The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC or Ecosystem Council) helps to safeguard over 3.1 million acres of public lands and natural resources in six counties comprising the San Luis Valley, noted for their unchanged landscapes, biological richness, early settlement traditions, and rural lifestyles. This unique region of Colorado contains the mountain watersheds of the Rio Grande, extensive forests and wilderness, rangelands, and scenic panoramas which need SLVEC involvement to guard against inappropriate development and resource management.
SLVEC’s mission “to protect and restore the biological diversity, ecosystems, and natural resources … by balancing ecological values and human needs” has directed its organizational energies to meet a diverse range of environmental and related threats and challenges within modest budget parameters.
History, Governance, and Operation
SLVEC was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1998 by citizens inspired to defend the integrity of forest and other public lands. This initiative was also sponsored financially by Citizens for San Luis Valley Water, formed in 1989 to defeat a massive corporate-based water export scheme proposed by a firm known as American Water Development, Inc. (AWDI). The SLVEC is operated by an executive director and board with part-time staff, 100 volunteers, and over 400 contributing members. Federal grants, private foundations, donations, and fundraising campaigns provide financial support, and it maintains a close working relationship with other environmental organizations at local, state, regional, and national levels.
The complex and changing nature of the issues facing the SLVEC requires a principled and resourceful approach and a diverse set of skills. To address information needs, it collects baseline data for research, such as compilation of roadless data or field testing the water quality of household wells. Where evidence of public support is needed, it acts as a community organizer. Where harmful decisions or practices are detected, it recommends appropriate or corrective actions. And where further advocacy is needed, it submits comments on proposed legislation and policy to all levels of government. It also conducts public awareness campaigns, organizes events, and coordinates training and workshops to motivate greater support and commitment.
Often it falls upon the Ecosystem Council to take a proactive role in addressing environmental issues where other organizations hesitate to become involved, lines of responsibility are unclear, or there is a leadership gap. The SLVEC stepped in to challenge low-altitude flyovers when others feared to comment, and testified before Congress in support of the initially controversial Rio Grande Natural Area Act designating protection for 33 miles of the Rio Grande corridor. As a last resort, the SLVEC may also pursue legal action through its relationships to pro bono sources or join in other court proceedings.
Mountain landscapes which have not been compromised by recreational development are becoming rare in Colorado, and the Ecosystem Council and its allies are pledged to keep the remote mountain areas of the San Luis Valley intact. Most significant among these challenges is the Village at Wolf Creek project proposed by billionaire investors and enabled by land exchanges with the Forest Service. Located at the pass summit of 10,550 feet adjacent to the Wolf Creek Ski Area, the resort plans increased from a few hundred condo units to several thousand with capacity to support a population of 6,000-8,000. If allowed to develop at this scale, significant and irreversible environmental impacts would most likely occur.
Beyond the obvious visual disturbance of such a development, the pass location represents a strategic landmark on the Continental Divide which captures the greatest snow accumulations in the southern Rockies and protects some of the nation’s purest and most productive watersheds critical to agriculture, outdoor recreation, and ecosystems sustaining the forest itself. This location also comprises an essential wildlife corridor and provides forest connectivity between the South San Juan and Weminuche Wilderness areas for the endangered Canada Lynx.
After many years of delays due to forest regulations and reviews, development decisions rest on the outcome of a lawsuit by SLVEC and other environmental groups citing inadequacies and lack of oversight in the Forest Service review. Pending further actions, the SLVEC and its allies are conducting a public outreach campaign launched by its Art in Endangered Landscape initiative to gain broader support for a no-development option or drastically scaled-back version of the project. Appeals for an investor-sponsored conservation area are also being explored.
Oil and Gas Development
While past analysis of the valley’s geology has not indicated commercially viable oil and gas deposits, the Ecosystem Council monitors periodic exploration efforts to protect water resources. To prevent unregulated exploratory drilling on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge, courts upheld a legal challenge by SLVEC based on the failure of developers to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process. SLVEC settled another lawsuit regarding Exploratory drilling along San Francisco Creek near Del Norte against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that would have allowed drilling to move forward without consulting an independent study recommending cement casing throughout all water bearing formations to avoid contaminating aquifers used for community water supplies and agriculture. There is currently no oil and gas exploratory or development wells in the SLV.
