WHO WE ARE
Through education, stewardship practices, community investment and public policy advocacy efforts, SLVEC fosters understanding of complex ecosystems and the constructive interplay between human cultures and the natural world. SLVEC embraces and promotes the preservation of beauty, biodiversity and the health of the San Luis Valley and upper Rio Grande region.
Currently, SLVEC helps organize over 100 volunteers involved in different working groups. The mailing list consists of over 4,000 individuals and 500 members.
The mission of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC) is to protect and restore, through research, education, and advocacy, the biological diversity, ecosystems, and natural resources of the Upper Rio Grande bioregion, balancing ecological values with sustainable human needs.
WHAT WE DO
Protecting our citizens' air, land and water
The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC or Ecosystem Council) helps to safeguard over 3.1 million acres of public lands and natural resources in six counties comprising the San Luis Valley, noted for its unchanged landscapes, biological richness, early settlement traditions, and rural lifestyles.
WHEN WE'VE DONE IT
Twenty Years of Dedication to Public Lands' Integrity
SLVEC submitted a Citizen's Management Alternative (CMA).
As a result, 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.
SLVEC organized, advocated, and testified before Congress to create the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000. This Act preserved what was formerly known as the Baca Ranch. The 100,000 acre 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.
SLVEC cooperated with the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance (SRCA) to inventory one-half million acres of Roadless Areas within Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF), using ground-truthing forms for documentation and GIS/GPS points imbedded in photographs. Over 10,000 photos were taken and linked to GPS.
SLVEC was appointed to the Great Sand Dunes NPS Management Plan
Advisory Council by Interior Secretary Gayle Norton. SLVEC recommended 50,000 acres of wilderness designation. Once the mineral rights beneath the National Park have been acquired, this Wilderness recommendation will move forward.
SLVEC performed a BLM Rapid Assessment Inventory on 1⁄2 million acres of BLM roads for the SLV BLM Travel Management Plan and submitted a Citizens Management Alternative. As a result, a 51% road closure (mostly duplicate roads) was recommended by BLM.
Developers Leavell McCombs Joint Venture submitted a plat design for building 2,122 units near the Continental Divide, a proposed development called the "Village at Wolf Creek". SLVEC and Colorado Wild filed a lawsuit challenging the Mineral County Commissioners' acceptance of this proposal. District Judge Kuenhold agreed with the filing on the basis that there is no year round access to the land.
SLVEC initiated a Water Quality Awareness Project, supported in part by an EPA CARE 1 Grant (Community Action for a Renewed Environment). Fewer than ten grants were awarded throughout the United States. The CARE Project set priorities based on community input to determine next steps for impacting environmental health issues. SLVEC also received an EPA Environmental Stewardship Award (2007) for organizing free household well testing in small communities throughout the SLV. Over 800 household wells were tested and SLVEC documented baseline results. SLVEC conducted Environmental Health Risk assessments within 13 communities of the SLV. We also sent out 500 free radon test kits in order to test for this harmful gas within homes and buildings. SLVEC also received an EPA award for Environmental Justice Community Problem-Solving.
SLVEC testified before Congress and the Rio Grande Natural Area Act was passed. This Act designated 33 miles of Rio Grande Corridor (from the southern boundary of the Alamosa Wildlife Refuge to the New Mexico State line) and extended land management protections one-quarter mile from both sides of the river. This area was placed under BLM jurisdiction.
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).
SLVEC and Colorado Wild challenged the Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement decision that granted access to "Village at Wolf Creek". In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Kane agreed with these claims, including that the Forest Service had narrowed the scope of the EIS. A variation of "Village at Wolf Creek" that includes a new land exchange scenario has been approved by the Forest Service. SLVEC and the Friends of Wolf Creek (FWC) 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.
SLVEC spearheaded a legal challenge of Oil and Gas Drilling on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge on the basis that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was being ignored. This case was settled with US Fish and Wildlife Service and a complete NEPA analysis will be required for any further exploration. We continue in our efforts to have the mineral rights purchased and transferred to the refuge, which would permanently protect this area.
