San Juan National Forest publishes advice on land swap proposal in Valle Seco – The Journal

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The San Juan National Forest is planning a land swap with a private landowner to preserve the 800 acre Valle Seco parcel, which is in critical large game habitat. (Courtesy of the San Juan National Forest)

Watchdog argues that the forest is out of time, limiting the time for review and discussion

A watchdog group has urged the San Juan National Forest to postpone its decision on a controversial $ 3 million land swap with a billionaire landowner on the grounds that the Forest Service’s delayed release of land appraisals was short of time for left a public review and discussion.

Colorado Wild Public Lands requested the advice on the Valle Seco land exchange on September 15, 2020 as part of a Freedom of Information Act request, but the information was not provided. The reports were completed in August 2020.

The nonprofit sued the U.S. Forest Service in October 2021 over the records, and on December 22, 2021, while the lawsuit was pending, the Forest Service released the assessment documents, more than a year after the FOIA request. The land swap is located in the Pagosa Springs area in Archuleta County.

With a final decision on the proposed swap scheduled for Jan. 21, opponents including the CWPL and the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance have requested that the Forest Service’s decision be postponed and an additional public comment period to allow time to review Have more than 1,000 pages of evaluation documents and provide an opinion.

“We received a huge dump of documents and we need time to analyze it,” said Anne Rickenbaugh of the CWPL. “You really got us hooked and the clock ran out.”

According to the land swap, the forest service plans to transfer nine parcels of federal land with a total area of ​​380 hectares into private ownership.

In return, the Forest Service would receive the nearby 800 acre private property owned by Valle Seco owned by billionaire Kelcy Warren, which would become public land. Warren proposed the land swap.

Forest management policy requires land trade to be the same within a 25% margin.

According to published estimates, the nine federal parcels totaling 380 acres are valued at $ 3,086 million and the 880-acre Valle Seco private parcel is valued at $ 3,080 million. The evaluations were conducted by William B. Love Appraisals Inc. of Cortez.

According to the Archuleta County’s Assessor’s Office, Warren bought the 800-acre Valle Seco property for $ 4 million in 2014.

The Valle Seco Land Exchange is proposing to swap 380 hectares of San Juan National Forest land (plots 1-9) for the 800 hectare Valle Seco Private Inholding (plot A), which is located in a critical habitat for deer and elk. (Courtesy of the San Juan National Forest)

The San Juan Forest has given preliminary approval to the land swap, and a final decision is slated for Jan. 21. They say the trade is fair value and the acquisition of the Valle Seco property will protect large game habitats and benefit the public and prevent development.

“It’s an important migratory corridor and we don’t want it to be developed,” said Kara Chadwick, San Juan’s National Forest Supervisor.

If the land swap isn’t approved, Warren has indicated that he plans to fence in the Valle Seco property, build an elk farm, build a hunting lodge and, according to environmental reports, apply for year-round motorized access to the forest service.

Colorado Wild Public Land and San Juan Citizens Alliance are rejecting the swap. They argue that abandoning the public parcels is not in the public interest because it eliminates designated roadless areas that buffer the nearby South San Juan Wilderness Area; removes public land for recreational purposes, including along the San Juan River; and that private ownership transfer could fuel environmentally harmful development.

In a request for additional comment and a delay in decision-making, CWPL and the San Juan Citizen’s Alliance allege that the Forest Service’s publication of ratings has been unnecessarily delayed since September 2020, limiting the time for public review and comment.

“We would like to obtain our own expert opinion on the evaluation documents,” says the request. “With people out of the office over the holidays, it was difficult to contact experts and those we contacted are limited by the very short timeframe.”

Rickenbaugh said Friday the group was wading through the assessments, having questions about private developments, comparable land values, and zoning rules in Archuleta County where they are located.

As part of the land swap, Warren’s Boot Jack Ranch would receive three state parcels totaling 192 acres. David K. Skidmore and Cynthia A. Sites would receive three lots for a total of 133 acres and David C. Lindner would get three lots for a total of 58 acres.

To view the Valle Seco land exchange documents and advice, visit coloradowildpubliclands.org. Documents are also available on the San Juan National Forest Project website at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=57154.

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