Forest plan has economic impacts
Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of articles reporting county officials’ thoughts on the proposed changes to the White River National Forest Plan.
An analysis of the economic impacts underlying the new management plan proposed for the White River National Forest has turned up only minor problems, according to Gabe Preston, a Pitkin County planner.
Preston gives forest planners credit for doing a pretty good job of analyzing the economic impacts of Alternative D, but did say there might be some mistaken assumptions among the numbers. Alternative D is the draft master plan alternative preferred by Forest Service officials and created to guide the White River National Forest for perhaps the next 15 years.
Preston noted that in the entire region encompassing the White River National Forest, nearly 32,000 jobs are dependent upon the skiing industry. Skiing is responsible for bringing far more money into the local economy than other forest uses such as mining or timber cutting.
“We all know that the extractive industries don’t weigh in as well as skiing,” Preston said. With expansion room remaining in existing permit areas, and a ski industry growth curve that’s flattening out, White River National Forest planners elected to freeze further permit area expansion for skiing in the preferred Alternative D.
Partly as a result of the restriction on ski expansion, Alternative D comes in with among the lowest income projections of all the alternatives presented in the environmental impact statement for the forest plan revision. Preston said he believes Forest Service officials arrived at this point intentionally, recognizing that the resort region is growing faster than its capacity to accommodate people. “They know everybody’s tapped out as far as housing goes,” he said.
Preston said while he is impressed with what the Forest Service has achieved with computer models, there are some flaws in the basic assumptions used. He said forest planners used $184 as the average amount spent per day by skiers, but didn’t assume an annual increase in that amount.
But the per-day skier expenditure figure should be much greater, he said, because economy lodging alone can range up to $250 per night, added to lift tickets at $60 per day and meals, equipment and shopping.
And Preston said he doesn’t think the forest plan’s economic analysis goes far enough. “I think they ought to at least try to look at how on-mountain development relates to real-estate development,” Preston said. “I think that by generating more base area that’s accessible, they’re facilitating the demand,” he said.
He said there’s a direct relationship between the price of real estate in the base village at Aspen Highlands and new amenities on the slope there. “Nobody would throw down $1.3 million for a townhouse at Aspen Highlands if there weren’t new high-speed quads,” he said.
Preston also quibbles with the forest plan’s assumption on how much summer employment use of the forest creates. He said planning is based on the assumption that non-skiing recreation creates 1,448 jobs throughout the entire region.
Figures from the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Preston said, indicate that 20 percent of Aspen’s summer visitors come solely for outdoor recreation. And with 10,700 visitors on a peak weekend day, 20 percent would mean more than 2,000 outdoor recreationists in Aspen alone, at one time.
“If you look at it regionwide, you’re going to top that 1,448 job level real quick,” Preston said.
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