SLVEC mobilized and partnered with citizens of Conejos County over concerns of oil and gas leasing in the San Luis Hills and Flat Top Mesa. These are BLM lands with designation as Areas of Critical and Environmental Concern (ACEC’s). These parcels were withdrawn due to citizen action.
SLVEC served for 6 years on the National Heritage Area (NHA) Board which finalized a Management Plan for the Sangre de Cristo NHA. This area was signed into law by President Obama in March 2009, establishing cultural, historical, and natural resource preservation and protection for three southern counties ) within the San Luis Valley: Conejos, Costilla and Alamosa. The Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve lands are included within the NHA.
SLVEC galvanized citizen input on oil and gas leasing offered on the Rio Grande National Forest and BLM lands. Leasing on these 144,000 acres was deferred indefinitely because of citizen input and Internal Board of Land Appeals case law.
SLVEC worked with the public, provided comment, and monitored activity on BLM Solar Energy Zones (SEZ's) on 22,000 acres of land within the San Luis Valley.
SLVEC co-sponsored a Solar Workshop at SLV Rural Electric Coop in Monte Vista, CO to bring small businesses and communities together to discuss a community-scale solar siting process.
With Conejos County Clean Water taking the lead, SLVEC reached a settlement agreement regarding the Department of Energy (DOE) proposal for a low level radioactive waste (trans-waste) facility in Antonito. This trans-waste transfer point has been withdrawn. The material was to originate from Los Alamos, NM. If the DOE decides to reopen this proposal, a site specific public process will have to be conducted, as dictated by the National Environmental Policy Act.
SLVEC developed the San Luis Valley Renewable Energy Master Plan and
encouraged support of community-based siting of solar installations.
SLVEC organized public comments that challenged the Air Force Low Altitude Tactical Navigation (LATN) daily flyovers, brought together organizations, and shared information with Colorado and New Mexico constituencies. The proposed project spanned 62,000 sq. miles and impacted 38 counties in some of Colorado's most remote backcountry. This proposal has been postponed indefinitely due to public outcry.
SLVEC hosted multiple public education forums concerning a proposed high capacity transmission line over La Veta Pass. These forums included the Transmission Line Coalition (TLC) and two utility companies, Tri-State and Xcel. As a result, this project was retired. In 2012, Xcel abandoned its participation in the La Veta Pass line and chose instead to upgrade its transmission lines over Poncha Pass, with SLVEC support.
SLVEC spearheaded a regional effort to identify environmental health hazards and opportunities, funded by a CARE grant from the EPA. In partnership with the public health departments around the Valley, local businesses, and community members, SLVEC assessed the environmental health of this region. The CARE Project worked with all six counties in the San Luis Valley: Alamosa, Costilla, Conejos, Rio Grande, Mineral and Saguache Counties. Phase I of the CARE project was completed in 2012 with the critical task of identifying priorities for a healthy environment (i.e., protection of air and water quality and Solid Waste Management solutions.)
SLVEC filed an official legal complaint to force compliance on proposed oil and gas drilling at San Francisco Creek, near Del Norte, CO. SLVEC asserted that the protection of agriculturally-based economy is paramount to keeping the aquifers contaminant free. An Application to Drill was filed with Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) for 5,000 ft exploratory oil and gas wells by Hughes Oil. BLM released an Environmental Assessment in January 2014 that permitted drilling. Rio Grande County Commissioners and Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) sponsored an independent study that recommended sealing the drill bore all the way through any water bearing formations, which would run the entire depth of the proposed well. Hughes leases expired.
SLVEC initiated an Indoor Air Quality project to build capacity (i.e., training and education) and provide service coordination to promote healthy indoor environments in homes, schools and child care settings. SLVEC educated 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).
SLVEC sponsored and participated in a host of events that commemorated the creation of the National Wilderness System in 1964. We honored the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act by setting up booths at various community events, participating in public outreach, and organizing celebrations of art, music and poetry. We collaborated with federal agencies, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Forests, Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service.
