Denver, CO — The United States District Court of Colorado has ordered the U.S. Forest Service to fully disclose documents pertaining to its decision to approve a controversial land exchange on Wolf Creek Pass in southwestern Colorado. The Court ruled that the Forest Service did not search for public records, including emails and other communications between the agency’s Regional and Washington Offices and the developers. The 20-page ruling also confirmed the Forest Service failed to justify its decision to withhold thousands of pages from public scrutiny.
The court order came in response to a lawsuit filed by Denver-based conservation group Rocky Mountain Wild. That suit claimed that the Forest Service had unlawfully withheld public records and communications requested through a February 27, 2014 Freedom of Information Act request. The Court’s order gives the U.S. Forest Service until October 30, 2015 to conduct a search and to fully disclose documents pertaining to its decision.
“The Court has verified what we have been saying throughout this decision making process,” said Matt Sandler, Staff Attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild. “The Forest Service has failed to be transparent, has withheld documents, and has committed resources to approving this irresponsible development while failing to keep the public informed.”
The land exchange at the center of this controversy was approved by Rio Grande Forest Supervisor, Dan Dallas, in May of this year, and would trade 205 federal acres for 177 acres of private land within the boundaries of the Rio Grande National Forest. The exchange gives highway access to the private land, making it possible for the owner/developer to construct a proposed “village” for 8,000 tourists. Conservation organizations and local communities oppose this development, siting the environmental and economic ramifications for downstream communities, and the direct impacts to wildlife in the area.
Opposition to the development has steadily grown, attracting local businesses, skiers, ranchers, local landowners, downstream water users, hunters, anglers, and conservationists. An online petition started this summer has garnered over 79,000 signatures urging the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tom Tidwell, to protect the pass.
Friends of Wolf Creek is a coalition of conservation organizations fighting to keep Wolf Creek Pass wild. The coalition includes: Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council. More information can be found at www.friendsofwolfcreek.org.
Matt Sandler, Attorney, Rocky Mountain Wild, 303-579-5162
Travis Stills, Attorney, Energy and Conservation Law, 970-375-9231