Our Forest Watch Campaign monitors forestry practices and forest management across Colorado. We keep a close watch on National Forest lands, which cover about 14 million acres in Colorado, nearly a quarter of the state. We focus on maintaining resilient forests and protecting rare wildlife species such as lynx, roadless areas, old growth forests, rare plants, riparian areas, and intact watersheds.
We monitor and educate the public about proposed projects on all seven of our state’s National Forests, and work to modify the ones that could degrade ecological values. This includes so-called “forest health” projects, which are often thinly disguised commercial logging projects that propose to cut more than is needed to protect homes and infrastructure. Rocky Mountain Wild continues a multi-year effort to steer Forest Service projects towards targeted, science-based actions that will help protect communities and forests without sacrificing water quality and wildlife. By building relationships with diverse stakeholders, bringing ecological science into the dialogue, and capitalizing on the situation posed by dwindling federal budgets, we have made substantial progress in the last year.
Friends of Wolf Creek
Wolf Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado forms the pristine headwaters of the Rio Grande and San Juan Rivers. Bridging the South San Juan and Weminuche Wilderness Areas, the pass is beloved for stunning vistas and ample opportunities for backcountry recreation along the Continental Divide. It is also one of the most biologically-important areas in the Southern Rockies, providing habitat and migration pathways for elk, deer, black bear and the threatened Canada lynx.
The untouched beauty of Wolf Creek Pass has made it a tempting target for real estate developers. Rocky Mountain Wild’s Friends of Wolf Creek campaign has succeeded in keeping the pass wild by mobilizing local citizens, business owners, hunters and anglers, backcountry recreationists, and wildlife experts to protect this ecological treasure.
Most recently, Friends of Wolf Creek thwarted an ill-conceived attempt by Texas billionaire Red McCombs to build the “Village at Wolf Creek,” a city of 10,000 people at the top of the Pass. Unfortunately, McCombs remains committed to this project and has proposed a land exchange with the Forest Service, swapping undevelopable wetlands with National Forest land adjacent to Colorado State Highway 160.
This land swap would allow McCombs to construct a small city in an otherwise undeveloped area entirely surrounded by the Rio Grande National Forest. This development would cause irreversible ecosystem damage, impact water supplies and degrade water quality for downstream communities. It will also bisect one of the most critical wildlife corridors in the entire Southern Rocky Mountains while draining critical business away from the rural communities of Del Norte, South Fork, and Pagosa Springs.
We are confident we can defeat this project once again but we need your help. Please join our coalition of local residents, business owners, hunters, anglers, recreationists, and wildlife experts. Sign up to receive action alerts about Wolf Creek and donate to our campaign to keep Wolf Creek wild.
Roadless Rule Defense
In July 2012 a special Colorado Roadless Rule (CRR) was adopted, overriding the national 2001 Roadless Rule and standards. This new rule significantly reduced the protection of Colorado’s 4.3 million acres of national forest roadless lands. Rocky Mountain Wild led efforts in Colorado to oppose this change to federal policy, and we continue our efforts to defend these special areas. Read a Summary of the Colorado Roadless Rule.
Burnt Mountain Roadless Area Protection
In June 2014 Rocky Mountain Wild joined the Ark Initiative and other plantiffs to protect the Burnt Mountain roadless area in the White River National Forest. Aspen Ski Company has been granted approval to clearcut a groomable egress route through this area which has remained undeveloped. The area, near the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, is also habitat for the threatened Canada Lynx.
This area is part of the Colorado Roadless Rule ski area exclusion which removed 8,260 acres of previously designated roadless areas from the roadless inventory on the basis that they contained degraded roadless area characteristics due to their proximity to an operational ski resort. No site specific analysis was done on these areas to determine if this blanket assumption was valid.
Through our work on the Burnt Mountain case we hope to convince the courts to invalidate the ski area exclusion in the Colorado Roadless Rule.
A Brief History on Roadless Area Protection
In early 2001, after a great deal of public input, the Clinton Administration published the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which protected about 58 million acres of national forest Roadless lands nationwide. It generally prohibited logging and road construction, with a few narrowly tailored exceptions for prior existing rights, and public health and safety.
The W. Bush Administration, which took office about nine days later, never allowed this rule to take effect. Instead, it published a rule allowing states the choice of developing their own rule for protecting Roadless areas. The Bush rule was later invalidated by a court ruling, but two states, Idaho and Colorado, decided to develop Roadless Rules under other authorities.
The first draft Colorado Rule was published for public comment in 2008. Large numbers of people commented, with a sizable majority asking for better protection for our state’s Roadless lands. The subsequent final rule made some improvements, but still included broad exceptions to the prohibitions on road construction and logging. As a result, the Colorado Rule adopted in 2012 gives our state’s national forest Roadless lands considerably less protection than those in other states.