Park Service rewrite stirs emotions

Watchdog groups throughout the nation are still outraged by what they say is an attempt by the Department of Interior to “hijack” the National Park System. There is fear that national parks with fragile cultural resources, like nearby Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, could be in the greatest danger.

The Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, a watchdog group composed of 410 former Park Service employees, has come down strongly against a proposed revision to the National Park Service rulebook. The group and others have pointed accusatory fingers at Paul Hoffman, deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Interior, who has been working in private on the ambitious rewrite of the guidelines for two years. A version of Hoffman’s draft was leaked to the public earlier this fall.

The Hoffman draft contains line-by-line changes to the text and a sweeping shift in the Park Service mission. By doing things like encouraging motorized use and elevating mining and grazing to “park purposes,” the Hoffman draft challenges 90 years of Park Service laws, according to the opposing groups. In particular, they put a premium on public use at the expense of preservation.

In response, 25 career executives in the National Park Service banded together in early December and challenged the rewrite with an unprecedented letter of opposition. The letter notes that the changes “are a drastic and dangerous departure from a longstanding national consensus. The proposed changes are not driven by law, by any conservation need, or by any failure of practical application. Little has changed since the present policies became effective less than five years ago.”

The group of 25 goes on to call for a termination of the changes to the rulebook and argued against increasing commercialization of national parks. “Advertising and prominent recognition of contributions and support should be avoided if they have the effect of reducing the vital contrast between the park experience and the daily routines and experiences that many visitors seek to leave behind. Protection of resources must take priority over the scheduling of events, of any kind, that have entertainment as their primary purpose,” the letter continues.

The proposed policy changes are available for public review, and the National Park Service is encouraging people to air their concerns. More information can be found by logging onto, scrolling down and clicking on “Draft 2006 Management Policies.”


Big oil shifts focus to natural gas

Big energy is returning to the continental United States, and Southwest Colorado is no exception. Decades after the national oil and gas industry spun into decline, it is revving up again with cities like Houston and Dallas experiencing renaissances and even more emphasis going into the development of coal-bed methane throughout the Rocky Mountains

Earlier this month, ConocoPhillips acquired the domestic company Burlington Resources for an astonishing $35.6 billion.The Business online journal noted that the move is evidence that the biggest oil companies are no longer selling out of the United States and may be returning to their old national stronghold. The journal added that Russia and the Middle East never opened up to Western oil, and the new prize for companies is natural gas.

Lysle Brinker, an industry analyst, toldThe Business, “The deal is a huge bet on natural gas prices. Nonconventional gas plays have made mature, declining basins exciting again. The oil companies are returning to the exact same areas they left decades ago.”

The principle “nonconventional gas” is none other than coal-bed methane, which exists in the Four Corners in abundance.

The Burlington acquisition is the biggest deal in the oil industry since the merger between Conoco and Phillips in 2002 and makes Conoco the largest producer of gas in the United States. The new company will exceed both Exxon Mobil and BP in production of coal-bed methane.


National Geographic profiles lynx

The project to bring Canada lynx back to the San Juan Mountains received big press this month. The Colorado Division of Wildlife’s re-introduction project is featured in an article in the January issue ofNational Geographic Magazine, which is now on newsstands.

The story explains the history of the project and describes how the lynx population is being re-established in the Colorado Rockies, an area where the lynx once thrived. Before reintroduction started in 1999, the last recorded sighting of a lynx inColorado was in 1973.

For the article, writer Daniel Glick worked closely with researcher Tanya Shenk, wildlife pilots and the lynx field crews to gain insight into this project. In the story, Glick writes that the reintroduction program “is now recognized as one of the most ambitious and thriving carnivore reintroductions in the nation.” 

Tim Holeman, public affairs director for the DOW, said the agency is honored to be featured in one of the world’s most prestigious magazines. “The lynx reintroduction program represents an important long-term conservation effort by the Colorado Division of Wildlife,” he said. “It will be several years before we can call the program successful, but we know that lynx are adapting to Colorado’s mountains and that the reintroduction is going very well.”

Since 1999, the DOW has released 204 lynx in the San Juans. The DOW estimates that more than 200 are alive, including101 kittens that were born during the last three years, one of the biggest marks of the project’s success. After April 1 of next year, another 15 lynx will be released, and additional releases are planned for 2007 and 2008.


Business forum gathers for 14th year

The current and future state of La Plata County’s economy take center stage at Fort Lewis College next Thurs., Jan. 5. The 14th annual Southwest Business Forum convenes at that time, and this year’s theme is: “Focus on Our Future: Business and Economics.”

Tom Harrington, dean of the School of Business Administration, commented that the forum is indispensable to local business people, saying, “We have gathered a distinguished panel of experts to give their assessment of the current and future state of the economy.”

Patty Burkholder, president of Wells Fargo Durango, has been the driving force behind the forum and its continuation. She offered that the forum will be an “especially informative and valuable session” for local businesses, nonprofits, government agencies and personal enterprises. “The more you understand the economic influences on business, the better decisions you can make,” she said.

The event kicks off at 7:30 a.m. in Room 130 Noble Hall with a continental breakfast. Seminars include: Composition and Trends of the La Plata County Economy; the Colorado Economy; the National and International Economy; and an open question-and-discussion period. The forum adjourns at 11:30 a.m., and admission to all events is free.

– compiled by Will Sands


In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows