Good evening.  As some may know, October will be my last month as the Executive Director of RWEACT. I have accepted a permanent-full-time position with the National Wild Turkey Federation as the Southwest Conservation Field Supervisor.  In my new role with the NWTF, I will lead wild turkey and wildlife habitat conservation efforts, along with a professional staff of biologists, in the states of CO, NM, TX, OK, AZ, CA, NV and UT.  My start date with NWTF is October 19th.  I have been provided some latitude through the end of October for transition from RWEACT and DiNatale Water Consultants.  As always, the strength of RWEACT has been generated within our publics, organizations, agencies and individuals that have all embraced a common goal to “protect the public, critical infrastructure and the environment” since the West Fork Complex Fire.  As such, the timing is right and I feel that it is important to 1) bring you all up to date with where RWEACT (WIn) is and; 2) reassure all of our partners that RWEACT, as it evolves into RWEACT-WIn, has been and is in a transition phase and that the leadership of RWEACT has begun a strategic conversation of organizational transition and associated priorities.
A Summary of RWEACT to Date.  For the past 9 months or so, RWEACT’s objective has been two-fold:  1) to keep Public Safety and Environmental Monitoring out in front as our primary focus.  And 2), since July 2013, we have stood out in front of the public at numerous meetings and talked about what we have collectively achieved as well as “what we hope to accomplish”.  In the past year, we have taken a much less vocal and “spot-lit” approach and have done business in a more prioritized, defensible and long-term visionary manner.  Public safety has remained the top priority for RWEACT.  As such, 2015 completes a 3rd monsoonal season, Doppler Radar/rain-stream gauge/National Weather Service/VHF communications/3-County Emergency Management effort successfully.  We have likewise completed another field season of Water Quality Monitoring efforts along the main stem of the RG and some tributaries.  Along with these original, mission -critical examples of RWEACT, we have also completed a full Economic Recovery Strategic Planning effort which has now transcended into a high speed implementation phase that will sunset in December of this year with DOLA and Governor’s Executive Order 17 grant monies.  These collective functions have been the “primary duty” of RWEACT since our inception in July 2013. Of course our previous “accomplishment reports”, which are found online at, provide a long list of additional projects.   We have responded and “reacted” in a nimble, responsible and accountable manner that has undeniably left the Rio Grande Basin much better prepared for the next inevitable disaster.  It was very clear from the beginning that the West Fork Complex Fire event was different in many ways from the front-range wildfires.  While RWEACT could look for some examples from those events, it was very important that RWEACT approach our work in a fashion more tailored to a massive, intense wildfire that burned in one of the most remote, pristine watersheds of Colorado at the headwaters of one of the most iconic Rivers in the nation.  With very little actual, immediate or direct human life impact likely to occur from the fire (short-term) as was experienced at Waldo Canyon, and now with nearly one-half of the 1.8 million acres of the RGNF either black or brown (from burn or beetles), our plan of action and path forward (long-term) had/has to be different.  It was more surgical and programmatic in nature in a way that manages RWEACT more like a sustainable business rather than a one-time grant opportunity.  With the emergency, passion, smoke, flames and multiple-level meetings gone at this point, the public has likely wondered what RWEACT is doing now. While our approach has been much less advertised, what we have been doing is significant.  More so for the future than for the now.
