Please find a moment and contact Congressman Scott Tipton’s office and let him know (while Congress is in recess) that we do not support HB 2936 for the reasons described below in a recently published article. This bill is an outrageous attempt to remove your civil liberties and voice in protecting your public land assets. It's worth the read.
Tipton Government offices (contact all of them):
P: (202) 225-4761
P: (719) 587-5105
P: (970) 259-1490
P: (970) 241-2499
P: (719) 542-1073
Send an e-mail: https://tipton.house.gov/contact/email
Secretary of Interior Zinke and Congressman Scott Tipton are aggressively pursuing the privatization of our beloved public lands
It’s called the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 or HB (House Bill) 2936, co-sponsored by our very own Representative from Congressional District 3, Scott Tipton and Rep. Bruce Westerman, from Arkansas. A toned down version of this proposed bill passed the House of Representatives in 2015, but didn’t get further. President Obama would have vetoed it.
The Rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
Background of NEPA
The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC), is a public lands advocacy organization, and has participated in hundreds of NEPA processes since 1995. NEPA is the nexus for public involvement and civil engagement. NEPA structures how the public gets involved with responding to a proposed project by soliciting public comment. NEPA uses formalized timelines, which in turn, obligates government agencies to respond with a range of alternatives (usually three or four) to provide options for various paths of decision making. Ultimately, by enjoining public scrutiny, a rational, coherent decision can be reached for a given project. This public inclusion is structured through formal analysis called Environmental Assessments (EA’s) or, to deal with complex project proposals, Environmental Impact Statements (EIS’s).
Local examples regarding the “use of NEPA” include; the Lexam oil and gas exploratory drilling proposal on the Baca Refuge; the Village at Wolf Creek development near the continental divide; the San Francisco Creek exploratory drilling proposal near Del Norte, were all able to be challenged and ultimately stopped because of this public participation. One of the reasons the NEPA process is so beneficial is it serves to redirect ill-conceived projects that impact public interest and the environment.
Of the hundreds of NEPA processes that SLVEC has been involved with over the years, we have only had to litigate five, which shows that the current system is working well. Most public processes are resolved through this “range of alternatives” selection, when a Record of Decision (ROD) can be achieved and implemented. Public agencies need public scrutiny, after all, these lands belong to us, the American public.
“More eyes on the land” provide better insight and ultimately a better project is fomented, that encompass the complexities of managing landscapes that include the protection of wildlife, biodiversity and ecosystem services--clean air, water, healthy soils and carbon sequestering-- the unquantifiable values that get side-tracked because of short term, profit driven motives.
NEPA also provides us with the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Management Plan, the SLV Wildlife Refuge Management Plans and the current Rio Grande National Forest Management Plan revision. Why shouldn’t the public be involved with deciding how these public lands will be managed over the next twenty years? This is a proactive, healthy approach to protecting lands for future generations.
So why is NEPA now under ATTACK?
The Republican Agenda is about the privatization of our collective public assets, which include: Education, Social Security, the Military, and of course, our valuable public lands. There is nothing creative being currently proposed, this is just a bully whole sale taking of our assets.
So how does self-interest go about structuring such an undertaking? By passing bills like HB 2936 and creating a Secretary Zinke “Made In America Recreation Advisory Committee.”
The 2936 bill is divided into ten different titles, including a range of forest management “streamlining” and funding provisions aimed at increasing timber production in the national forests and other federal lands.
So, what will HB 2936 do?
1) Undermine NEPA alternative analysis by requiring only (2) action/no- action alternatives, instead of providing a “range of Alternatives.”
2) Drastically cramp NEPA review and the public input timeline after broadly-defined “catastrophic” (weather events and storms) events.
3) Further shortens NEPA review to only 2 months – requires the EA to be completed within 60 days after the conclusion of the catastrophic event. (Currently, most EA’s take between 6 months to a year).
4) Creates NEPA “Categorical Exclusion” (CA) for a broad range of forest management activities, which means it exempts (removes) NEPA public process entirely by creating a “categorical exclusion” for a broad range of “forest management activities,” specifically, forest management activities that produce timber, with no other benefits.
In some cases, this categorical exclusion could reach up to 30,000 acres, allowing a categorical exclusion up to nearly 429 times larger than the current 70 acre limitation for timber harvesting.
