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Colorado Wild stays environmentally alert

Alex Miller
Special to the DailyColorado Wild's Jeff Berman
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DURANGO – One thing Colorado Wild’s Jeff Berman wants people to know is that he’s not just out to pick a fight.For about eight years, Berman has served as the executive director of the nonprofit organization he helped found, the main mission of which is to keep an eye on state industries that affect public land and natural resources. In many cases, that means taking on the timber and ski industries on their home turf in high-stakes battles where the West’s big three – money, land and water – are on the line.Now that Berman is on his way out as executive director of Colorado Wild, he’s starting to look back on the group’s record as well as its ongoing legacy.”It’s a big challenge to confront the misperceptions put out by some in the timber or ski industry, or even in the federal government,” Berman said, speaking from his office in Durango. “We don’t sue over every fuels project or appeal over every timber sale. It’s a misperception that we’re naysayers all the time.”That image of Colorado Wild may also be fueled by the fact that its name often appears in news reports and in public-comment documents on some of the more controversial projects being undertaken on public land in the state. But with a limited staff and a modest budget, Colorado Wild can only do so much, even as Berman said he and other staff members try to review everything they can.”There are hundreds of projects that we reviewed but simply didn’t comment on, and only a handful we opposed,” he said.

David vs. GoliathBerman, who said he plans to remain close to Colorado Wild in an advisory capacity, said he’s leaving to pursue his own business developing and promoting renewable energy. His main focus is in the area of biodiesel – a clean-burning, renewable fuel for diesel engines derived from natural oils like soybean oil.”Ironically, I’ll be working with some former adversaries like Wolf Creek and Durango ski areas,” Berman said. “I’m just ready to move onto other efforts.”Jeff Parsons, an attorney who serves as Colorado Wild’s board president, said Berman will be missed.”Those are big shoes to fill,” Parsons said. “I’m continually impressed with the volume of projects Jeff and Rocky Smith are able to work on as effectively as they do. I think it speaks to Jeff and Rocky’s dedication to Colorado and their ability.”Rocky Smith is another Colorado Wild staff member.Berman and Parsons both acknowledge the “David and Goliath” aspect to their work, with ski and timber companies able to wield a lot more financial and public relations clout than the small nonprofit. But Parsons said the power of the arguments they choose often makes up for the disparity.

“Jeff and Colorado Wild focus on the heart of the matter when these issues come up, and if you have the right message and the right argument, you don’t need million-dollar PR firms,” he said. One of the group’s biggest fights – and one Berman said he’ll stay involved in – concerns the Wolf Creek Ski Area and plans to build a new village nearby. “It’s being pushed with extremely heavy hands by Texas billionaire Red McCombs,” Berman said, adding that it’s the kind of case where Colorado Wild is playing defense. “You’ve got this billionaire Texas businessman who’s a major political contributor seemingly dictating what decisions the federal government makes.”Other projects Berman said bear continuing scrutiny include the development the Ginn Company is planning near Minturn, with concerns over wildlife habitat between the Holy Cross and Eagles Nest wilderness areas.Over in Summit County, Berman said Colorado Wild is continuing to monitor such issues as the proposed Jones Gulch expansion at Keystone Resort and the Peak 8 expansion at Breckenridge Resort.”That proposal was withdrawn, then approved,” he said of Peak 8. “That debate is likely to continue.”Supporters and critics

Jeffery Bergeron, a Breckenridge Town Councilman who was also opposed to the Peak 8 expansion, said he supports Colorado Wild as the rare group that’s not out for economic gain.”We need an organization like them whose main focus is to protect what was here to begin with,” Bergeron said. “It seems like every time I read about something that doesn’t seem right, I’ll look further and see that it’s being looked at by Colorado Wild.”One group that’s often on the other side of the argument with Colorado Wild is the National Ski Areas Association. Geraldine Link, the ski-industry trade group’s public policy director, takes issue with the “Ski Area Report Card” – an offshoot of Colorado Wild.”It’s an unsophisticated tool,” Link said, saying that the report card focuses mostly on bad grades for ski area expansions with not enough credit for more positive things, like energy efficiency. She added that Colorado Wild appears unreceptive to criticism.”We’ve given them some feedback on the scorecard that I think has been ignored,” Link said. “We’ve let them know that, and every year we look at it, it’s the same. A no-growth initiative just isn’t something we’re interested in.”But Link said Berman is on the right track with biodiesel.”We’ve had a lot of success with it in the ski industry, even thought it’s challenging,” she said. “It’s been a good thing, for resorts from California to New Hampshire.”As he turns his focus to his new business, Berman said he’ll remain on-call for Colorado Wild, which he said needs to remain ever-vigilant.

“I think it’s a pretty common feeling that this is an extremely business-friendly administration,” he said. “I’m in business and want a business-friendly environment, but not at the expense of the public interest or sustainable community or the land.”Given a choice, Berman said, he’d rather see Colorado Wild playing less defense and focusing more on promoting solutions.”We could do that if we weren’t trying to keep the federal government and sometimes the ski industry from doing bad things that harm the land, harms water quality, harms people,” he said. “It’s more important than ever for non-governmental organizations to play a role in keeping that separation between government and corporations – keeping them honest.”Assistant Managing Editor Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 615, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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