Thank You, Aspen Times! More on Burnt Mountain

A while back on this blog here, I wondered about Ark Initiative’s ongoing interest in Burnt Mountain (800 trees 6.5 acres, and mass extinctions).

Fortunately, a reporter for the Aspen Times had the time and the skills to investigate more.
Here’s a link and below is an excerpt.

“What exactly is the Ark Initiative, and why is it interested in Burnt Mountain? It’s largely a one-person operation run by environmental consultant Donald “D.J.” Duerr, who helped found the organization and serves as its president and director. Duerr is a veteran of the conservation movement who has a reputation of being very capable but also very difficult to work with. One source, who asked not to be quoted by name, said Duerr isn’t a team player and often thinks his approach is the only approach to an issue.

Duerr created the Ark Initiative in the late 1990s. The organization’s website,, says it is “dedicated to protecting life, including human life. Our highest priority is halting the global mass extinction.”

The website says the Ark Initiative works on a “wide variety of life preservation issues,” but none are cited. The organization’s finances are also closely guarded — more so than many other environmental nonprofits. Nonprofits are required by the Internal Revenue Service to fill out a Form 990 on their finances. The website Guide Star posts the forms, with the cooperation of the nonprofits, so it provides reporters, prospective donors and interested members of the public with a glimpse at an organization’s operations. The Ark Initiative’s financial forms aren’t available through Guide Star. Duerr didn’t respond to a request by The Aspen Times on Monday to provide Ark Initiative’s latest annual report, nor did he respond to repeated requests for an interview.

So far, it’s been impossible to tell from public records where the Ark Initiative’s money is coming from for the Burnt Mountain fight.

A limited amount of information is available about Ark Initiative at the Wyoming secretary of state’s website. In addition to listing Duerr as president and director, Leila Bruno, of Laramie, Wyo., is the treasurer and director. Sylvia Callaway, whose mailing address is in care of an Austin, Texas, residence, is listed as vice president and director.

The extent of the Ark Initiative’s environmental activism is difficult to gauge. Public records indicate Duerr submitted comments to the Forest Service to oppose two timber sales: one in Wyoming in 2009 and the other in South Dakota in 2010.”

Interesting. I had heard through the rumor mill that it was a neighbor who didn’t want more people skiing around.. it’s possible that “keeping out the riff-raff” will be hard to distinguish from legitimate environmental concerns. Again, thanks to the Aspen Times for investigating.

11 thoughts on “Thank You, Aspen Times! More on Burnt Mountain”

  1. Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees … but that’s a classic Forest Service problem; it’s the same story with the Breckenridge Peak 6 expansion, recently approved, despite clear acknowledgment that it will have an adverse effect on lynx by chopping up some fairly healthy spruce-fir that’s surrounded by dead lodgepole.

    So, the economic mess of the last few years has left local environmental movements seriously de-funded … larger regional and national groups are not likely to take on small local battles … what to do?

    As soon as someone takes on an environmental issue, there are attempts to discredit and radicalize them or cast doubt on their motives — Why?

    Now, to the point: Ski areas on the White River National Forest have an enormous footprint already. According to the EPA, no other activity has as much of an impact on alpine tundra areas for example. There’s a serious case to be made for capping the size of ski areas and trying to find a steady state equilibrium for the ski industry instead of the constant-growth model that has led to trouble in so many areas of the economy.

    I don’t know much about Burnt Mountain. From what I’ve read, it’s fairly innocuous, and Aspen Ski Co on the whole is a responsible corporate environmental citizen.

    But by focusing on the microscopic specifics of who is challenging an expansion, we lose sight of the larger question – that is, what should be the limits of ski area growth, how do we ensure a sustainable future for the ski industry and balance it with protection of natural resources?

    The Burnt Mountain deal seems to be a good microcosm for examining some of those questions, but instead, we’re getting hung up on extraneous details, IMO.

  2. Bob, thank you so much for sharing these excellent points, as I’m personally finding the nit-picking, conspiracy-theory-esq nature of some of these posts regarding Forest Service projects that get litigated to be as counter-productive, as they are perhaps telling.

    • Matthew, I’m glad you brought up the nit-picking idea. Because it feels like some of the lawsuits are indeed about nit-picking details of projects.

