Eyes now turn to the Forest Service’s forthcoming decision and Final EIS on if, and under what conditions, they should grant access to the 287.5 acre in-holding traded out of public hands in 1986 under highly questionable circumstance. That land exchange included a contract between the developer, Forest Service, and ski area – now termed the “Scenic Easement” – that bans hazardous products storage, industrial facilities, airports, and other facilities, yet the current development proposal includes many of those components.Thousands of comment letters to the agency opposed to any grant of access, a 58-page legal critique from Colorado Wild, and major concerns expressed by the EPA, Colorado Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, and other agencies and legislators appear to have delayed the EIS and the year-round access it is destined to approve. Based on partial FOIA responses, Friends of Wolf Creek continues to find evidence that the Forest Service is under tremendous political pressure to grant access despite this overwhelming public opposition.
In a related development, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service on Oct. 5 2005 published a Draft Biological Opinion (BO), suggesting that even though the development may be responsible for the death of almost ¼ of the lynx in Colorado, they wouldn’t grant a “jeopardy” decision, the harshest rebuke possible. Rather, the Service stated the development would be “likely to adversely affect” lynx, and required that an expert panel be convened at the developer’s expense to determine what mitigation measures would be required, such as Highway 160 under- or over-passes for wildlife. The failure of the Service to make a jeopardy decision is not unexpected. Without a recovery plan, designated critical habitat, or any Forest Service commitment to protect lynx habitat, government agencies will continue to approve projects like this that dramatically harm the ability for species like lynx to survive.