I wake up each day torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. It makes it hard to plan my day.

:: E. B. White

Spurious Claims to Wilderness Lands Defeated

“American Lake at Dawn” © David Hiser

Between 2001 and 2006, Public Counsel acted on behalf of the The Wilderness SocietyWilderness WatchAspen Wilderness Workshop and Aspen Valley Land Trust to help Pitkin County and the U.S. Forest Service block a “land grab” by those seeking to privatize and develop sixty-six national forest and wilderness inholdings. Spurious claims of ownership were made based on “wild deeds” to old (1890s) mining claims. The deeds were issued by a convicted swindler.

Development in these wilderness areas would have resulted in roads, houses, pets, and lights, destroyed critical wild lands, open space, and wildlife habitat, and threatened historic routes of public trail access (e.g., Conundrum Creek, American Lake, Independence, Lenado, etc.). In 2001, a massive litigation was filed in federal court in Denver threatening critical lands in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass, Hunter-Frying Pan, and Collegiate Peaks wilderness areas. On the same day, just as the statute of limitations was to expire, 53 spurious cases were filed asserting ownership of some 66 mining claim “inholdings” in these sensitive areas.

Almost immediately, Public Counsel engaged Denver environmental lawyer Lori Potter to represent The Wilderness Society, Wilderness Watch, Aspen Valley Land Trust and Aspen’s Wilderness Workshop as amicus (“friends of the court”). Through careful investigation, public records revealed that each of the claimants had purchased — typically for a little cash and with no title insurance — deeds issued by or through a convicted swindler. He had created “wild deeds” to these old mining claims by reincorporating new entities which used the identical name of long-abandoned and dissolved corporate owners of these lands in an earlier era — 50, 75 or even 100 years ago.

Lori Potter Bio

In May of 2004, Public Counsel helped Pitkin County secure favorable rulings from the Colorado Supreme Court in the pivotal Timroth tax deed case, which gave Colorado trial courts the right to admit extrinsic proof to explain a County’s untimely sale of property — decades earlier — for delinquent taxes or to explain the untimely issuance of the treasurer’s deed (i.e., no staffing during “The Quiet Years” in Aspen, etc). This ruling on procedure was important to the federal court’s analysis of pending cross motions for summary judgment.

In July of 2004, Public Counsel helped secure favorable rulings from the United States District Court in all eight “test” cases, dismissing on summary judgment the plaintiffs’ claims of ownership as groundless and awarding attorneys’ fees against all eight plaintiffs. The plaintiffs’ appeal was unsuccessful.

Public Counsel acknowledges that funding for this project has been generously provided by hundreds of Roaring Fork Valley citizens and contributors.

© David Hiser

© Burnie Arndt

© Gino Hollander