Just to provide some perspective, 30,000 acres is the same as 47 square miles. As a local comparison, the Baca Mountain Tract (acquired by the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000) is 13,500 acres. So, we are looking at a potential “categorical exclusion” that is almost three times the size of the Baca mountain tract which contains South Crestone, Willow, Spanish, Cottonwood and Deadman’s Creek watersheds.
5) Prevents NEPA review on every stage of forest planning by redefining it as not a major federal action.
6) Imposes Limitations on Judicial Review
Removes citizen ability to challenge projects motivated by self-interest by replacing judicial review of many forest management activities on both national forest and BLM lands with a binding arbitration process.
The bill would authorize the Forest Service to designate up to 90 projects per year (10 projects in each of the 9 Forest Service regions) for a “discretionary arbitration pilot program.”
The chosen project would not be subject to judicial review, even if it clearly violated the law.
7) Eviscerates the Endangered Species Act (ESA)
Exempts the Forest Service or BLM from consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding a forest management activity if the Forest Service or BLM determines that its action is not likely to adversely affect an endangered or threatened species or their designated critical habitat.
For any forest management activity that is subject to consultation, the bill imposes a 90-day deadline to conclude the consultation, after which the activity is legislatively deemed to be in compliance with the ESA.
Broadly exempts most forest management activities from compliance with the ESA by stipulating that any such activity “shall be considered a non-discretionary action.”
8) Undermines Protection of Roadless Areas
Includes convoluted language about roadless area management that could be interpreted to eliminate current regulatory protection of Inventoried Roadless Areas under the 2001 national Roadless Area Conservation Rule and the Idaho and Colorado roadless rules.
The Secretary of the Interior oversees National Parks, Wildlife Refuges and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.
Simultaneously, Secretary of the Interior Zinke has just announced a “Made In America Recreation Advisory Committee”. This committee “will focus on expanding public-private partnerships on America's public lands with the goal of expanding access to and improving the infrastructure on public lands.”
Zinke’s Roundtable participants gave specific examples about how public-private partnerships can make the outdoor recreation experience even better, and how the economy can be impacted by the tens of thousands of American manufacturing jobs that these products support.
“Not everyone can get to the backcountry and sleep in a hammock tethered to a rock wall. We need to encourage families and folks of all interest levels to enjoy our parks and other outdoor areas, making our land accessible to them,” said Zinke. “We have wonderful partners who proudly make their outdoor products in America. We can leverage these partners to help address the maintenance backlog on things like boat ramps, RV hookups, campgrounds, and cafeterias as long as the government is a willing collaborator.”
Coming soon…Public lands are open for business and you can visit your favorite theme park, driving your chosen fossil fuel vehicle
Made in America Partners include: Kirk La - Chairman & CEO - BoatU.S, Terry MacRae - CEO - Hornblower Cruises, Edward Klim - President - International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, Tim Buche - President & CEO - Motorcycle Industry Council, Phil Ingrassia - President - Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association, Frank Hugelmeyer - President - Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, Tim Rout - CEO – AccessParks, Thomas Dammrich - President - National Marine Manufacturers Association, Duane Taylor - Exec Director - National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council.
We get the picture.
If you combine HB 2936 with whom Secretary Zinke is choosing to surround himself with, our public lands are now being opened up for wholesale exploitation. Land grabs for oil and gas leasing, fossil fuel recreation access, coupled with restricting our public input to demand accountability.
It’s a recipe for disaster. The public, common sense balance that NEPA has provided since 1969 is now on the chopping block, driven by total ignorance regarding the fragmentation and evisceration of our complex landscape that contain biodiversity and species that deserve our long-term stewardship and protection.
We need our forests, national parks, wildlife refuges and BLM lands to buffer climate change, not to be curried into a Las Vegas motor show. This creates distraction from the real solution of us as human beings understanding our limitations and developing healthy boundaries. Isn’t practicing restraint supposed to be the backbone and philosophy of the conservative party?
Please contact Rep. Scott Tipton’s offices and tell him this is a bad bill and his constituency deserves better representation that will not tolerate the undermining of future generations of human, wildlife and biodiverse species.
