energy development

One of the greatest threats to the region environmentally, economically and in quality of life is unplanned energy development. Alternatively, responsible energy development can provide economic benefits while also protecting important community values such as water, wildlife, cultural areas, and irrigated agriculture.

The Alliance has been organizing community and private landowner efforts in response to oil and gas development interest in the region. We have also developed an interactive landowner-driven planning and mapping project for the region that identifies and ranks community values on the landscape. This below GIS-based map of community values can be integrated with other data layers such as wildlife habitat and local government land use plans to create a basis for landscape-scale planning of energy development.  Communities can then use this map to minimize potential energy development impacts to critical community resources such as municipal water supplies, high-value recreation, wildlife and agricultural production areas.

Proactive renewable energy development

A local solution to energy needs can come in the form of renewable biomass energy. The Alliance conducted a biomass utilization and bioenergy study funded by the USDA Rural Economic Development Program in New Mexico. That study was completed in June 2013 and has identified emerging and appropriately scaled technologies and business models to help restore forest health, create jobs and potentially furnish renewable sources of energy. Now that the study is complete, the Alliance hopes to take the work to the next step, working with economic development partners, forest managers and other stakeholders to attract or develop a biomass facility.


Current and Past projects

oil and gas

Alliance members understand that oil and gas development is important economically and to supply the nation’s energy needs. Some landowners welcome the financial benefits of development. Other landowners are deeply concerned about the risks development poses to other natural resources and quality of life in their community. Everyone agrees, however, that energy development should be handled thoughtfully to minimize risks, maximize benefits, and allow residents who are directly affected some input into the process. The Alliance therefore does not advocate for or against energy development but assists landowners and their communities in thoughtful planning and impact mitigation.

In recent years, the Alliance facilitated a collaborative response among landowners to a potentially major oil and gas development in the northern San Juan Basin. This area, including the Chama Basin and Navajo River Valley, has been the focus of leasing and exploratory drilling efforts in the Mancos shale and Niobrara formations. Should development prove productive, the development will have profound impacts on local communities, public and private lands, wildlife, water resources and air quality. Many landowners welcome the financial benefits such development may provide but are concerned about these impacts. A coordinated response to development will empower landowners and their communities to ensure that development is done responsibly, utilizing best management practices, and that measures are taken to protect the region’s wildlife and natural resources.

In early 2013, the Alliance witnessed the success of its efforts to build a strong private lands voice to ensure that oil and gas development is sensitive to the needs of private landowners and is conducted in an environmentally sensitive manner. We hope that our collaborative effort can serve as a model for other communities.

Read Conserving lands and prosperity: Seeking a proper balance between conservation and development in the Rocky Mountain West.

See our Resources page for more information for private landowners.

Surface and mineral ownership in the Alliance region, courtesy of the Western Regional Partnership.


COmmunity values mapping

Colorado and New Mexico are facing oil and gas leasing decisions that may affect landscapes and communities for decades to come.  Responsible energy development can bring positive economic benefits and provide American energy independence. Unplanned energy development, however, can inadvertently injure the region’s environment, economy, and quality of life. 

Back in July 2013, the Alliance formed a unique partnership with Archuleta County, CO, Rio Arriba County, NM, Future West, and Groundtruth Geographics to conduct a community-based mapping process to identify critical community resources such as municipal water supplies, high-value recreation, wildlife, and agricultural production areas that may be impacted by energy development.

The goal of the workshop was to create a transparent and interactive community-driven map that identifies and ranks community values on the landscape. This GIS-based map of community values can be integrated with other data layers such as wildlife habitat and local government land use plans to create a basis for landscape-scale planning. Communities can then use this map to minimize potential energy development impacts to critical community resources such as municipal water supplies, acequias, moradas, high-value recreation, hunting areas, and agricultural production areas.

Read the report here.

View a motion story of the community mapping process described above.


biomass utilization

Biomass utilization is the harvest and utilization of woody biomass, often the limbs, leaves, needles and other parts of trees left as by-products of forest management, for producing bioengery or other products such as lumber, composite materials, or ethanol. Forest management, whether commercial timber sales or thinning for ecological restoration, produces significant amounts of this woody material. If left on the ground this woody biomass can increase fire risk, reduce grazing availability, or impede recreation. Often, the material is instead piled and the piles are burned, usually when snow cover makes fire danger minimal. The time and effort to pile and burn forest by-product is costly, and sometimes cost prohibitive to private landowners. If a market for this material existed it could instead be removed from the land at a cost-neutral or cost-benefit to forestry management projects, and could be a source of renewable local energy production or support economic development in other industries.

In 2012, the Alliance and Western Environmental Law Center received $50,000 from the USDA Rural Business Enterprise grant to conduct a healthy forests and wood utilization feasibility study. The Chama Peak Land Alliance brought together all the relevant stakeholders in the region to develop a biomass utilization study funded by this grant. That study was completed in June 2013 and identified emerging and appropriately scaled technologies and business models to help restore forest health, create jobs and potentially furnish renewable sources of energy. Now that the study is complete, the Alliance hopes to take the work to the next step, working with economic development partners, forest managers and other stakeholders to attract or develop a biomass facility.

Study Findings

Findings from the study indicate the Chama region holds considerable potential for sustainable, commercial scale biomass utilization.  The development of a biomass plant in this region will help:

  • Protect vital watersheds by reducing forest fire risk
  • Reduce sediment loading after fire
  • Restore forest health by thinning overstocked stands
  • Create jobs & support state and local economies
  • Improve wildlife habitat
  • Sustain endangered silvery minnow and southwest willow flycatcher populations
  • Support public recreation
  • Produce sustainable, alternative forms of energy
  • Demonstrate effective partnership between the USFS and private landowners

Read the study here.

Today, the Chama Peak Land Alliance is working with the San Juan – Chama Watershed Partnership and the 2-3-2 Cohesive Strategy Partnership, two collaborative efforts bringing together public and private partners to address a multitude of management issues at different regional scales. A major focus of these groups is to support development of a regional biomass industry, as experience with this issue has shown that drawing on the people, industry, and land base of a wider area is a more feasible approach and will more likely sustain a profitable and viable biomass industry.

 A wood yard resulting from forest management.

A wood yard resulting from forest management.