Wolf Creek lawsuit brief challenges approval

Hannah Grover

FARMINGTON — A 159-page brief filed in federal District Court of Colorado about a development at Wolf Creek Pass alleges the U.S. Forest Service unlawfully limited the scope of the environmental analysis while considering a land transfer.

Wildflowers are pictured on the federal parcel of land off U.S. Highway 160 over Wolf Creek Pass between South Fork and Pagosa Springs, Colo., at the site of a proposed development.

The U.S. Forest Service approved a proposal to trade approximately 205 federal acres for 177 acres of private land in 2015. The land transfer would allow a developer from Texas to build a village near the Wolf Creek Ski Area.

While the land transfer was approved in 2015, development of the Village at Wolf Creek has been on hold due to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of four environmental groups known as Friends of Wolf Creek.

Matt Sandler, an attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild, one of those groups, said there are two main things the coalition is highlighting in the brief. The first item the brief addresses is the U.S. Forest Service's claim that it was legally required to approve the land transfer to allow the developer access to private property. The brief alleges that by evaluating only the access to the property, the U.S. Forest Service did not adequately address the environmental impact of the development of the Village at Wolf Creek.

The brief also states that the approved transfer does not provide meaningful protection for the Canada lynx. The coalition alleges the development of the Village at Wolf Creek would disrupt an important wildlife corridor that connects two sub-populations of lynx.

In October 2015, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Forest Service had not provided adequate justification for not releasing certain documents specified in a Freedom of Information Act request from Rocky Mountain Wild. Since then, the U.S. Forest Service has been releasing documents such as emails about the land transfer.

Friends of Wolf Creek used the more than 100,000 pages of documents received from the FOIA request to draft the brief that it filed at the end of September. The U.S. Forest Service and the developer have until the end of November to respond.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.