Locals blast proposed HDs
The long-awaited Forest Service study
of six energy companies' plans for gas extraction in the HD
Mountains is drawing heat. Even though the environmental impact
statement released last Thursday calls for fewer new wells than
were proposed, a broad-based group of locals are criticizing public
agencies for bowing to industry demands.
The Northern San Juan
Basin Coalbed Methane Draft Environmental Impact Statement studies
a proposal by the companies BP America, Pure Resources, XTO Energy,
Elmridge Resources, Petrox Resources and Exok to develop
approximately 300 new coalbed methane wells in the region. The most
controversial part of the proposal deals with the HD Mountains, a
roadless area southeast of Bayfield. Conservationists and residents
charge that more than 100 new wells in the HDs would threaten
stands of old-growth ponderosa pine, abundant wildlife and the very
health and safety of their homes and families. The proposal would
also put 60 miles of new roads into a designated roadless
"This is an incredibly
reckless and destructive project and the EIS makes that abundantly
clear," said Mark Pearson, executive director of San Juan Citizens'
Alliance. "They will dry up people's water wells, impact homes with
methane seeps, cut most of the old growth in the HDs, create
landslides with their new roads, and they're waiving most of the
environmental rules to do it."
Pearson added, "They
expect that in two homes on Faucet Gulch Road, the residents will
be at risk because of methane seeps. I haven't really seen any
other government proposal where they acknowledge that they could
kill people with their plan."
Jim Fitzgerald owns a
farm adjacent to the HD Mountains and accused the Forest Service of
bowing to industry pressure. "I'm heartsick that the Forest Service
betrayed the wildlife, trees and watershed it is supposed to
protect and instead chose the industry's bulldoze-and-drill
alternative," he said. "The recommendation also betrays the people
who love the HD Mountains. By caving in to the oil and gas
industry, the Forest Service will ignite months or years of strife
and conflict in Southwest Colorado."
The Forest Service
counters that the EIS is the result of an exhaustive study of the
physical, social and biological impacts from development of the
proposed gas wells. The agency also stresses that the preferred
alternative of 300 new wells is more of a suggestion than a
mandate. The Forest Service will make a final decision only after
hearing from the public and will accept comments through Sept.
Fire restrictions to begin
Responding to a lack of precipitation
and steadily increasing fire danger, the San Juan Public Lands
Center will begin enforcing fire restrictions on Monday, June 21.
The restrictions apply only to the lower elevations of regional
"Our large dead fuels
are exhibiting very low fuel moistures, and the grasses, which
greened up so nicely this spring, have begun to cure out,
increasing the chances of a human-caused fire escaping," said Ron
Klatt, fire management officer for the Columbine Public Lands
As a result: campfires
are limited to permanent fire rings or grates within developed
campgrounds; smoking is limited to vehicles, buildings or 3-foot
wide areas cleared of vegetation; chainsaws and other
internal-combustion engines must have approved, working spark
arresters; acetylene and other torches with an open flame may not
be used; andthe use of explosives is prohibited. From Highway
550 east to Wolf Creek Pass, the low zone includes all San Juan
Public Lands outside of the South San Juan and Weminuche
wildernesses. West of Highway 550 over to the Utah border, the zone
includes lands south of Kennebec Pass, Spruce Mill Road and the
West Dolores Road.
The restrictions are
timely. Last Wednesday, lightning triggered the Puma Fire, south of
Pagosa Springs. Burning in heavy timer and dense undergrowth, the
blaze spread to 30 acres. However, aided by cooler temperatures,
quick response and higher humidity, firefighters were able to
contain the Puma Fire over the weekend. In a week, such a feat will
likely be more difficult, according to Klatt.
"Seven to 10 days from
now, this fire would probably have been more difficult to control,"
said Klatt on June 11. "As the cheatgrass turns from purple to
brown ourfire danger will increase significantly, so folks really
need to be careful with their campfires and other activities that
could spark a fire."
DMR dedicates open space
Durango Mountain Resort made the first
of many open space dedications as it pursues development of its
master plan. While the first donation was small in size, the resort
plans to permanently protect as many as 240 acres as it builds
DMR donated a 6.98 acre
conservation easement to the Animas Conservancy, a local land
trust, to provide scenic corridors between areas of development and
the roadways.The acreage is in the new Tacoma and Engineer
villages along Highway 550, just across from DMR's main entrance. A
low-impact walking trail will be built within the forested areas to
allow public access.
executive director with the Animas Conservancy, said "We look
forward to an on-going relationship with DMR, to ensure the proper
stewardship of the scenic corridors and natural area
buffers.Animas Conservancy applauds DMR for taking the
opportunity to include the protection of natural values as part of
the planning process for the new development."
In total, 80 to 100
acres will be permanently protected at the Engineer and Tacoma
villages and more than twice that amount in the total development.
Homeowners may also elect to donate land on their properties. At
build out, more then 40 percent of the 612-acre development will
remain as open space.
"We would like to thank
the Animas Conservancy for their efforts in helping us protect this
beautiful area," said DMR CEO Gary Derck. "From the initial land
swap in 1991 designed to protect the Hermosa Park area, bringing
the land along Highway 550 to the resort, to our current Master
Plan that is among the most environmentally progressive in
Colorado, we are setting the standard for responsible
DMR's master plan calls
for the development of 1,649 units and 410,000 square feet of
commercial space on 612 acres surrounding the resort. The plan is
scheduled to unfold over the next 25 years.
Smelter Mountain closed to
In response to continued vandalism of
the radio towers atop Smelter Mountain, La Plata County is taking
proactive steps. Effective June 25, portions of County Road 212,
the access road that is popular among pedestrians, cyclists and
automobiles, will be closed to vehicular access. Hikers and
cyclists will not be affected.
Three gates will
restrict vehicular access. The lower gate, approximately 1.2 miles
up County Road 212, will be closed seasonally from Dec. 1 Aug. 14
each year. The gate will be open from Aug. 15 Nov. 30 to allow for
authorized hunting access on the Colorado Division of Wildlife
property. Two additional gates near the summit of Smelter Mountain
will be closed year round.
This closure was
requested by several tower-site users who expressed serious
concerns about vandalism and damage to sensitive communications
equipment. At a public hearing held in February, the La Plata
County commissioners found it is in the best interest of the public
to close the road and authorized the closure for public health,
safety and welfare reasons.
compiled by Will