A feather in Skico’s cap?
Dear Editor:As an avid skier and having been schooled in wildlife biology, I feel compelled to comment on the issue of Burnt Mountain, the U.S. Forest Service and the Aspen Skiing Co. It is fairly safe to say that the common ground of this use issue is that Burnt Mountain, while not a large area, is fairly rare in the upper valley. Sitting quietly in the background between two ski areas, it is home to many native wildlife species, not the least of which is a local elk herd. For most of us humans, this has offered an easily accessed, relatively safe backcountry experience that has been balanced with the maintenance of habitat for the furry and feathered residents. I will not criticize the decision by the USFS to allow further development in the area, as folks like Maribeth Gustafson and Jim Stark have a tough job managing a high-demand resource in a complex, highly charged social and economic setting. Imagine the issues of an area that physically spans the Continental Divide from Summit to Garfield County, and economically ranges from Aspen to just about any of the small towns in west central Colorado. I will, however, state that I disagree with the decision based on what I have learned and read about human use and its impacts on habitat and native wildlife species. Numerous studies have been done to assess the effects of human travel, both ambulatory and motorized, on a variety of species. (Google Scholar will give you more references to read than hours in the day.) So as not to get mired in the complex nature of any healthy ecosystem, suffice it to say that any further development in the area will adversely impact both the habitat and its residents.Access this link: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/whiteriver/projects/snowmass/ to read the details of the USFS findings. There you can read statements such as ” … the viability of these elk could be jeopardized under all alternatives … ” and “The following mitigation measures should be viewed as opportunities to lessen impacts, not as a panacea to development.”The fact that further development will have negative impacts is agreed. The question remains, to what end? Why bother?Which leads us to the Aspen Skiing Co. Amidst the latest statements and moves (purchasing wind power) to be seen as an environmental leader in the ski industry and beyond, why not add the Burnt Mountain feather to its hat by just saying “no.” Imagine the PR coup: “Yes, the USFS gave us permission for run cutting and a chairlift, but unlike Vail etc., we have chosen to leave the area as a unique wildlife and backcountry setting.” I hope I speak for those that are concerned for our local environment, and for the skiers and boarders that find a little bliss on Burnt Mountain in its current state, when I say leave it alone and let the animals share our little slice of heaven. Matt BergdahlAspen
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