Solar Energy Development
To reduce development based on hydrocarbons, the Ecosystem Council assists in the advancement of the valley’s solar energy production to ensure that operations are developed with minimal environmental impacts, and created a Sensitive Resources Map advocating for solar as the preferred direction for future energy development. The need to upgrade the valley’s transmission line infrastructure for large-scale export of solar-produced electricity to the nation’s grid presented a major concern addressed early on with a series of educational forums. Fortunately, it was determined that line upgrades over Poncha Pass could meet this demand without the expense and environmental impacts of cutting new corridors across undisturbed landscapes.
As part of their shared activities on the environment, the Ecosystem Council and Conejos Clean Water (CCW) are providing input to the BLM on setting site-sensitive parameters for 22,000 acres of land parcels designated by the BLM as Solar Energy Zones and recommending appropriate mitigation to compensate for loss of habitat such as wildlife corridors, and potential zone impacts on traditional land uses by nearby communities.
While the valley’s contributions to the nation’s renewable energy reserves are laudable, assistance from the SLVEC and its partners in developing solar applications on a smaller scale, such as CCW’s solar energy garden in Antonito, are of more practical value to local residents because they deliver energy on a locally distributed basis without dependence on the grid. To advance the benefits of small-scale projects, the SLVEC and CCW advocate for smart grid technologies and distributed energy concepts to share directly in valley-based energy production, and they plan to incorporate these methods in a separate study for guidance at the local level.
Recommendations for Sustainable Forest Management
With 1.8 million acres under its care, the Rio Grande National Forest (RGNF) represents the largest public land holding in the region, and the Ecosystem Council encourages the Forest Service to protect its core ecosystems and intrinsic natural qualities. The RGNF has remained in a relatively wild and semi-primitive state, but faces considerable challenges to handle the increasing influx of motorized and off-road enthusiasts. Recreational space for low-impact users who value the peace, quiet, and unspoiled beauty of a natural forest setting is becoming increasingly scarce.
In addition to human impacts, the forest has lost over 90 percent of its spruce-fir timber stands to drought, beetle infestations, and forest
fires. Other issues include overgrazing and destruction of riparian habitat, road and trail maintenance and decommissioning, loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitat, invasive species, erosion and stream sedimentation, landscape fragmentation, and the unpredictable consequences of climate change.
To assist the Forest Service in addressing these issues, the SLVEC participates in RGNF’s 20-year planning process and joined with the Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Quiet Use Coalition, and other members of the environmental community in submitting science-based observations and comments aimed at correcting past mistakes and promoting sustainable management alternatives. In response to the 2012 Planning Rule mandating higher priority for ecosystem integrity in forest management decisions, the SLVEC is describing the RGNF’s economic benefits to neighboring communities, and has also begun to quantity the basic ecosystem processes sustaining the health of the forest itself and the myriad of ecosystem services derived from them.
A Conservation Alternative Strategy is also being prepared to encourage higher levels of protection for portions of the forest with exceptional environmental value. This would include recommendations and campaigns for building public support to expand landscape connectivity, and to designate Lands with Wilderness Characteristics, Wildlife Protection Areas, Special Use Areas, and Research Natural Areas, many of which have not been adequately identified or researched.
Water and Air Quality Health Concerns and Project Work
The Ecosystem Council’s work on behalf of human health provides another dimension of its service. Its grants from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided free well testing for 800 households and enabled health assessments throughout the valley. EPA and National Jewish Health support enabled 2,500 families to be educated on the importance of maintaining indoor air quality and the need to reduce exposure to asthma triggers such as dust, mold, second-hand tobacco smoke, and smoke from wood-burning fires.
Solid Waste and Recycling
The eyesores and environmental health concerns posed by illegal dumpsites prompted the Ecosystem Council to conduct a program combining dump cleanups with Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants in partnership with Conejos Clean Water and EPA funds to focus on awareness, education, and the need for recycling. Communities in Conejos and Costilla counties located furthest from landfill were targeted first, resulting in over 30 sites being evaluated, and a portion of these cleaned up under staff guidance. Additional USDA grant assistance was awarded to expand the program services to Alamosa and Saguache counties.
Education and outreach efforts engaged hundreds of residents in the cleanups, including local officials and staff, commercial waste haulers, public school students and youth groups, and the general public. Several communities have also been empowered to conduct cleanups under local initiatives and
resources. Efforts to activate waste transfer stations and enlist the law enforcement community to control illegal dumping have generally been slower or more difficult to resolve.
Recycling on a consistent basis is generally limited to facilities in Alamosa which handle most recyclables except glass. The eventual establishment of a solid waste management and recycling regime serving the entire San Luis Valley is envisioned, but depends on a region of fewer than 50,000 residents being able to generate the volumes of recyclables needed to support a break-even or better operation.
