State’s roadless areas bounce back

The HD Mountains and Hermosa Roadless Areas could be out of danger. In spite of a recent move by the Bush Administration that stripped roadless area protection, a Colorado task force has been appointed to protect some of the state’s most pristine areas. The group has its first meeting this Friday and includes local representation.

In August, the Bush Administration announced that it had approved changes to the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Conservationists charged that under the “modification,” none of the nation’s 60 million acres of designated roadless areas would be protected from new roads and natural resource extraction. They also say that the announcement is an attempt to “short-circuit” legal appeals advocating the Roadless Area Conservation Rule that are pending in courts.

However, Coloradans have been offered a unique opportunity to control the future of our roadless areas. Gov. Bill Owens and leaders of the Colorado Legislature appointed the Roadless Area Review Task Force earlier this year. The group’s first task will be to gather input from the public on how best to manage Colorado’s roadless areas.

“I think we’re very lucky in Colorado that this group and this process have been created,” said Amber Clark, Public Lands Coordinator with San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Here we do have an opportunity to stand up and say we do want our roadless areas to remain roadless.”

Clark commented that the task force is particularly good news for Southwest Colorado, where the roadless areas provide key habitat for wildlife and are critical to local water resources.

“The water we drink, bathe in and grow our crops with originates in the remote high country and filters through other lowland roadless areas,” she said.

Locals also have been extremely vocal about the negative consequences of the proposal to develop the natural gas resources of the HD Mountains Roadless Area. During many community meetings held by the San Juan National Forest, many members of the public highlighted the HD Mountains and the Hermosa Roadless Areas in those meetings.  

Janine Fitzgerald, a landowner at the base of the HD Mountains, commented, “The HDs and other roadless areas represent some of the last intact homes for mid-elevation wild ecosystems that provide humans with sustenance, water, life, and wildness.  If we hope to continue to live within an ecosystem, we must protect these areas.”

The task force, which includes local representatives David Peterson and Tom Compton, will meet to gather input from local citizens over the next year. Durango will host a meeting where citizens can give testimony about roadless areas on the San Juan National Forest. That forum’s date should be set this Friday.


DOW nets whirling disease culprit

A La Plata County man is getting a taste for how painful whirling disease can be. Dwight Babcock, owner of Cannibal Canyon Ranches in Marvel, has pleaded guilty to knowingly stocking waters in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah with trout infected with whirling disease. Babcock will pay nearly $30,000 in fines and restitution fees.

On Sept. 30, Babcock pleaded guilty to seven criminal counts of knowingly selling, transporting and stocking wildlife illegally in New Mexico and Utah. He also acknowledged that he stocked fish from his private hatchery into rivers in Colorado at least 125 times between 1997 and 2003.

A two-year investigation showed that he stocked fish in at least 72 locations in rivers and streams in La Plata, Archuleta, Montezuma and Dolores counties. He is known to have stocked fish along private sections of the Piedra, San Juan, West Dolores, Animas and Rio Blanco rivers. Whirling disease, which is devastating to trout, is caused by a microscopic parasite that infects the soft cartilage of young fish. The disease kills most young fish that it infects and causes severe deformities in those that survive.

Mike Japhet is an aquatic biologist for the Colorado Division of Wildlife in Durango. He said Babcock’s stocking could have serious negative effects on Wild Trout waters and important Cutthroat Trout Conservation Waters in Southwest Colorado. “Once whirling-disease positive fish are released, there’s not much we can do. The only place we can logically control the disease is at the hatchery,” Japhet said. 

Whirling disease was introduced accidentally into Colorado during the 1980s when a private hatchery stocked rivers with infected fish. The infestation caused a collapse of rainbow trout populations in several self-sustaining high-country waters. Native Cutthroat trout also are susceptible to the disease.

“The disease devastated many high-quality trout fisheries,” said Eric Hughes, aquatic manager for the DOW. “We continue to be concerned about the release of whirling-disease positive fish.”


Fort Lewis seeks Durango’s input

Fort Lewis College is again looking to citizens of Durango for guidance and feedback. This Monday, Oct. 17, the college will host a public forum at the Durango Community Recreation Center. The “town-hall” meeting gets under way at 6:30 p.m.

The forum will give the public a chance to provide input on Fort Lewis College’s five-year strategic plan and 20-year facilities master plan. President Brad Bartel and Vice President for Finance and Administration Steve Schwartz will give presentations on the strategic plan and facilities master plan. Bartel explained, “In this document, I outline critically important directions for the college in the next five years to position us among the top tier of public liberal arts colleges in the United States.”

These directions are all aimed at improving the college’s liberal arts education. The college is reaching for an enhanced college reputation, sustained growth in enrollment, improved service to the local community, increased private and public sector financial support, and an enhanced campus climate.

Following public input next Monday, Bartel will present a final draft of the plan to the Board of Trustees for Fort Lewis College at their December meeting.


Juried photo exhibit calls for entries

The Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College has put out a call for submissions to its 3rd annual juried show of fine art and documentary photography. The show’s purpose is to celebrate life in the American Southwest, and the special theme for this year’s show is Mesa Verde National Park. All photographic processes are welcome and will be judged within three categories for creativity and technical excellence.

“While entries within the broader theme of the Southwest are appropriate, we urge photographers to consider any aspect of our special Mesa Verde theme when planning entries,” noted Jeanne Brako, curator and interim director of the Center of Southwest Studies.

Photographers will be awarded $200 for Best of Show, $100 for First Place in black and white and color categories, and $50 First Place in the student category. In addition there will be a $100 award for the Best of Mesa Verde photograph, recognizing this year’s special theme.  Entry submissions will be taken at the Center of Southwest Studies on Oct. 26, 27, 28 & 31. Accepted photographs will be exhibited Nov. 4-Dec. 15. For more information, contact the Center at 247-7456.

-compiled by Will Sands