal for a low level Transwaste facility in Antonito. This transwaste transfer point has been withdrawn. The material was to originate from Los Alamos, NM. A site specific (NEPA) public process will have to be conducted if DOE decides to reopen this proposal.
- 2007-2015, The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area (NHA), signed into law by President Obama in March 2009, establishes cultural, historical, and natural resource preservation and protection for the southern three counties within the San Luis Valley. The Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve lands are included within the NHA. SLVEC has served for 6 years on the Board which has now finalyzed a Management Plan.
- 2011, Developed the San Luis Valley Renewable Energy Master Plan to infuse support of community based siting of solar installations.
- 2008-2015, SLVEC works with the public and monitors activity on BLM Solar Energy Zones (SEZ's) on 22,000 acres of land within the San Luis Valley
- 2011, Organized public comments challenging the Air Force Low Altitude Tactical Navigation (LATN) Flyovers, bringing together organizations and sharing information from Colorado and New Mexico constituencies. The proposed project spans 62,000 sq. miles and impacts 38 counties in some of Colorado's most remote backcountry. This proposal has been "postponed" indefininetly due to public outcry.
- 2011, Hosted three public education forums with the Transmission Line Coalition (TLC) concerning the a proposed high capacity transmission line over La Veta Pass, including bringing the utilities (Tri-State and Xcel) together for public discussion. SLVEC-supported public scrutiny of this proposal has resulted in the "postponement" of this project. In 2012, Xcel abandoned its participation in the line making its liklihood of further pursuit doubtful.
- 2011-2013, Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE). SLVEC spearheaded a regional effort to identify environmental health hazzards and opportunities, funded by a grant from the EPA. The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, in partnership with the public health departments around the Valley, local businesses, and community members worked to assess the environmental health of this region through education and community involvement,. The CARE Project worked with all six counties in the San Luis Valley, which are Alamosa, Costilla, Conejos, Rio Grande, Mineral and Saguache County. Phase I of the CARE project was completed in 2012 with the critical task of identifying healthy environment priorities for SLV communities completed.
23. 2013-2015, CARE- Indoor Air Quality is designed to build capacity (training and education) and provide service coordination to promote healthy indoor environments in primarily homes, schools and child care settings. We are educating school nurses and staff, home health care providers, health care professionals, student nurses and early childhood educators to, train, do outreach and/or demonstration projects that seek to reduce exposure of indoor air contaminants and asthma triggers (dust, mold, second hand smoke and smoke from wood burning stoves).
24. 2014-2015, 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act SLVEC sponsored and participated in many events that commemorated the creation of the National Wilderness System in 1964. Included were booths, public outreach and celebrations in art, music and poetry. We collaborated with federal agencies that manage Wilderness such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Forests, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.
25. 2015-2016, Solid Waste Management As a collaborative effort with Conejos County Clean Water (CCCWater.org), in 2015 we actively identified illegal dump sites in Conejos and Costilla Counties and helped to forge community momentum to clean up the sites as well as educated people on responsible waste disposal, including recycling. Currently, we are working towards the same goals in Alamosa and Saguache counties.
26. 2016-2017 Solid Waste Management We completed a regional waste diversion feasibility study to implement and promote recycling and proper trash disposal in the Valley.