SLVEC and Friends of Wolf Creek filed a lawsuit in June, challenging the Forest Service Record of Decision (ROD) that announced their intention to accept the Land Exchange recommended by the Village at Wolf Creek developers, Leavell McCombs Joint Venture. The proposed land exchange would have provided highway access to the proposed development of 1,972 housing units. This high-altitude location receives an average of 428 inches of snow annually, and is an important wildlife corridor for many species, including the reintroduced Canadian Lynx.
SLVEC collaborated with Conejos Clean Water to identify illegal dump sites in Conejos and Costilla Counties. We forged community momentum, cleaned up a dozen sites, and provided education on responsible waste disposal and recycling. Currently, we’re working towards the same goals in Alamosa and Saguache counties.
SLVEC completed a 10-year regional SLV Solid Waste Diversion and Recycling Plan, approved by the State of Colorado. This plan implemented and promoted recycling and proper trash disposal in the San Luis Valley.
On May 19th, 2017, The Honorable Senior Federal District Court Judge Richard Matsch, now deceased, issued an Order. The Federal Judge set aside the Forest Service Wolf Creek Land Exchange and directed the Forest Service to address development impacts on the National Forest in general, and lynx and their habitat, specifically, for the sake of any future “Village Proposals.”
In July 2018, the Forest Service responded with the following Press Release: “A new draft record of decision from the Rio Grande National Forest is designed to provide reasonable access to the 288-acre parcel (in-holding) via a new road corridor. The proposed road would be approximately 1,610 feet in length and would be within a 100-foot corridor with a total area of about 3.7 acres.”
“This new draft decision provides the access that is legally required for private inholdings. Furthermore, this access option was fully analyzed in 2014, so no new analysis is needed. The draft decision is based on Alternative 3, the so called Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) alternative, as analyzed in the final environmental impact statement completed for the Village at Wolf Creek Access Project in 2014.”
SLVEC and partners, FWC, filed a complaint in Federal District Court in May 2019 to challenge the Forest Service ANILCA claim and highlight the other “public interest” issues that were highlighted in Judge Matsch’s Court.
The Wolf Creek case has been recently reassigned to Judge Christine Arguello’s federal district court. SLVEC and the Friends of Wolf Creek recently filed a stipulation to make sure that no ground disturbing activities occurs before the Judge has a chance to review our case. This should hold through 2020.
2015-2020 Rio Grande National Forest Plan Revision
The Rio Grande National Forest was chosen as the first Forest Service Plan revision in Region 8 to use the 2012 Forest Service planning rules. After years of research, SLVEC and partners submitted a Conservation Alternative (CA) which used the best available science. Partners included The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Quiet Use Coalition, Rocky Mountain Wild, and Rocky Smith, consultant. We were guided by the new Forest Service Planning Rules, which requires that strong consideration be given to environmental protection and monitoring be established that measures the management of the resource.
The Forest Service received over 400 hundred local personal public comments, not form letters, supporting their conservation alternative D, (which had many of our ecosystem protection recommendations in it) and also received local County Commissioner support for their 58,000 acres of recommended wilderness, in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, which has remained in their “draft Record of Decision.”
We have encouraged data sharing and collection among neighboring agencies and events have been coordinated that include scientists who are presenting their concerns and findings about wildlife migration and habitat fragmentation to various agencies that are brought together to hear the same information.
The Rio Grande Forest has been managed for its remote and wild character for the last twenty years. Our recommendations included further protections for roadless areas. The recommendations we submitted exemplify the landscape connectivity we are advocating for. Wilderness designation is our anchor and we are building protective landscape descriptions around these core habitat areas. The Forest Service final Record of Decision (ROD)and Plan was released in May 2020, ignoring most of their Alternative D conservation recommendations. We are preparing to support Wilderness designation legislation for the 58,000 acres recommended in the Sangres. SLVEC and partners are disappointed in the majority of final Plan, considered one of weakest nationwide to stand up for landscape connectivity and wildlife.