Wolves may be reintroduced locally

Wolves may soon be among us. A federal recovery team has plans to reintroduce Mexican Gray Wolves to Southwest Colorado and northern New Mexico in the next three to five years, according to a recent report in the Denver Post.

Historically, the region where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet was a "mingling place" for northern and southern wolf populations, according to the Post.

"It is quite clear there is still room in southern Colorado for wolves. There is a huge number of elk," Michael Robinson, a recovery team member, said.

Another member of the recovery team is Tom Compton, of Hesperus, who represents livestock interests. Compton told the Post that while ranchers may be opposed to the reintroduction, they should be prepared for it, since recovery of the species is the law.

"If we had our druthers we'd rather not have this experience," Compton said. "But it's inevitable, so we're looking for some major concessions in compensation and livestock protection. On a scale of 'angry' from 1 to 10, I'd say Colorado ranchers are at 8 or 9. In New Mexico, they're at 11."

Officers net major local drug bust

Officers have made yet another major drug bust locally. In early December, investigators with the Southwest Drug Task Force assisted the Durango Police Department with a substantial narcotics seizure.

Arrested as a result of the joint investigation were Durango residents Ed Araujo, 44, and Karlos Baca, 28. They were both booked into the La Plata County Jail on charges of Possession of Methamphetamine With the Intent to Distribute.

Durango Police Sgt. Deck Shaline was credited with making the observations that led to the arrests and contraband seizures during a routine traffic contact. After the arrest, investigators seized more than 110 grams of suspected methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana as well as three loaded hand-guns. The estimated street value of the seized methamphetamine was in excess of $10,000.

The Southwest Drug Task Force is a multi-jurisdictional investigative body, comprised of investigators from the La Plata County Sheriffs Department, Ignacio Police Department and the Colorado Bureau of Investigations.

Forest opens revision to the public

The future of public lands in Southwest Colorado is currently taking shape. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management recently kicked off a long-range planning effort that could substantially change the local landscape. The public now has an opportunity to guide those changes.

Community study groups will be formed in January to help the agencies identify issues and concerns to be addressed in a plan revision process over the next few years. In addition, a comment period is now open to the public.

The joint planning process will eventually produce an environmental impact statement to guide management of some 2.5 million acres of regional national forest and BLM lands for the next 10 to 15 years. The effort is somewhat overdue. The current San Juan National Forest Plan was completed in 1983 and has been amended 21 times.

Several issues have arisen since 1983 because of higher levels of controversy, and new and unforeseen public lands uses. Some of the anticipated hot-button issues are: managing off-highway vehicle use and transportation planning; the Healthy Forests Initiative and hazardous-fuel management; new recreational uses including mountain biking, ski area development and increased recreational demands; and availability of lands for mineral development.

For more information on submitting comments or serving as a member of a community study group, call 247-7468.

Mental health center awarded $500k

Local mental health received a $500,000 boost recently. La Plata County has been named the recipient of a large grant that will be used to fund the Crossroads project. The Crossroads is a facility that will include the relocated Detox Unit, an Emergency Assessment Unit and a new Psychiatric Urgent Care Inpatient Unit.It will be operated by the Southwest Colorado Mental Health Center and will serve the population of Southwest Colorado.

"This is a tremendous step toward bringing psychiatric acute care to Southwest Colorado," said Dr. Bern Heath, CEO of Southwest Colorado Mental Health. "This grant and the generous contributions from the many communities in Southwest Colorado will benefit psychiatric patients who urgently need help."

Southwest Colorado is currently the only region in the state that lacks an acute-care facility for psychiatric patients.Such patients are regularly transported, in restraints, to facilities in Pueblo or other cities.The journey, which can take seven hours or more, is difficult for patients and their families.

The grant is contingent upon securing the additional funds necessary for the project, which are expected to come from other state and federal grants and contributions by the communities the facility will serve.

White takes his oath of office

La Plata County Commissioner-elect Wally White is getting closer to taking a seat at the table. White, who will fill Josh Joswick's position, took his oath for the office last Monday in the La Plata County Courthouse. The ceremony was performed by District Judge David Dickinson.

White took his oath of office in advance of Jan. 11, when his term of office actually begins because he will be out of town on that date.

Colorado Wild sues over timber sale

Durango-based environmental group Colorado Wild has filed a lawsuit to stop logging on 241 acres of national forest near Wolf Creek Pass. The suit was filed in federal court on Nov. 30 against the Rio Grande National Forest for approving the Shaw Lake salvage timber sale with only a Categorical Exclusion (CE) - the minimal level of environmental analysis required under federal law. Such an analysis often entails only a two-page decision memo, as opposed to a full environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS).

Heartwood, a nonprofit forest protection organization based in Indiana, also was party to the suit.

"The Forest Service approved the Shaw Lake timber sale under a newly adopted Bush administration rule that permits logging on up to 250 acres with virtually no analysis of water, wildlife and other impacts," said Matt Kenna, attorney for Colorado Wild. under this authority eliminates the ability for the public to appeal approval to a higher Forest Service authority. Unfortunately, our only recourse was to sue."

Jeff Berman, executive director of Colorado Wild, is optimistic the lawsuit will be successful. In 1999, a federal judge ruled that a similar rule permitting timber sale approval of up to 1 million board feet - or about 200 logging truck loads - likely resulted in major environmental impacts and was therefore illegal.The Shaw Lake timber sale is projected to log up to 2 million board feet, he said.

Colorado Wild also is suing the Forest Service to have the Categorical Exclusion rule abolished.

"Categorical Exclusions should be used to approve only simple, routine activities, not major timber sales like this," said Berman.

Jim Bensman, forest watch coordinator for Heartwood, said if successful, the suit could have sweeping effects. "No logging project could be approved nationwide without public participation and impacts analysis, eliminating a flawed component of the Bush Administration's falsely labeled 'Healthy Forest Initiative,'" he said.

- compiled by Will Sands and Missy Votel





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