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An inconvenient truth

Aspen, CO Colorado

We’re scratching our heads about the Aspen Skiing Co.’s environmental positions.

On the one hand, company officials have embraced what seems to be overwhelming science – recent controversy notwithstanding – about climate change and mankind’s role through the burning of fossil fuels. Skico has taken numerous steps to lower the amount of greenhouse gases it produces as part of its operations, and it has been straightforward about its failures.

Further, Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan has testified on Capitol Hill in support of tougher greenhouse-gas regulation. Auden Schendler, Skico director of sustainability, has become an eco-warrior who most recently verbally blasted U.S. Rep. John Salazar for joining a coal caucus.

In short, Skico has made climate change a top priority and adopted a noble, take-no-prisoners stance on the topic.

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On the other hand, the company seems less willing to embrace the available science when it comes to survival of the namesake animal species of the Elk Mountains. When it comes to dealing with the Avalanche Creek elk herd, which depends in part on habitat on Burnt Mountain, the Skico is willing to settle for mitigation steps that may or may not help the herd survive.

The herd declined from 7,500 animals in 1995 to 4,023 in 2008, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has estimated. That 46 percent loss should be cause for alarm, for the Skico and anyone else concerned about wildlife.

Wildlife officers say the decline is “probably” attributable to disappearing habitat. So we’re distressed to see the Skico moving ahead with a plan to turn the existing Elk Camp section of Snowmass Ski Area into a summer activity hub.

Two former DOW officers went on record five years ago saying the activity at Elk Camp will compromise Burnt Mountain as viable habitat. But current DOW officials must be more cooperative than the retirees. So the DOW is working with Skico on mitigation steps – such as avoiding activity on the upper mountain until after June 20, when elk calving is generally finished, keeping dogs on leashes and trying to steer summer guests away from Burnt Mountain.

But to people who care about the herd, these are half-measures.

The Skico doesn’t buy the idea that mitigation can solve global warming. It is pressing for legislation that forces reduction of greenhouse gases.

We don’t buy the idea that so-called mitigation is enough to preserve the elk herd that uses Burnt Mountain for spring calving and summer habitat. Skico’s summer activity focus should remain at Sam’s Knob, on the ski area’s western edge, rather than moving east to Elk Camp.


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