      So this raises the question of what is “nit-picking” defined to be?

      In my past work life, I spent much quality time with Sloan and Rocky, often not agreeing with them, but if they think it’s the project’s not a big deal, and someone who doesn’t have local street cred (or what would be the equivalent for natural resources? watershed-cred?) suddenly spends a great deal of time and effort on something, it makes me curious. Apparently it made the Aspen Times reporter curious as well, so he must be an ally in my nit-picking and conspiracy theories?

        • Yes, precisely, so that when someone else (me or the Aspen Times) raises an issue, and you say that our issue is “nit-picking” I would want to think about a definition that could equally be used for all concerns, including court cases.

  3. Bob, I remember my old boss asking very similar broader questions.. what have we done to the area, and to highway 70 and so on? To me, those are legitimate questions and maybe the FS did it in the White River plan with discussion with local governments, the state, etc.

    I don’t think that this project is a microcosm at all.. I think the questions you ask are naturally for a broader scale, even for Peak 6, but not for 800 trees.

    As Sloan correctly points out, the issue has been stated to be about roadlessness, but it would be OK to take those trees out, even if the area were in 2001 roadless, so .. whassup with that?

    It feels like someone wants this not to happen, but because they have money to hire lawyers, they can postpone the project indefinitely. And use up my tax dollars over something that appears to have already been decided in court.

    Since I don’t really understand skiing, I wanted to take a look at the purpose and need but I couldn’t find the project easily online. Maybe someone can help?

    I did find this describing one person’s view of the P&N and also this lawsuit, but I’d rather read the real Purpose and Need.:

    After the Forest Service prevailed in a lawsuit in 2010, it was able to grant the resort the approvals it needed to remove trees and widen a road on Burnt Mountain. The wider trail will be able to be groomed, which will make it easier for skiers (and sled-hauling medics) to return to the Long Shot run. Pretty straightforward. A ski resort – with all the necessary approvals in place! – wants to widen a trail to make it easier for rescue personal to bring injured skiers down the mountain.

    However, nothing is ever quite as simple as it seems when environmental groups and ski resorts square off. According to the article, a plaintiff from the prior lawsuit (The Ark Initiative) sued the US Forest Service once more in April alleging the Forest Service violated the Freedom of Information Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. The Forest Service has said it intends to comply with the group’s request. In the meantime, no tree-cutting permits have been issued so the trail widening is essentially on hold.

    This marks the second time in a week that Ski, Esq. has run a story about a group which has lost a lawsuit and re-filed a slightly different lawsuit for a second bite at the apple. Everyone is entitled to their day in court, just not two.

  4. Any non-profit that has annual revenue less than $25K is not required to file, in that year, with the IRS, and that’s why limited info on it is available on Guidestar; the group is not “hiding” it’s income which the article is likely falsely alluding too, it prolly has very little in the first place. However, when you have limited resources you can’t do as much as you like, and a low revenue group is likely given the only records found by the reporter were the two instances of public comments and the two litigations.
    I have an issue with the group being characterized as “illegitimate”. Please explain to me the rationale behind characterizing any group in this fashion. Perhaps you mean that you disagree with it’s goals or methods? Or perhaps their is merely misunderstanding on my part.
    A future environmental attorney

    • Craig- welcome to the blog and thanks for the helpful information on non-profits. I know I am technology-impaired but I couldn’t actually find the word “illegitimate” on this page. Please help me discover where and who called this group “illegitimate”?

  5. “… it’s possible that ‘keeping out the riff-raff’ will be hard to distinguish from legitimate environmental concerns.”
    I think I interpreted that statement incorrectly due to the context of the negative view promulgated by the reporter regarding The Ark Initiative (and incorrectly attributed it to Sharon), so please disregard.
    I am not terribly impressed by the reporting. A lack of information is not evidence “for” a negative slant.

  6. With my extensive experience of being a ski bum, during my life, there is a point of view that rejects any form of “improvements” to a local’s favorite powder stash. They want it to be hard to get to, and in a selfish way, want more untracked powder for themselves. I’ve seen where all sorts of good skiers come out of the blue to eat up as much powder as possible. If anti-improvement of your ski area is your goal, of course you are going to use NEPA against the Forest Service, to further your cause. It seems that a compromise should be worked out.


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