Pearson to leave Juan Citizens Alliance

A local watchdog and champion of conservation is stepping down. After 10 years on the staff of San Juan Citizens Alliance, Mark Pearson is leaving his post as executive director this summer.

SJCA is a grassroots organization dedicated to protecting the water, air, public lands and unique quality of life in the San Juan Basin. Pearson has been actively involved with the Alliance for more than 15 years and seen his share of environmental struggles and victories in that time. When asked why he is stepping, Pearson said he is ready for change but plans to stay in Durango and will continue to be active on the conservation front.

“After 10 years with San Juan Citizens Alliance, I’m just ready for a change,” he said. “I also think it will be healthy for the organization to get some fresh blood, new eyes and new approaches.”

Looking back at the last 15 years, Pearson said that it has been his privilege to work on behalf of the local landscape and that there have been many highlights. One of his top accomplishments was turning back the Piano Creek Ranch luxury development in the East Fork Valley of the San Juan. The pristine area between Pagosa Springs and Wolf Creek Pass is now nearing permanent protection.

“Fighting off the Piano Creek Ranch development in the headwaters of the San Juan ranks up there pretty high,” he said. “That’s one of the last unspoiled mountain valleys in the San Juan Mountains. It’s great we played a part in keeping it that way.”

Pearson added that he is gratified to have taken part in the long-time fight against drilling in the HD Mountains Roadless Area. That struggle is far from over, he said, but the conservation community has kept the drill rigs at bay.

“The fact that there are still no wells out in the heart of the HDs is a testament to the hard work of the community and citizens in the area,” he said.

Looking forward, Pearson said that global issues will present the biggest challenges for the San Juan Basin. Climate change, in particular, will begin to have serious local ramifications, he noted.

“I think a major challenge is going to be how to deal with climate change in a practical fashion,” Pearson said. “We need to determine what it will mean in terms of local habitats, snowpacks and river flows, and how we take action to stop the polluters like Desert Rock and oil and gas drilling and turn them back.”

SJCA’s Board of Directors has launched an intensive search for a new executive director. Pearson will remain at his post and oversee the process through the end of July.


Wolf Creek logging draws lawsuit

A massive logging project east of Durango has drawn legal action. This week, two conservation groups filed suit challenging a project that would log thousands of acres near Wolf Creek Pass and in the headwaters of the Rio Grande Basin.

Dubbed the Handkerchief Mesa Timber Sale, the Rio Grande National Forest wants to log more than 3,400 acres near Wolf Creek Pass. The sale has drawn objections for a variety of reasons – the remote acreage is at high elevation, contains popular backcountry ski terrain, covers several sensitive watersheds and is a vital lynx movement corridor.

WildEarth Guardians and Durango-based Colorado Wild have long objected to the sale. This week, they took their objections to the next level and sued the Forest Service.

“Why trade-off environmental health with timber production when you can have both?” asked Ryan Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild. “Rather than pursue win-win opportunities to restore healthy forests while also providing wood products, the Forest Service continues to invest resources in decades-old projects that sacrifice watersheds and wildlife habitat, while providing little societal benefit.”

The lawsuit specifically questions the decision to approve additional logging in areas where past clear-cuts already exceed legal standards for soil health. In addition, forest regeneration has been impaired on Handkerchief Mesa by the ongoing spruce budworm outbreak, according to the suit. Bryan Bird, public lands director at WildEarth Guardians, further explained that the soils on Handkerchief Mesa area are severely prone to erosion and landslide. New logging could negatively impact and pollute the watershed. “This is the headwaters of the Rio Grande and deserves the most cautious management,” Bird said.

Bidwell concluded that the sale is being pursued aggressively in spite of one of the worst lumber markets in history. The end result will burden taxpayers and the treasury, he said.

“With all the effort being invested by stakeholders throughout Colorado to come together and work to develop consensus-based recommendations for responsible forest management, it is frustrating to see the Forest Service continue to implement an outdated and damaging agenda,” he said.


Regional art and gallery guide born

One Durango artist is working to elevate the Four Corners into a national art destination.

Katie Wacker has created the “4 Corners Arts & Gallery Guide,” a resource to introduce the region’s artists to visitors and locals and bring the artists’ work into the mainstream.  

Wacker’s research turned up 57 galleries within driving distance of each other in Southwest Colorado, Northwest New Mexico and Southeastern Utah. The density of art inspired her to create a comprehensive listing of the galleries, and the first edition of the “4 Corners Arts & Gallery Guide” hits streets this week.

The guide includes write-ups and images on 24 galleries in the region; seven feature stories on area artists; a story on art in Ignacio; an illustrated map of gallery locations; an events section; and a “Passport to the Arts” puzzle for readers to solve.

Wacker explained that the guide went from vision to reality in just a few months. “I just kept meeting people, making phone calls, visiting galleries, talking with friends and family, and little bit by little bit the publication came together,” she said.

The guide is now available at local bookstores, coffee shops, retail shops, hotels, galleries, and other art related events and locations.


Grants boost Discovery Museum

A six-figure grant has pushed the Durango Discovery Museum that much closer to opening its doors. The museum announced this week that a $100,000 grant from the Gates Family Foundation will kick off Phase II construction this summer.

The Discovery Museum is expanding into the Powerhouse as a unique interactive museum where visitors can explore science and energy topics of all kinds. Phase I exterior restoration of the historic Powerhouse was completed in 2006. Completion of Phase II is projected for 2010 with a newly remodeled interior Powerhouse, complete with 5,000 square feet of exhibit space. Phase III will expand the museum’s indoor and outdoor exhibit space to 12,000 square feet and be complete by 2012.

In addition to the Gates Family Foundation grant, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has granted the project $3,530 to help develop an interpretive plan for the building. The plan will define themes, desired visitor experience, interpretive exhibits and educational programs related to the past, present and future of energy.

“We’re gratified to have the support of these two great institutions for our Phase II construction plans,” said Claire Bradshaw, executive director of the museum.

– Will Sands




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