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Twenty-four Years of Dedication to Public Lands' Integrity (SLVEC)

Snow-covered Sand Dunes (Photo by Andrew Parnes)

1996-2000 Forest Service Planning

SLVEC submitted a Citizen's Management Alternative (CMA). It’s recommendations influenced approximately one-third of the 1.86 million acres of Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) to maintain its Back Country or Roadless character.

1999 Great Sand Dunes National Park

SLVEC organized, advocated, and testified before Congress to support creation of 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 the Baca Mountain Tract addition to National Forest.

2001-2005 Advisory Council

SLVEC was appointed to the Great Sand Dunes NPS Management Plan Advisory Council by Interior Secretary Gayle Norton. SLVEC advocated for 50,000 acres of wilderness designation within the Plan.

2001-2006 Wolf Creek

Developers Leavell McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV) submitted a plat design to build 2,122 units near the Continental Divide, a proposed development called the "Village at Wolf Creek", within a Forest Service inholding, acquired by the developers through a controversial land exchange, back in 1986. The inholding is located next to the Wolf Creek Ski Area. SLVEC and Colorado Wild filed a lawsuit challenging the Mineral County Commissioners' acceptance of this platted development proposal. District Judge John Kuenhold agreed with our challenge on the basis that there is no year round access to the private inholding.

2001-2003 Roadless Inventory Forest Service

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 baseline inventory ground-truthing forms for documentation and GIS/GPS points imbedded in photographs. Over 10,000 photos were taken and linked to GPS. Maps were created and photos imbedded and this baseline was given to the Forest Service.

2004-2005 Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

SLVEC performed a BLM Rapid Assessment Inventory on 1⁄2 million acres of BLM roads for SLV BLM Travel Management Planning and submitted a Citizens Management Alternative. As a result, a 51% road closure (mostly duplicate roads) was recommended by BLM for their final travel management plan.

2006-2010 Water Quality and environmental health

SLVEC initiated a Water Quality Awareness Project, supported in part by an EPA Community Problem Solving Grant. Fewer than ten grants were awarded throughout the United States.

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 for water quality (bacteria, heavy metals, nitrates/nitrites), some for pesticide/herbicide and SLVEC documented (mapped) baseline results.

2006 Rio Grande Natural Area Legislation

SLVEC testified before Congress to support the passage of the Rio Grande Natural Area legislation. 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 along the Conejos County side was placed under BLM management.

2006 –Rio Grande (river) public access

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 Wolf Creek Pass

SLVEC and Colorado Wild challenged the Forest Service Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) decision that granted access to "Village at Wolf Creek". In 2008, Supreme Court Justice Kane agreed with our claims, including that the Forest Service had narrowed the scope of the EIS. A variation of "Village at Wolf Creek" that included a new land exchange scenario was approved by the Forest Service in a draft EIS released in 2012. SLVEC and the Friends of Wolf Creek (FWC) filed a law suit in 2015 to contest the Forest Service's final decision. An agreement was reached and there will be no development until this suit is settled.

2007-2014 Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area

SLVEC served for 7 years on the Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area (NHA) Board which finalized a Management Plan for the 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, the Baca National Wildlife Refuge and Baca Mountain Tract are included within the NHA.

2006- 2015 Exploratory oil and gas development in the SLV

2006-Conejos County

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 area. These are BLM lands with designation as Areas of Critical and Environmental Concern (ACEC’s). These parcels were withdrawn from consideration due to citizen action.

2008 South Fork and Del Norte

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 pointing out Internal Board of Land Appeals case law.

2007-2010 Baca Wildlife Refuge

SLVEC spearheaded a legal challenge of exploratory 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.

2012-San Francisco Creek

SLVEC filed an official legal complaint to force compliance on proposed BLM oil and gas drilling leases along San Francisco Creek, near Del Norte, CO. SLVEC asserted that the protection of the 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.

2014-Hydrogeologic Study

BLM released an Environmental Assessment in January 2014 that permitted drilling. Rio Grande County Commissioners and Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) sponsored an independent hydrogeologic 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. SLVEC advocated for this entire process. Hughes leases expired.

2011 Transporting low level radio-active waste

With Conejos County Clean Water (CCW) taking the lead, SLVEC & CCW 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.

2011 Low Altitude Training Navigation Flyovers-LATN)

SLVEC organized public comments that challenged the Air Force Low Altitude Tactical Navigation (LATN) daily flyovers, bringing 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.

2008-2015 Solar and Transmission

SLVEC worked with the public, provided comment, and monitored activity on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Solar Energy Zones (SEZ's) on 22,000 acres of land within the San Luis Valley.

2010 Solar Planning

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.

SLVEC developed a San Luis Valley Renewable Energy Master Plan Map and recommendations and encouraged support of community-based siting of solar installations.

2012 Transmission

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, which SLVEC supported.

2011-2012 Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE)

The CARE Project set priorities based on community input to determine next steps for impacting environmental health issues. 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. The three priorities determined by the local communities in terms of environmental health concerns are air quality, water quality and illegal dumping.

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.)

