A handful of property owners northeast of Pagosa Springs who want more room to ranch and recreate are requesting a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service.
The proposal would give the Forest Service about 900 acres around Chromo, south of Pagosa Springs, for about 472 acres of national forest lands on the west side of Wolf Creek Pass.
The request was submitted by Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, the corporation behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, who owns Boot Jack Ranch; Linder Ranches; Will Beecherl; and David Skidmore and Cynthia Sites, a couple.
The Forest Service, at this stage, is only considering the proposal. Public comments may be submitted until Dec. 13.
In a prepared statement, the Forest Service said the land exchange would improve winter range for wildlife and provide a “crucial migration corridor” for elk and mule deer.
The Forest Service says there are only two areas that provide winter range for wildlife in the Pagosa Ranger District: the area in question, called “Valle Seco,” and lands around Chimney Rock National Monument to the west.
“This exchange is an opportunity to protect this critical habitat and prevent potential future development in the Valle Seco area, which would result in negative consequences to elk, mule deer and other wildlife that inhabit the adjacent National Forest System lands,” Forest Supervisor Kara Chadwick said in the statement.
The Forest Service said the land exchange would also secure legal access on Forest Road 653 (Valle Seco Road), providing seasonal motorized access to National Forest System lands south of the parcel.
Becca Smith with the Forest Service said the property owners who made the request did so to acquire land to expand ranching and recreational use.
“Most of them raise cattle and cut hay,” she said.
Of the 472 acres of national forest lands that could be exchanged, about 176 acres are within the designated Colorado Roadless Area and would need to be modified through a separate public process. The comment period for this process ends Feb. 11.
According to the Forest Service:
The proposal would allow the Forest Service to dispose of a 20-acre parcel that is completely surrounded by private land and has no legal public access, as well as dispose of seven special-use authorizations and one grazing permit.Approximately 26 acres within two suitable wild and scenic river corridors would be exchanged for a 20-acre parcel within one of the same corridors. The exchange would not affect the agency’s recommendation to Congress regarding eligibility for formal designation.
Warren bought the Boot Jack Ranch, about 14 miles northeast of Pagosa Springs, in 2010 for $46.5 million. The estate covers an estimated 3,100 acres, surrounded by the San Juan National Forest and the Weminuche Wilderness.
A general manager at Boot Jack Ranch did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment. Attempts to reach the other property owners were unsuccessful.