A decision that protects the Endangered Species Act listed Canada lynx
When a coalition of conservation organizations entered the courtroom to present oral arguments in a pending lawsuit in front of the Honorable Judge Richard P. Matsch in late April, the courtroom looked a little bit like David vs. Goliath. On one side of the courtroom, there were seven lawyers for the Forest Service and the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture; on the other side, two lawyers, Matt Sandler from Rocky Mountain Wild and Travis Stills of Energy and Conservation Law. But after a month of anxious anticipation, the coalition, Friends of Wolf Creek, was handed a decision on Endangered Species Day that brought some to tears – tears of joy. Judge Matsch decided in favor of the environmental group, nullifying the controversial land exchange at Wolf Creek pass.
Judge Matsch’s ruling
The controversy of a sweeping land exchange at Wolf Creek pass has been an ongoing saga for decades. The Court ruled on May 19 that the Forest Service had the authority to protect the National Forest and to limit the Leavell-McCombs Joint Venture development – a large-scale residential and commercial “village” to accommodate 8,000-10,000 people – but opted not to use it. The Court also recognized that political influence and pressure played a key role in the exchange since its inception.
More importantly to the conservation organizations, the Court recognized the environmental values of the exchanged land in its decision. Judge Matsch invalidated the Forest Service land exchange decision, which gave Texas billionaire, Red McCombs, land that is critical for the survival of the Canada lynx and that serves as a wildlife corridor linking two major Wilderness areas, without a proper environmental analysis.
“What NEPA requires is that before taking any major action a federal agency must stop and take a careful look to determine the environmental impact of that decision, and listen to the public before taking action,” Judge Matsch wrote in his decision, “The Forest Service failed to do that in the Record of Decision. The duty of this Court is to set it aside.”
The Friends of Wolf Creek react to the win
“This ruling is an incredible victory for the flora and fauna that rely on Wolf Creek pass for their survival,” stated Tehri Parker, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Wild. “This order specifically recognizes the ‘unique’ environmental qualities of this region, and the role that it plays as a wildlife movement corridor between the Weminuche and South San Juan Wilderness areas.”
“Wolf Creek is precious to people in southwest Colorado. Thank you to Judge Matsch for recognizing the enormous wildlife and natural resources at risk from the proposed resort development. This decision gives us the chance to get it right,” said Jimbo Buickerood of San Juan Citizens Alliance. “We look forward to working with the Forest Service to make sure we find a solution that keeps Wolf Creek just the way it is for everyone’s benefit.”
Friends of Wolf Creek is a coalition of conservation organizations including Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, and Wilderness Workshop.