2013-2015 Air Quality education

In partnership with EPA Air Quality, 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 (HeadStart) 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 developed a bi-lingual in-home assessment tool, outreach materials, and in partnership with National Jewish Health, developed curriculum at Adams State University Nursing school to assess Asthma and COPD (Chronic, Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) patients; and impacted many education/health sectors throughout the San Luis Valley. 2,537 Families were Influenced by this Indoor Air Quality Project (Including health fair participants), and 240 Professionals, Providers, and Community Leaders were trained and provided education by this project.

2014-2015 Wilderness Celebration

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.

2015-2020 Rio Grande National Forest 20-Year Plan Revision

The Rio Grande National Forest was chosen as the first Forest Service Plan revision in Region 8 to use the new 2012 Forest Service Planning Rules. After years of research, SLVEC and partners (The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Quiet Use Coalition, Rocky Mountain Wild, and Rocky Smith, consultant) submitted a Conservation Alternative (CA) which used the most current science to determine recommendations for the new land management plan. We were guided by the 2012 Forest Service Planning Rules, which requires strong consideration to environmental protection and the establishment of monitoring systems that measure the management of the forests' resources.

The Forest Service received over 400 hundred local personal public comments in support of conservation alternative D, which included many of our recommendations.

After participating in the public process for five years, the Rio Grande Forest Plan revision (how the Forest will be managed over the next 20 years), submitted their final Record of Decision (ROD) in the spring of 2020. Included in the ROD was a recommendation for 47,000 acres of additional Wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, an approx. ½ mile band of Forest land stretching from Poncha Pass to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. SLVEC encouraged the public to embolden Saguache County Commissioners to write a letter of support, which made the Wilderness recommendation possible.

We facilitated data collection and sharing among neighboring agencies; we coordinated events including scientists for the sake of presenting their findings about unique geology, wildlife migration and habitat fragmentation.

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 for which we advocate. Wilderness designation is our anchor and we seek to build protective landscape descriptions around these core habitat areas.

2016-2019 Solid Waste Diversion/Recycling


SLVEC collaborated with Conejos Clean Water (CCW) 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.


There were three volunteer clean ups at the Saguache County landfill (approximately 20 hours of labor), organized by SLVEC, which included over 50 people, that resulted in 180 cubic yards of recycled material collected and dropped into six roll offs. These materials were taken to Alpine Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Denver and avoided going into the landfill. These roll offs were provided by MDS, Creede, CO.

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.

This involved organizing a 20-member Task Force, conducting a baseline survey of existing resources, preparing trash composition analysis based on audits at the Regional Landfill, projecting demand and system needs to 2027, and scheduling meetings with key stakeholders and industry operatives to identify the best plan strategies and priorities.

These trash audits, which SLVEC coordinated, revealed that 33% of hauls to be buried forever in the landfill consisted of recyclable material, and another 32% was organics --- not included in the scope of our study but definitely warranting further research and planning.

Single-stream recycling is available at the Regional Landfill at a fee structure similar to trash tipping fees. Conejos and Costilla counties and most rural locations in the Valley, however, are virtually without any place to take their recyclables.

In 2018, through a state Recycling Resources Economic Opportunity RREO Grant, SLVEC developed a recycling brochure and valleywide map to orient communities throughout the valley regarding what places are available to intake recycling. This brochure/map was mailed to all six county US postal boxes, and it also appeared in newspaper publications and is available on the SLVEC website, which is regularly updated.

2016-2020 (Wolf Creek)


SLVEC and Friends of Wolf Creek filed an Opening Brief in September 2016, challenging the Forest Service Record of Decision (ROD) that announced their intention to accept the amended land exchange proposed by the Village at Wolf Creek developers, Leavell McCombs Joint Venture (LMJV). 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.

On May 19th, 2017, The Honorable Senior Federal District Court Judge Richard Matsch, 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.”

On January 12, 2018, LMJV developers sought another access to their property under ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act). According to the Forest Service Record of Decision (ROD), signed February 27th, 2019, “Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture’s proposal was to keep the then-current litigation alive with the possibility that the 2015 land exchange, without deed restrictions, could be saved but allow LMJV immediate access so it could build roads and begin to develop the “core” of its planned Village.”

According to the Forest Service, the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) from 2014, “also took a hard look at the significant environmental effects of selecting the ANILCA right-of-way alternative, which would allow LMJV to develop the existing parcel constrained by the scenic easement.” Therefore, the Forest Service selected Alternative 3 to allow ANILCA access to the LMJV inholding.”


After filing Objections to the Forest Service regarding the ANILCA proposal, SLVEC and Friends of Wolf Creek (FWC) attorneys, Travis Stills and Matt Sandler, submitted a 940-Page Merits brief to US Federal District Court in September 2020. to challenge the Forest Service Record of Decision (ROD) on the “Village at Wolf Creek’s” ANILCA (Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act) road access claim. Since 2000, we have consistently questioned “reasonable access” for a proposed large scale (1,722 unit) development on top of Wolf Creek Pass, which could destroy critical habitat for Lynx, whose territory protects the most biodiverse, concentrated core habitat areas left in the southern Rockies.

2020 Public Outreach and Social Media

In August 2020, SLVEC launched a new website, which libraries over 20 years of project work, including baseline mapping inventories for biodiversity, air and water quality, renewable energy, a Ten-Year SLV Solid Waste Diversion and Recycling Plan, and much more. Come check it out