TELLURIDE – At its annual meeting last week members of local conservation organization Sheep Mountain Alliance elected three new directors to the group’s board and voted to update its mission.
Original SMA member and former boardmember Linda Miller, whom SMA Executive Director Hilary White described as, “One of the strongest long-term environmentalists in the region,” returned to the board, joined there by new directors Sam Moore and Stephen McComb.
Moore was not present at the meeting, but White described him as a longstanding member of the community and “a soft-spoken environmentalist” who is “passionate about keeping this place a special place.”
“We welcome his input and ability to outreach to a diverse group of folks in the region who support our mission,” she said.
McComb, who is a newer face in the community, introduced himself to the group by declaring that, “Telluride is the most incredible place I’ve ever been in my life.”
“I don’t know a lot about this stuff, but when I’m passionate about something I’m pretty tenacious.” he said.
“If everybody here is OK with that I’d like to be member of the board.”
The three replace Chris Maughan and David Kuntz who did not seek reappointment to their expired seats, and filled a third, vacant seat.
Incumbents Erik Dalton and Michael Zivian, whose terms expired with Maughan and Kuntz’s, were voted back to the board, and directors Beverly Winterscheid and Christine McGinley were not up for re-election.
While SMA once included renewable energy initiatives among its goals, its members approved a move away from that direction in order to avoid duplicating the efforts of local sustainability organization The New Community Coalition.
Instead, SMA will continue to focus its efforts on land conservation, habitat protection and environmental awareness.
White gave an overview of a number of conservation initiatives the group has undertaken in the past year.
Among them include SMA’s continued work on the San Juan Mountains Wilderness Bill that would preserve some 61,000 acres in San Miguel, Ouray and San Juan counties as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
The bill is scheduled to go before the House Committee on Natural Resources in January.
“Hopefully it will be signed in this [111th] Congress,” White said.
SMA has been vocal in its opposition to a cluster development on 540 acres on Turkey Creek Mesa near Alta Lakes that received preliminary approval from the San Miguel County Commissioners in March.
It also successfully challenged a decision made by the San Juan Public Lands Center in Dolores in January that approved plans by the Denison Mines Corporation to expand its uranium and vanadium mining operations at the Topaz Mine southwest of Naturita.
After reviewing the decision at the request of the SMA and other conservation organizations, the Bureau of Land Management Colorado State Office remanded it back to the regional division, stating that it lacked data on the environmental impact of the expansion.
“We’re excited about the direction the BLM has taken,” White said.
Provided that the new board of directors agrees with the direction set forth by its predecessors, the SMA will continue to pursue legal action against the Department of Energy for its decision to reauthorize uranium mining leases in the region, and will continue to advocate for protection of the Gunnison Sage-grouse under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“If we don’t do something we’re probably going to see the last of it shortly,” White said of the bird.
Oil and gas leasing issues are also on the SMA radar, and White said she hopes to launch more proactive educational campaigns.
Among all of its upcoming work, however, White identified the Piñon Ridge uranium mill that has been proposed for construction in Paradox Valley as SMA’s top issue for the year.
In early November SMA filed a lawsuit against the Montrose County Commissioners for their unanimous approval of a special use permit allowing the construction and operation of the nation’s first uranium mill in nearly 30 years on 880 acres at the far west end of that county that is zoned for agricultural use.
The suit also named that Montrose County Planning and Development Director Steve White for decisions he made regarding the permit application filed by Energy Fuels Resources Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Toronto-based Energy Fuels Inc., in July 2008
While at the county level SMA ran a quiet campaign against the mill, now that Energy Fuels has taken the next step toward making the proposal a reality by filing for radioactive materials license with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the campaign will necessarily grow louder.
“It’s going to be one of the more significant campaigns that Sheep Mountain has ever launched,” according to White.
To that end SMA will be co-hosting a symposium with the Paradox Valley Sustainability Association entitled Holding Uranium Up to the Light at 5.30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 11 at the Sheridan Opera House with the intent to educate the community about uranium development in the region, and how people can get involved in the SMA campaign.
“The Valley Floor was a very focused, local campaign, this is a much broader, regional campaign,” she said.