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council is a 501C3 non-profit corporation incorporated in 1998 by a group of citizens concerned about impacts to public lands around the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
We believe in the power of education, stewardship, community involvement and public advocacy. Our mission is to protect and restore the biological diversity, ecosystems, and natural resources of the Upper Rio Grande region, balancing ecological values with human needs.
We have organized several different working groups, including the Friends of Wolf Creek, LEAP-HIGH Water Quality, the Solar Working Group, and others, which include over 100 volunteers. SLVEC has over 400 members, who give what they can in money, time, or expertise. Because of their dedication and support, we have enjoyed many successes in helping to protect this beautiful area. We are very grateful to all of them.
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
Seventeen Years of Dedication to Public Lands Integrity
- In 1998, SLVEC submitted a Citizen's Management Alternative (CMA). Approximately one-half of the 1.86 million acres of Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) is now prescribed as either Back Country or Designated Wilderness.
- 1999, SLVEC organized, advocated and testified before Congress for the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000 preserving the 100,000 acre former Baca Ranch, moving this pristine landscape into Public Land. The ranch is now part of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Baca National Wildlife Refuge, and a Baca Mountain Tract addition to National Forest.
- 2001-2004, SLVEC was appointed to the Great Sand Dunes NPS Management Plan Advisory Council by Interior Secretary Gayle Norton, pushing for recommendation of 50,000 acres of wilderness designation. Acquiring the mineral rights beneath the National Park will move this Wilderness recommendation forward.
- 2001-2003, SLVEC, in cooperation with Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance (SRCA) inventoried one-half million areas of Roadless Areas within Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF), using ground truthing forms for documentation and GIS/GPS points imbedded in photographs. Thousands of photos were taken linked to GPS.
- 2004-2005, SLVEC performs a BLM Rapid Assessment Inventory on ½ million acres of BLM roads for the SLV BLM Travel Management Plan and submitted a Citizens Management Alternative. A 51% road closure was recommended by BLM.
- 2005, SLVEC and Colorado Wild filed a lawsuit challenging the Rio Grande County Commissioners' decision on accepting the "Village at Wolf Creek" plat design, a proposed development of 2,122 units near the continental divide. District Judge Kuenhold agreed with the claim because there was no year round access to the land.
- 2006, SLVEC testified before Congress and the Rio Grande Natural Area Act was passed, designating 33 miles of Rio Grande Corridor, from the southern boundary of the Alamosa Wildlife Refuge to the New Mexico State line, extending protection for one-quarter mile from either bank of the river, under BLM jurisdiction.
- 2006, Judge Marcia Krieger agreed with an adjacent landowner and SLVEC lawsuit challenge of the Rio Ox-bow Land Exchange claiming that it was not in the public interest. This decision protected some of the few remaining public access points in the Upper Rio Grande. The case has also brought precedence regarding public/private land trades in Colorado to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
- 2006-2015, Colorado Wild and SLVEC challenged the Forest Service EIS decision granting access to "Village at Wolf Creek". In 2008 Supreme Court Justice Kane agreed with these claims, including the Forest Service narrowing the scope of the EIS. A variation of "Village at Wolf Creek" that includes a new land exchange scenario has been approved bu the Forest Service. SLVEC and associate enviro groups have filed a law suit to contest the Forest Service's decision. An agreement has been reached so that there will be no development until the suit is settled.
- 2005-2012, Water Quality Awareness Project, recipient of EPA Environmental Justice Community Problem-Solving and (CPS) received EPA CARE 1 Grant. Fewer than ten grants were awarded throughout the USA. SLVEC was recipient of the EPA Environmental Stewardship Award (2007) for organizing free household well testing in small communities throughout the SLV. Over 800 household wells have received this free well testing. SLVEC conducted Environmental Health Risk assessments within 13 communities of the SLV. The CARE Project set priorities based on community input and determined next steps for impacting environmental health issues. We also sent out 500 free radon test kits for people to test for this harmful gas within homes and buildings.
- 2006-2015, Challenge of Oil and Gas development within the SLV Baca National Wildlife Refuge, SLVEC spearheaded a legal challenge of Oil and Gas Drilling on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge because the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Process was being avoided. This case was settled with US Fish and Wildlife Service that would reguire a full NEPA process for any further exploration. We continue in our efforts to have the mineral rights transferred to the refuge, which would permanently protect the area.