As such, RWEACT has been in the process of authoring a new chapter in our story.  We are now defined by the development of RWEACT-WIn (Watershed Initiative) and our expanded mission “to promote partnerships and actions that provide for public safety and resiliency of communities and watersheds of the Rio Grande Basin in Colorado”.  This effort to deepen and redefine our partnership with the Rio Grande National Forest started with yet another “idea” from RGNF Forest Supervisor, Dan Dallas (aka, “idea man”) regarding a Stewardship Agreement and conceptual partnership that would positon RWEACT-WIn to assist the FS in immediate need, active forest management and stewardship activities that would minimize, mitigate or avoid watershed impacts caused or yet-to-be caused by the West Fork Complex Fire or the impending devastation of spruce beetles.  RWEACT then, very wisely, brought on Jim Webb and Forest Stewardship Concepts resulting in the Biomass Feasibility and Access studies that have become the foundation and factual launch pad for our new watershed/forest stewardship initiative.  The other “FAQ” that was missing from the puzzle has now resulted in a nearly finished Spruce Deterioration Study that will tell us more definitively about the sustainability of the forest resource as RWEACT-WIn will now begin to build new relationships and start conversations with the timber industry on behalf of watershed health.  Additionally, RWEACT (WIn) has been provided a seat at the table by the RGNF to help in the long-range forest planning effort.  RWEACT-WIn will have an active role in the Forest Plan Revision which will chart the path forward for healthy forest management actions that will further sustain and ensure that the enabling language which established the RGNF is upheld.  An historical note; it was on July 1, 1908, that President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law and created the RGNF purposefully and in part to provide for a steady supply of timber for local markets and to maintain watershed health.   RWEACT-WIn as an emerging, “Not for Profit” entity, with its new mission, sphere of influence, Board of Directors and Advisory Council will have an opportunity to advocate with and for the RGNF in altering the landscape as it looks and functions today as well as into the future. RWEACT-WIn has continued to expand our relationship and influence with Congressman Tipton, Senator Bennet and Senator Gardner regarding national policy on the Healthy Forest Management Act, Resilient Forest Management Act and the Prepare Act to help ensure that the Forest Service and RWEACT-WIn-like organizations have all possible tools within their reach and that the Forest Service is not “fire borrowed” out of effectiveness. RWEACT has been used as the “model for public collaboration” in the Arkansas Basin, Gunnison Basin and the San Juan Basin.  RWEACT was invited to the San Juan Basin by Senator Ellen Roberts to help start a collaborative, public conversation in the wake of the Gold King Mine disaster on the Animas River.  We have likewise been acknowledged and held up not only by the Colorado Water Conservation Board, but by the Legislative, Water Resources Review Committee as well as by members of the Colorado General Assembly, the Executive Director of DNR, the Rocky Mountain Regional Forester, the Governor’s Office and Washington DC.  Amazingly, all of the above has been accomplished along with over 200 other projects and process that have occurred and over 70 partners to date.  All this while very frugally and strategically managing our public-provided state funding resulting in a YTD unallocated  balance of nearly $1 million dollars (of the original $2.5 mil) in Executive Order 22 and the majority of our allocated budget in Executive order 17 and DOLA funding.  Executive Order 22 expires in July 2018 (pending an extension) and Executive Order 17 (already extended) and DOLA grant will be completed by December 2015.
Without doubt, ALL of what RWEACT (WIn) has accomplished was because of a “willingness of people”.  Nothing more or less.  Everyone that has been to a meeting, read our articles, dropped their jurisdictional boundaries, been an active partner, served in a committee leader role, served on a higher Board, brought the funding, provided the authority or, and not to mention, served as our Fiscal Agent, is responsible for our collective success.  I want to emphasize again the significance of Hinsdale County and Rio Grande County serving as RWEACT’s fiscal agents and the state providing the funding that goes way above and beyond what it takes to succeed.   And folks, we have succeeded… thus far.  Now on to the next steps.
Path Forward
RWEACT-WIn is in a transition and developmental mode.  My move from RWEACT (WIn) was inevitable.  I have known for some time that when the new entity was in place, my role would need to change drastically and transition as well. The role of an Executive Director for an established, Non-Profit should look and function differently than it has during the emergency and entity-creation phase has. I firmly believe that this begins with a RWEACT-Win, Executive Director that lives, works, plays and experiences the RG Basin along with the public whose buy-in and trust is critical for the mission to succeed. The future of RWEACT-WIn depends on this.  And 2, an ED who has the new mission of the “Watershed Initiative” out in front of all they do. My move from RWEACT and the opportunity that came about for me with the NWTF has been evolving and could not have come at a more appropriate time.  Change is always painful to some degree.  For me, the pain that I feel with change is always for the people I have come to know and the relationships we have developed. Not as much from the work, a nice logo or a great acronym.
After a couple of months, just last week, RWEACT’s CPA firm of Wall, Smith and Bateman, with our assistance, completed and filed the “Form 1023” which is the Non-Profit, 501-c-3 filing document with the IRS.  The clock has started ticking so to speak, for the IRS time and process that it will take for the application to be approved and for RWEACT to become a Non-Profit.  So mark your calendars for possibly 6 months (around April).  In the meantime, the immediate leadership of RWEACT (WIn) plans to meet in a couple of weeks to set transition priorities to keep the wheels on our current bus while continuing to keep steady pressure on the steering wheel as we move forward in our new one.  There will be more to follow in the weeks to come.
As the present and almost past, Executive Director of RWEACT (WIn), I say from deep within, THANK YOU!! to the people (whatever your role) in all Counties within the Rio Grande Basin for your unfailing personal and public willingness to come together as one community interested in the public good regardless of individual agendas or jurisdictions.  In my several decades working in the public sector environment, the Rio Grande Basin does this better than any other I have known! It is for that single reason that I have full faith and confidence that RWEACT will smoothly transition to RWEACT-WIn and will succeed with the same public willingness and vision as RWEACT has.
Tom Spezze
Executive Director, RWEACT (WIn)