The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council fills an important niche in the valley’s organizational fabric having the flexibility to address environmental and related issues which may seem controversial or outside the standard operating procedures of official agency mandates. By doing so, it can effectively confront threats to natural areas, ecosystems, and watersheds which other agencies may be slow to engage, expose water and air quality health hazards, and challenge developments which are politically expedient or inappropriately scaled. These efforts are also significant in benefiting the valley’s extensive agricultural and tourism economy, and protecting the vital interplay between the natural world and human well-being for current and future generations.
Various Local, Regional and National Non Profit Environmental and Conservation Organizations.
SLVEC working group members dealing with issues such as:
- Energy Development on Public Lands Surrounding the SLV
- The Village at Wolf Creek, Protection of Roadless Areas
- Travel Management Planning on Public Lands
- Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) - Environmental Health Risk Assessment within the SLV
- Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) - Public Outreach to inform about asthma and asthma triggers, radon gas, dust, smoke and preventaive measures
- San Francisco Creek Working Group- Local Residents Monitoring Oil and Gas Exploration in a Major Watershed of the San Juan Mountains
- San Luis Valley Solar Master Planning Process
- Alamosa Ranch/Healthy Living Park
• Brown Foundation
• El Pomar Foundation
• Fund for Wild Nature
• Maki Foundation
• New Land Foundation
• United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utility Service Solid Waste Management
• Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area
• Colorado Creative Industries
• New Venture Foundation
• Kenney Foundation
• The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
• Environmental Justice Program
• Many Individuals, Families, and Businesses
Thank you for making our work possible
Through education, stewardship practices, community investment and public policy advocacy efforts, SLVEC fosters understanding of complex ecosystems and the constructive interplay between human cultures and the natural world. SLVEC embraces and promotes the preservation of beauty, biodiversity and the health of the San Luis Valley and upper Rio Grande region.
Currently, SLVEC helps organize over 100 volunteers involved in different working groups. The mailing list consists of over 4,000 individuals and 500 members.
The mission of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC) is to protect and restore, through research, education, and advocacy, the biological diversity, ecosystems, and natural resources of the Upper Rio Grande bioregion, balancing ecological values with human needs.
Board of Directors
Photo coming soon.
Margy is a retired United Church Of Christ minister who served congregations in Indiana, Missouri and Wisconsin for 25 years. She came to the San Luis Valley in 2005 as a volunteer at La Puente working at the Shelter and the Adelante Family Services programs.
Margy has had a life long love of
"The care of our land, air and water are imperative so that they will nurture and be nurtured by this beautiful place."
My interest in the SLV began in 1962 when my husband was a cowboy on the Trinchera Ranch then owned by Albert J Simms. The love of the valley brought us back when my husband retired from a career of teaching. My interest in protecting the water, air and soil of the earth has always been a focus.
Presently I am Mayor Pro Tem of Saguache. I graduated with a Fine Arts degree after attending CSU, CU, and UNC. I am a weaver and was fortunate enough to work with Eppie Archuleta when she resided in Capulin.
Jose Villa retired from research with honey bees with the Agriculture Research Service (USDA) in Louisiana and moved to the San Luis Valley in 2016. His fascination with honey bees started as a teenager growing up in the Andes mountains of Colombia. This interest has taken him to schools in Ontario, Kansas and Louisiana, and research assignments in Venezuela, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico as well as many US states. Jose also has broader interests in ecology, botany, sustainable agriculture and conservation. He and his wife enjoy gardening, beekeeping, hiking and the unique beauty of the valley and surrounding mountains.
Board Member, Treasurer
Don and his partner Jan Oen retired to Alamosa in 2003 after 30 some years in Denver. Don was active in the environmental community in Colorado during his years in Denver working on clean air and water issues and wilderness designations. He served for six years as the environmental representative to the Denver Water Citizens Advisory Committte established when the Two Forks Dam projected was abandoned. Don has climbed the Fourteeners, hiked the Colorado Trail in his free time and was an Ultra Marathoner in his younger years. Don became a year-round bicycle commuter in Denver after renting a bicycle for a commute on the first Earth Day in 1970. He is currently treasurer for seven nonprofit organizations. Born and raised in Detroit, MI, he graduated from Miami University and moved to Denver in 1969.