- 2007, San Luis Hills and Flat Top Mesa, BLM lands in the central SLV slated for minerals leasing -Parcels withdrawn due to SLVEC actions.
- 2008, Mineral leasing offered on the Rio Grande National Forest and BLM lands-144,000 acres deferred indefintely because of SLVEC-promoted citizen input.
- 2010, Co-sponsored a Solar Workshop with other groups at SLV Rural Electric Coop in Monte Vista, CO to bring small businesses and communities together to discuss a community-scale solar siting process.
- 2011- 2015, San Francisco Creek, near Del Norte, CO -Application to Drill (APD) filed with Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) for 5,000 ft exploratory O & G Well by Hughes Oil. BLM releases EA in January 2014 giving OK for drilling to proceed under specific guidelines. SLVEC filed an official legal complaint in an effort to make the drilling comply with findings from an independent study. The study recommends sealing the drill bore all the way through any water bearing formations, which could run the entire depth of the proposed well. SLVEC asserts the protection of our agricultuarally-based industry by keeping the acquifers contaminent free.
- 2011, With Conejos County Clean Water taking the lead, SLVEC reached a settlement agreement regarding the Department of Energy (DOE) proposal for a low level Transwaste facility in Antonito. This transwaste transfer point has been withdrawn. The material was to originate from Los Alamos, NM. A site specific (NEPA) public process will have to be conducted if DOE decides to reopen this proposal.
- 2007-2015, The Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area (NHA), signed into law by President Obama in March 2009, establishes cultural, historical, and natural resource preservation and protection for the southern three counties within the San Luis Valley. The Great Sand Dunes Park and Preserve lands are included within the NHA. SLVEC has served for 6 years on the Board which has now finalyzed a Management Plan.
- 2011, Developed the San Luis Valley Renewable Energy Master Plan to infuse support of community based siting of solar installations.
- 2008-2015, SLVEC works with the public and monitors activity on BLM Solar Energy Zones (SEZ's) on 22,000 acres of land within the San Luis Valley
- 2011, Organized public comments challenging the Air Force Low Altitude Tactical Navigation (LATN) Flyovers, bringing together organizations and sharing information from Colorado and New Mexico constituencies. The proposed project spans 62,000 sq. miles and impacts 38 counties in some of Colorado's most remote backcountry. This proposal has been "postponed" indefininetly due to public outcry.
- 2011, Hosted three public education forums with the Transmission Line Coalition (TLC) concerning the a proposed high capacity transmission line over La Veta Pass, including bringing the utilities (Tri-State and Xcel) together for public discussion. SLVEC-supported public scrutiny of this proposal has resulted in the "postponement" of this project. In 2012, Xcel abandoned its participation in the line making its liklihood of further pursuit doubtful.
- 2011-2013, Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE). SLVEC spearheaded a regional effort to identify environmental health hazzards and opportunities, funded by a grant from the EPA. The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, in partnership with the public health departments around the Valley, local businesses, and community members worked to assess the environmental health of this region through education and community involvement,. The CARE Project worked with all six counties in the San Luis Valley, which are Alamosa, Costilla, Conejos, Rio Grande, Mineral and Saguache County. Phase I of the CARE project was completed in 2012 with the critical task of identifying healthy environment priorities for SLV communities completed.
23. 2013-2015, CARE- Indoor Air Quality is designed to build capacity (training and education) and provide service coordination to promote healthy indoor environments in primarily homes, schools and child care settings. We are educating school nurses and staff, home health care providers, health care professionals, student nurses and early childhood educators to, train, do outreach and/or demonstration projects that seek to reduce exposure of indoor air contaminants and asthma triggers (dust, mold, second hand smoke and smoke from wood burning stoves).
24. 2014-2015, 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act SLVEC sponsored and participated in many events that commemorated the creation of the National Wilderness System in 1964. Included were booths, public outreach and celebrations in art, music and poetry. We collaborated with federal agencies that manage Wilderness such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Forests, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.
25. 2015-2016, Solid Waste Management As a collaborative effort with Conejos County Clean Water (CCCWater.org), in 2015 we actively identified illegal dump sites in Conejos and Costilla Counties and helped to forge community momentum to clean up the sites as well as educated people on responsible waste disposal, including recycling. Currently, we are working towards the same goals in Alamosa and Saguache counties.