24 Years of Dedication
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
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
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.
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.
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 2019, 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.
SLVEC is now providing monthly newsletters, regarding issues impacting our local environment and posting interesting articles and updates on our Facebook Page. Please sign up, if you haven’t already, to receive this timely information. Social Media is here to stay: https://www.slvec.org/contact-slvec or https://www.facebook.com/SLVEC
2020 Grey Wolf Reintroduction
SLVEC participated in the Wolf Reintroduction public hearing in Alamosa and has been following this process carefully with other organizations from around the state and nation. Voters in Colorado narrowly approved a ballot initiative, Proposition 114, paving the way for gray wolves to be reintroduced here, where they were hunted to extinction by the 1940s. This is the first time a state has voted to reintroduce an animal to the ecosystem. Reintroduction will likely occur beginning sometime in 2024 and the western slope seems to generally be the area of focus.
(From NPR news story) “Researchers have taken a novel approach to guide policymakers. To suggest suitable places for wolves, it not only examines biological factors, like where the predators would find ample deer and elk populations, but also analyzes which local communities would tolerate wolves, partially based on how more than 3 million Coloradans voted on the reintroduction ballot initiative.”
2021-2022 Rio Grande potential National Conservation Area (NCA)
SLVEC compiled A VIEW TOWARD A HEALTHY, LIVING LOWER RIO GRANDE CORRIDOR, INCLUDING ITS ADJACENT LANDS, IN COLORADO report for the BLM, specifically focusing on lands within Conejos County, along the Rio Grande. This Report and maps describe the high quality of important resources on BLM lands and some private land in the southern San Luis Valley surrounding the Rio Grande. We examine various ways to ensure these resources are managed to conserve their value.
We are researching the possibility that in order to protect this critical stretch of the BLM Rio Grande Corridor area, one solution is to consider designation as a National Conservation Area, or NCA. As part of a law creating an NCA, Congress could appropriate money the BLM does not currently receive to adequately manage the landscape. This special place contains critical watersheds and wetlands; endangered species (SW Willow Flycatcher and Yellow Billed Cuckoo); abundant wildlife; medicinal plants; a living cultural history going back thousands of years, containing archaeological resources; unique opportunities for recreation; stunning landscape views; and could connect at the Colorado/New Mexico state line to the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument. We are working with Senator Bennet’s office to research the possibility of potentially moving forward with legislation to designate as a National Conservation Area (NCA).
2021-2022 Renewable Water Resources
Douglas County Commissioners were entertaining a proposal submitted by Renewable Water Resources (RWR) to export water from Saguache County, estimated to be 23,000 acre/ft/yr via underground pipeline and drop it in a reservoir for use by communities along the I-25 corridor in Douglas County. This scheme was considered for 5 months, using a public process that Douglas County coordinated. SLVEC worked closely with the Rio Grande Water Conservation District and the valley constituency to mount a counter campaign to challenge this very bad idea.
The one wavering County Commissioner, finally made the correct decision in May 2022, to not pursue funding the RWR proposal, at this time.
Common sense prevailed, but only after SLV citizens and the state of Colorado spend hundreds of hours, providing irrefutable documentation to Douglas County staff, for free. That information was then reviewed by an attorney, hired by Douglas County. The attorney basically reiterated the valuable information received by state water planning officials and SLV expertise, validating that our representation was factual and worth listening to. We provided the legal historical precedence and well-researched policy insight, regarding the overwhelming, very real obstacles that would lie ahead for Douglas County.
2021-2022 Rio Grande Forest Plan Revision and potential Wilderness designation
In 2021, the SLVEC board made the decision to challenge the Rio Grande National Forest’s fifteen-year revision plan Record of Decision (ROD). SLVEC is being represented by Western Environmental Law Center (WELC). Our challenge has already brought a settlement agreement, so the Forest Service will be moving ahead with Winter Recreation Planning on the Rio Grande Forest, which will start later in 2023. This is important for the protection of Canadian Lynx territory. We are moving ahead with our other challenges, including incorporating standards and guidelines that protect Wildlife Corridors and habitats for endangered species.
As mentioned earlier, the Forest Service did recommend 47,000 acres of additional Wilderness, almost entirely in the Sangre’s in their ROD. SLVEC will be pursuing Wilderness Designation though Congress.
2022 Wolf Creek Decision
In regards to Wolf Creek Pass, Federal District Court Judge Christine Arguello made a decision (October 19, 2022) to support our challenge and invalidated the Rio Grande National Forest’s approval from 2019 that granted an access road across the National Forest in order to facilitate development of the massive real estate development proposed atop Wolf Creek Pass. The Court’s order was issued in response to a lawsuit filed by San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and Wilderness Workshop. SLVEC and partners have waged unrelenting opposition to the development for over 20 years, repeatedly scoring legal victories against the Forest Service, which continually approved various opportunities to authorize the development. In doing so, it relied on the exact same Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that was rejected by Senior Federal Judge Richard Matsch, who passed in 2017. Wolf Creek pass is protected again, for now.
2022 Water Quality Household Well Testing
SLVEC is working in coordination with Dr. Kathy James and Nicholas Stoll, at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, to offer Free Water Testing in the San Luis Valley to provide critical insight on drought impacting water quality. The Colorado School of Public Health is recruiting residents within the San Luis Valley who own private wells to participate in this project. Participants will receive free water testing kits for wells that are connected to the confined and unconfined Rio Grande Aquifer. The test may look at pH levels, conductivity, hardness, presence of heavy metals, aquifer pressure, temperature and age of the fossil water.
This water sampling effort will take place over the next several years, with repeated water testing available to some participants. SLVEC is working to coordinate residents of the San Luis Valley to participate in this valuable baseline data gathering project to support community environmental health.