Dr. Elizabeth Kinney
Beth Kinney is a family physician who has worked both in family practice and emergency medicine in the San Luis Valley for the last 21 years. She is an avid outdoor person enjoying both hiking and mountain biking. Beth is interested in increasing public awareness of the benefial activities that SLVEC offers to the San Luis Valley community and environment. She believes that encouraging and enabling citizen stewardship of our land and resources is crucially important to maintaining our environment and for curbing/preventing the devastating effects of man-made global warming. " While my trainig is in improving health on an individual basis, environmental and community health are vital to our future survival."
Dr. Joel Kaufman
Joel was raised and educated in New Jersey. He landed in the San Luis Valley 33 years ago and began practicing medicine. " I had an obligation to serve in a poor area with a shortage of physicians, due to my government sponsored medical education. The San Luis Valley was a great fit because I wanted to be far from a city, in the mountains near great snow (Wolf Creek) and close to my brother. Most amazingly, I found a practice in which I fit. This was Valley Wide Health Services (now Systems.)
I took a world tour from 1988-89, going to 4 European countries, 12 African and 6 Asian nations. All told, I have been to 35 countries, 47 states amd 7 canadian provinces."
Bachelor of Science, Ohio University, Writing and Production Planning
EPA Environmental Stewardship Award, 2008
Chris joined SLVEC in June 2000. She mobilized key local and regional constituencies to support legislation for the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act 0f 2000 and received congressional recognition for her efforts. In coordination with the EPA Region 8, she enjoined with SLV community leaders to prioritize environmental health protocols which have since engaged over 1,000 households in educational forums for protecting their in-door air and water quality through mitigation and regular household maintenance. Chris developed a solar/transmission working group in 2009 that had a tremendous impact on renewable energy awareness and continues in pursuit of strategy for distributed solar generation. She has participated with core teams to develop other SLV conservation organizations including: Citizens for San Luis Valley Water, which opposed a trans-basin water diversion; EPA TAG Summitville mine oversight and clean up; Rio Grande Headwaters Landtrust: Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area and is currently collaborating with Conejos Clean Water to structure a USDA RUS Solid Waste Management and EPA Recycling Plan for the SLV. Before moving to the SLV in 1988, she worked as an engineer with CNN Headlines in Atlanta, Georgia and NBC News in New York City.
Project Coordinator- Solid Waste Management Project
Bachelor of Science, Wildlife Biology, Colorado State University, Cum Laude, 2000
Kristina's love for nature was cultivated growing up in Anchorage, Alaska. In high school she volunteered for the Anchorage Audubon Society and the Biological Resources Division of USGS and was awarded the Wilcher Award for Environmental Activism in 1996. After graduating with a B.S. in Wildlife Biology from CSU, Kristina worked for the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies, then called the Colorado Bird Observatory, and then volunteered and worked for the Alamosa/Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges as a Biological Science Technician.
In 2015, Kristina was hired as the Project Coordinator of Solid Waste Management for SLVEC, where she has had the opportunity to pursue her second passion: Sustainability. She works to bring people together with a common goal of mitigating illegal dumping and encouraging recycling in the San Luis Valley. She recently conducted a successful community trash clean-up in Alamosa County that involved roping together local businesses, organizations and interested community members who donated time, effort, and supplies to the worthy cause.
When she isn't actively trying to save the environment, Kristina enjoys hiking, spending time with her daughter and animals, and reading fiction.
Developer -Solid Waste Management Project
Bachelor of Science, Sociology, University of Wisconsin
Job related courses at the Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, Brandeis, and Boston University
Coming from history and experience with federal economic and community programs, John came out of retirement to join the SLVEC team in 2014. He served as research director for the Resources Development Group where he authored an economic development plan for the SLV, maintained a demographic information service and conducted studies such as the economic impact on the community from the Adams Sate University upgrade.
Before coming to the Valley in the early 70's, John worked as a research analyst and planner for Wisconsin State Employment Service and Governor's Office.
An avid birder, John continues to travel extensively throughout the southwestern U.S. and South America.
He is also currently preparing comments to the Rio Grande National Forest for their 20- year management planning and assessment process in reference to the need for ecosystem priorities.
Other Organizational Support
Volunteer Office Manager, Programs
"Almost" a Colorado native, but of foreign parentage. Shepherding a small herd of dairy goats and sheep for 28 years, she's got a good handle on group dynamics. She worked as a Registered Nurse in many SLV health facilities.
Claire and her hubby run away to the hills as often as possible with their horses. Volunteerism has been an integral part of her contribution, working for La Leche, area schools, 4H, SLV community event planning, Back Country Horsemen, and now SLVEC. This speaks to Claire's concern over the legacies of the environment, health, energy, community/parenting and economy that will confromt future generations. Daily, she tries to cultivate gratitude and hope.