A-LP hits the silver screen

The fight for the Animas-La Plata project has landed on the silver screen. Eight years in the making, the documentary, “Cowboys, Indians & Lawyers,” has been completed and will premiere at the Durango Independent Film Festival in early March.

Filmmaker and former Durangoan Julia Dengel started production on the film on her own, using only a camcorder and a passion for the water project just southwest of downtown Durango. Eventually the story and Dengel’s approach attracted the interest of PBS, and the film was funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting through the Independent Television Service. 

“Cowboys, Indians & Lawyers” is an intimate portrait of the clash between old West and new, as they struggle over the fate of the free-flowing Animas River. Dengel, an expatriate New Yorker, became obsessed with A-LP when she moved to Durango and found the headlines dominated by this huge project.

“Coming from New York City, I found in A-LP a counter-intuitive mix of everything Western: Indian tribes, a dry landscape, farmers, developers, politicians, river runners,” Dengel said. “But the lines were drawn in ways I wouldn’t expect. I wanted to find out who and what forces were behind this massively ambitious plan to funnel a natural river into economic ventures.”

Dengel added that one of the most interesting things about the A-LP story is reversal of fortune. The film relates the story of A-LP proponent, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, which was nearly wiped out at the turn of the century but is now one of the West’s major financial players

“In an interesting reversal, the Southern Ute Tribe is no longer drowned in the wake of market forces but is instead riding atop the next wave,” Dengel said. “They have managed to become a major force in energy and real estate development – an amazing accomplishment for a tribe nearly extinguished 100 years ago – and they now find themselves not fighting development interests and the government, but allied with the major industries of our time.”

On the flip side, the agriculture community is riding a current low, according to the film. Dengel explained that the trend sadly reveals the plight of preservation.

“In a way, the farmers – whose ancestors once benefited from the taking of Indian land – are the ones being inundated by this next wave of development, forced to cede their land to gas wells and subdivisions,” she said. “The people history never seems to favor are those – Indian and non-Indian – who want to preserve nature.”

Dengel said she hopes that the picture will give an insider view of the people and relationships behind the long-standing fight surrounding A-LP. Beyond that, she said that she believes the battle over power and water provides an intimate portrait of American politics and modern Anglo-Indian relations.

The film will screen March 2 and 4 at the Durango Independent Film Festival. The festival runs March 1-5.

President proposes public lands sale

Public lands located near Durango may be going on the auction block. In line with President Bush’s 2007 budget, this week the Forest Service announced a White House plan to sell off about 200,000 acres of public land. The details were buried inside a Monday press release.

The release’s main focus was on how the proposed budget would fund Bush’s Healthy Forest Initiative.

“As the Forest Service enters its second century of service, its focus is to continue to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, the impacts from invasive species, provide outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities, help to meet the nation’s energy needs, improve watershed conditions, and remain a world leader in forestry research and forest conservation,” said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth.

Bosworth then added, “The President’s budget provides the agency with a sound approach for meeting those goals through partnerships and collaboration.”

Later the release discusses the president’s commitment to states and counties financially impacted by the loss of logging.

In this spirit, the proposed budget provides $800 million “targeted to the most affected areas.” The sale of 200,000 acres of yet-to-be-named public lands would provide the source of the $800 million. The release described the acreage as “parcels of forest land that are isolated or inefficient to manage due to location or other characteristics.”

The Forest Service argues that 200,000 acres is just a small piece of the country’s 193 million acres of national forest and that the agency is acquiring lands at a faster rate.

Honors conferred on Youth Corps

Multiple honors have been conferred upon the Durango-based Southwest Conservation Corps. Formerly known as the Southwest Youth Corps, the SCC employs people aged 14-25 to complete conservation, mitigation and habitat-improvement projects on public lands across the Southwest.

In the recent round of award, SCC member Crystal Lynn Lamb was named the “National Corpsmember of the Year” by the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps. Lamb and seven others were selected from a pool of 23,000 corpsmembers enrolled in similar efforts across America. Lamb completed SCC’s Continental Divide Trail Alliance Youth Corps program and its Backcountry Program in 2005.

“The four months I worked with SCC have affected me more than four years of college,” she said.  

In addition, SCC was selected as the “Project of the Year” in the category of “corpsmember achievement” for its Fire Careers Training Program. The Fire Careers Training Program provides comprehensive fire-mitigation and prevention services across the Four Corners region while training 18-25-year-olds for careers in the wildland-fire management industry. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment also awarded the SCC’s Fire Careers Training Program its 2005 “Best Practice Award” based upon its participant outcomes.  

County appoints new finance director

La Plata County has a new director of finance. County Manager Michael Scannell announced last week that Karla Distel has been appointed to succeed Wayne Bedor, who has announced his retirement effective March 10.

Distel attended Fort Lewis College on a Boettcher Foundation scholarship and graduated with a dual major in accounting and business administration. Over the past 19 years, she has held various positions in the La Plata County Finance Department and was named La Plata County controller in 1995.

“Karla Distel is uniquely qualified to assume the position of finance director for La Plata County,” explained Scannell. “Over nearly two decades, Karla’s skills, experience and commitment to La Plata County have distinguished her as a leader within our organization. La Plata County is, indeed, fortunate to have Karla as a part of its management team.”

Distel will assume the position of La Plata County finance director March 11.

– compiled by Will Sands



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