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Briefs from the San Luis Valley

Brief by Marcia Darnell

San Luis Valley – January 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

Kitty Comeback

The lynx will be reintroduced in Southwestern Colorado, with 40 of the cats scheduled to appear in the Western Valley in mid-December. The Colorado Wildlife Commission plans to release the animals in the San Juan National Forest.

The lynx will wear radio collars for two or three years, so wildlife officials can monitor their adaptation.

More Nature News

The Nature Conservancy has made a major acquisition in the San Luis Valley, the Zapata and Medano ranches, comprising about 100,000 acres. The land includes part of the Great Sand Dunes, a bison ranch and the Inn at the Zapata Ranch.

The purchase was heartily endorsed by the advisory committee of the SLV chapter of the Nature Conservancy. The diverse group advises the Conservancy on acquisition and management of its holdings, to help ensure that the unique economic and cultural needs of the Valley are met by the agency.

Desperado Flees

A convicted murderer escaped from the Rio Grande County Jail, making his way to Espanola, N.M., where he was nabbed while having a beer with friends. Damien Chavez, 21, received a 44-year sentence in November for killing Jimmy Quirova with a baseball bat. While awaiting his transfer to prison, Chavez dug his way out of his cell, tunneling through cinderblock with a piece of drain pipe.

Sheriff Desi Medina, who won reelection a couple of weeks before, was on vacation at the time of the escape.


Meanwhile, back in the office, Rio Grande County Undersheriff Brian Norton suspended (without pay) three deputies immediately after the election. The men say they were punished for not having campaigned for their boss. Norton and Sheriff Medina deny this.

One of the deputies was suspended after filing charges against a fourth deputy, who was driving with a suspended license. The deputy who was reported was promoted to Captain and assigned a desk job pending investigation of his alleged offense.

The sheriff and undersheriff say the reporting deputy was suspended for not following procedure in reporting the alleged violation.

Moo War

In another battle, rancher Kit Laney has asked the court to intervene in his dispute with the U.S. Forest Service over water rights. Laney’s ranch spreads into wilderness areas of the Gila National Forest. The Forest Service has denied his grazing rights, saying he didn’t apply for a permit. He says the ranch has been running cattle on that land for 115 years and that outranks government authority.

Common Enemy Unites

Valley potato growers banded together to fight late potato blight last summer, and are collaborating to sally forth into battle next season. The Colorado Potato Administrative Council is seeding a study on managing cull potatoes, those runty outcasts of farming. Cull potatoes have been a source of potato blight in the past. Proposed solutions include composting the culls or drying and freezing them in the field.

Wolf Creek Work

The Forest Service has given preliminary approval to Wolf Creek ski area for a 40-acre expansion. The new trails will be within the business’s current holdings. Unlike other ski resorts, which seem intent on making skiing as unathletic as possible, Wolf Creek plans to make some of the new trails accessible only to hikers. No luxury ski lifts right to the trailhead. Dave Pitcher, president of Wolf Creek Ski Corp., says that will preserve the √¶sthetics of the area.

CWC Zaps Taylor

The Taylor Ranch, known locally as La Sierra, is no longer part of the Ranching for Wildlife Program. The Colorado Wildlife Commission yanked the designation in November.

Among the program’s goals is protecting wildlife habitat. The state Division of Wildlife decided that the amount and type of logging that owner Zachary Taylor is doing is not compatible with protecting elk habitat.

This means the ranch loses hunting licenses that generate large dollars from people who want to bag trophy elk.