Editorial was biased

  Dear HCN,


I have long appreciated High Country News' in-depth treatment of natural resource issues. While I have not always agreed with your conclusions, I have usually believed that articles were thoroughly researched and conclusions were based upon objective analysis of the facts as they were known. One recent exception was the May 2 "Opinion" on the role of the U.S. Forest Service in the Chapman land exchange.


The opinion strongly criticizes a recently consummated land exchange between the Forest Service and Thomas Chapman, the former owner of private land which was being developed within the West Elk Wilderness on the Gunnison National Forest. That land exchange allowed the Forest Service to acquire an essential private inholding and protect the wilderness from further development. In return, the Forest Service conveyed approximately 107 acres of land in the vicinity of Telluride.


Steve Hinchman alleges the Forest Service was snookered and conveyed to Mr. Chapman property in excess of the value of the land we got from him and makes numerous unfounded allegations about the legality of the transaction and the motives of the persons involved. The article attempts to malign the motives and integrity of Mr. Chapman for developing the West Elk lands. We neither condemn nor support Mr. Chapman. We merely note for the record that he owned the West Elk land and had the right of a private landowner, by law, to the reasonable use and enjoyment of his land. Mr. Chapman exercised his rights by constructing a building on what was then his land within the West Elk Wilderness.


The article also alleges a disparity in the values of the properties being exchanged. This claim is simply erroneous. The law requires that the properties be of equal value. The Forest Service used several fully licensed and qualified professional land appraisers to assess the values, and they concluded that the equivalent valuation is correct. They also identified major flaws in the appraisal valuations submitted by opponents of this land exchange. Thus, there is no basis for the contention that the government is buying out Mr. Chapman at inflated prices.


The Forest Service has pursued the acquisition of the West Elk Wilderness properties for over a decade. The reason is simple. Under the Wilderness Act, publicly owned lands within wilderness areas must be managed to preserve their wilderness character without roads, structures or other evidence of man's activities. It is very difficult to accomplish those goals when privately owned lands within the wilderness are being developed. Congress did not grant the Forest Service authority to acquire wilderness inholdings without the consent of the owner. Lacking the funds to acquire title to these lands, we were left with no other option but to seek an equal value exchange of lands.





Elizabeth Estill


Lakewood, Colorado





Elizabeth Estill is the Rocky Mountain Regional Forester for the Forest Service.
High Country News Classifieds
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Native plant seeds for the Western US. Trees, shrubs, grasses, wildflowers and regional mixes. Call or email for free price list. 719-942-3935. [email protected] or visit...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking two full time community organizers to join our team. Positions can be based in Garfield County, Montrose...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Join our team as the Association's Executive Director. Working closely with the Board of Directors, take ANWS to the next level of professionalism by managing...
  • FRIENDS OF CEDAR MESA DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Friends of Cedar Mesa is hiring a Development Director who will have the overall responsibilities of leading our fundraising programs and reports directly to our...
  • WATER RIGHTS/ADJUDICATION BUREAU CHIEF
    Job Overview: Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that Montana's land and water resources provide benefits for present and future...
  • CLIMATE CHANGE COORDINATOR
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is seeking a Climate Change Coordinator to play a lead role in shaping our programs to make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Executive Director Position Announcement POSITION TITLE: Executive Director ORGANIZATION: Friends of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument REPORTING TO: Board of Directors EMPLOYMENT TYPE: Part-time - Full-time, based...
  • HEALTHY CITIES PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Healthy Cities Program Director leads and manages the Healthy Cities Program for the Arizona Chapter and is responsible for developing and implementing innovative, high...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Conservation Programs Manager Job Opening Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Associate Director Job Posting Our Mission: Honoring the past and safeguarding the future of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument through science,...
  • UNIQUE, ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME ON ACREAGE NEAR MOSCOW, IDAHO
    Custom-built energy-efficient 3000 sqft two-story 3BR home, 900 sqft 1 BR accessory cottage above 2-car garage and large shop. Large horse barn. $1,200,000. See online...
  • OUTDOOR ADVENTURE BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA) - established and profitable outdoor adventure & education business in Missoula, Montana. Summer camp, raft & climb guide, teen travel,...
  • OJO SARCO FARM/HOME
    A wonderful country setting for a farm/work 1350s.f. frame home plus 1000 studio/workshop. 5 acres w fruit trees, an irrigation well, pasture and a small...
  • STEWARDSHIP COORDINATOR
    Join Skagit Land Trust (the Trust), a not-for-profit conservation organization based in Mount Vernon, Washington, and help protect land for people and wildlife. Skagit Land...
  • 2022 SEASONAL SCIENCE EDUCATOR
    The Mount St. Helens Institute Science Educator supports our science education and rental programs including day and overnight programs for youth ages 6-18, their families...
  • POLICY DIRECTOR
    Heart of the Rockies Initiative is seeking a Policy Director to lead and define policy efforts to advance our mission to keep working lands and...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Self-Help Enterprises seeks an experienced and strategic CFO
  • CONSERVATION SPECIALIST - LAND PROTECTION FOCUS
    View full job description and how to apply at
  • RIVER EDUCATOR & GUIDE
    River Educator & Guide River Educator & Guide (Trip Leader) Non-exempt, Seasonal Position: Full-time OR part-time (early April through October; may be flexible with start/end...
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...