The San Juan National Forest issued the Valle Seco Land Exchange Final Environmental Assessment; the Draft Decision Notice and the Finding of No Significant Impact, on September 24, 2021. The project involves the exchange of nine federal parcels of land on the San Juan National Forest (SJNF) totaling approximately 380 acres for one nonfederal parcel of land totaling 880 acres. Per the Draft Decision, Responsible Official, Forest Supervisor Kara Chadwick, intends to select Alternative 3 Modified for this project. The modification excludes Parcel 11 and proposes to limit motorized road use on Parcel A. The notice describing the proposed activities; maps, and other information, are available on the Valle Seco Project webpage. Click here for additional information regarding wildlife assessments on the proposed parcels.
On November 4, 2021 COWPL submitted an official objection to the Draft Decision, citing multiple concerns including loss of protected Colorado Roadless Areas and treasured recreation access. Read the full objection here.
Throughout the course of this land exchange, COWPL has submitted multiple requests through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain appraisals for the land proposed for conveyance under this exchange. The Initial statement of work for the appraisals (contracted by the private entities) can be found here. Due to continued lack of USFS transparency, COWPL filed a formal FOIA complaint seeking access to the appraisals in order to appropriately assess public interest, or lack thereof. As of December 22, 2021 we have received correspondence and records relating to the processing of COWPL's previous FOIA requests for the appraisals, as well as the appraisals themselves (see here and here), albeit still slightly redacted. Additional FOIA requests for redacted information achieved release of comments from a USFS Senior Review Appraiser, that influenced significant changes to the appraisals.
COWPL presented our case for objection to this exchange at a public hearing on Tuesday, December 14, 2021. We await response by January 21, 2022.
On January 19, 2022 COWPL submitted comments on the recently released appraisals, citing numerous concerns about the appraisal process.
COWPL has submitted comments on the BLM's Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Blue Valley Ranch Land Exchange by the deadline of August 2, 2021. The proposal would privatize the last remaining three public parcels to create almost 15 miles of privately owned Blue River-front, a gold medal trout stream. In exchange there are descriptions of a river park near Kremmling, a public access easement on the river, and a hiking access near Green Mountain Reservoir. 1,489 acres of BLM-managed land would be conveyed from Federal ownership to the Blue Valley Ranch in exchange for 1,832 acres of non-Federal lands.
On June 2018, COWPL submitted comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Later, we used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain the information we'd requested. In 2019, we received the information, including appraisals of valuations of federal and non-federal land proposed for exchange, and a refund for our attorney fees! We submitted further comments here.
On January 14, 2021 the BLM issued their decision to approve a land exchange with Buffalo Horn Properties, LLC to convey 14 parcels of Federal lands in Rio Blanco and Moffat Counties, aggregating 2,652 acres, and to acquire one parcel of non-Federal lands of 1,327.06 acres. COWPL previously submitted comments on the project’s Preliminary Environmental Assessment in 2018 and later on the land appraisals. COWPL filed a protest, prepared by attorneys, Hogan Lovells, on March 8, 2021.
The heart of this proposal is whether the BLM is gaining hunting grounds that are equal in quality to those they are trading away. This exchange would also reduce the grazing rights of several local family ranches. Read more and listen here.
The BLM completed the Sutey Ranch land exchange in 2017. Following that, COWPL submitted a lawsuit, prepared by COWPL's attorney. The Federal District Court Judge issued a decision in favor of the BLM in March 2021. See here. In April 2021, COWPL filed a Motion to Reconsider whether the BLM followed the rules and acted in the public interest when it approved the land exchange. See here.