Federal judge orders Forest Service to turn over more documents related to controversial Wolf Creek development

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Court battles have slowed a proposed development project near Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.

Agency may be lagging in turning over documents requested under Freedom of Information Act

By Bob Berwyn

The U.S. Forest Service must try to dig up more documents related to the controversial Wolf Creek Village development proposal, a federal judge ruled this week.

U.S. District Court Judge William Martinez ordered the agency to once again scour its files for emails, memos and other records that have been requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Community activists and public lands watchdog groups want to examine the paper trail because they believe that environmental studies for the development were tainted by political influence. Continue reading

Aerial forest surveys track continued spread of spruce beetles across Colorado forests

State, federal scientists track forest health

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Aerial survey results show how spruce beetles are taking a toll across Colorado’s forests, with new areas of infestation in the Sange de Cristo, the West Elks and even the northern mountains.

Spruce beetle populations are surging in the southern Rocky Mountains. bberwyn photo.

Spruce beetles are still spreading in the southern Rocky Mountains. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

The latest results from aerial surveys of Colorado forests shows that spruce beetles are doing the most damage, with infestations detected on 409,000 acres across the state, expanding onto 182,000 acres of previously unaffected forests. Since 1996, spruce beetle outbreaks have caused varying degrees of tree mortality on more than 1.5 million acres in Colorado.

The mapping shows spruce beetles spreading outward from the San Juans to the West Elk Mountains, the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and into the northern part of the state around Rocky Mountain National Park. See the full report here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/USFSR2ForestHealth.

State forest experts said it was the fourth year in a row that spruce beetle outbreaks caused widespread tree mortality. As populations of spruce beetles expand, they are starting to affect higher-elevation stands of Engelmann spruce. The report says blowdown events, combined with long-term drought stress, warmer temperatures and extensive amounts of older, dense spruce, have all contributed to the ongoing spruce beetle outbreak. Continue reading

Forest Services tries to cover its tracks on Wolf Creek

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A controversial plan to develop private real estate near Wolf Creek Ski Area is on hold for now.

Paper trail shows agency hid and likely destroyed records related to controversial development proposal in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains

Staff Report

Environmental and community activists opposed to a massive real estate development in southern Colorado say they have new evidence that the U.S. Forest Service tried to cover up how political influence tainted several steps of the approval process for the project.

A review of more than 60,000 pages documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request and a subsequent court order shows that the Forest Service deliberately concealed and destroyed records related to the Village at Wolf Creek development project. Continue reading

Forest Service steps up restoration efforts in 2015

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Restoration work needed across 65 million acres of national forest lands.

With wildfire costs soaring, agency takes funds from other programs

Staff Report

U.S. Forest Service officials said they were able to step up the pace of restoration projects in 2015 despite facing tough budget challenges during a record wildfire season.

Despite the gains, at least 65 million National Forest System acres are still in need of restoration, agency leaders said, explaining that the rising cost of wildfire suppression has taken funding away from restoration, watershed and wildlife programs, limiting the Forest Service’s ability to do the work that would prevent fires in the first place. Continue reading

Forest Service sets public meetings for North Fork coal mining plans

Plan could unleash 36.6 billion tons of greenhouse gases

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A federal judge ordered the U.S. Forest Service to disclose greenhouse gas emissions from a proposed coal mining project in Colorado.

Staff Report

The public will have a chance to weigh in on a U.S. Forest Service proposal to expand coal-mining on public lands in south-central Colorado at two public hearings, Dec. 7 in Paonia and Dec. 9 in Denver.

At issue is a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Colorado Roadless Rule released November 20. The study addresses a recent court ruling that blocked the coal mining expansion in the North Fork Valley, near Paonia, pending more analysis and disclosure of greenhouse gas emissions associated extracting and burning the coal. Continue reading

Forest Service stalls on Wolf Creek land trade order

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A federal court has ordered the U.S. Forest Service to release more documents related to a controversial land trade and development proposal at Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado.

Controversial swap would enable massive development project at Wolf Creek Pass

Staff Report

The U.S. Forest Service continues to delay the release of records related to a controversial land trade in southwestern Colorado.

Last week, a federal court granted the agency’s request for a 30-day extension to turn over letters, memos and other documents from a long-running review of the Wolf Creek land trade — a swap that would enable a massive resort development in the middle of an important wildlife area.

In September, U.S. District Court Judge Wiley Daniel ruled that the Forest Service violated the Freedom of Information Act and ordered the agency to release the documents on the controversial land trade by Oct. 30. Conservation groups critical of the trade say the paper trail may show that the decision-making process was tainted by political influence. Continue reading

Judge says Forest Service violated FOIA in controversial Wolf Creek land exchange

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A federal court has ordered the U.S. Forest Service to release more documents related to a controversial land trade and development proposal at Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado.

Sloppy search for records related to proposed Colorado resort development put agency in the hot seat

By Bob Berwyn

Conservation advocates battling against plans for a massive resort development at Wolf Creek Pass, in southwestern Colorado, won a partial victory in federal court this week, as a judge ruled that the U.S. Forest Service violated the Freedom of Information Act and must release more documents related to the approval of a controversial land trade.

The land trade was approved earlier this year by Rio Grande Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas. It would give the developer, Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture, a way to access a parcel of private land that’s nearly surrounded by public national forest lands by swapping 205 federal acres for 177 acres of private land. If it stands, the trade would enable construction of a resort village for up to 8,000 people. Continue reading

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