Forest Service eyes Breckenridge terrain closure
Summit County correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
BRECKENRIDGE – The Forest Service is considering a terrain closure around the in-bounds area known as the Windows, on the flank of Peak 9 in the heart of the Breckenridge Ski Area.
A patch of dense forest in the area could be important for wildlife, especially threatened lynx. The Forest Service wants to study the best ways to manage human use and natural resources in the area.
The Forest Service took a similar step last season by blocking off a section of forested terrain below the T-bar on Peak 8.
“We’re testing, if you will, the things we’ll have to do in the future with revegetating lodgepole pines and maintaining habitat connectivity,” said Lucy Kay, vice president and chief operating officer of Breckenridge Ski Area.
“The Windows block has been identified as quality lynx habitat,” said Roger Poirer, winter sports program administrator for the White River National Forest. The tests at Breckenridge are part of a wider effort across the White River National Forest, with similar measures under consideration at neighboring resorts, Poirer said, explaining why the agency has proposed the fencing at the east end of the Windows block.
Rangers and resort officials have said the closures are related to the pine-beetle epidemic and the need to protect areas with young trees in the future. At the same time, the Forest Service is looking at ways to preserve landscape connections for wildlife.
Poirer said the Forest Service hasn’t yet determined exactly how the closure would be implemented and whether it would affect access to side country and backcountry areas, including an access point where skiers and riders can legally pass through the ski-area boundary.
Because the installation would involve some ground disturbance, the agency may initiate a public environmental review with an opportunity for public comment, Poirer said.
“If we get some valuable information from this project and we can use it in other areas, that’s a good thing,” he added.
At the same time, the Forest Service is working with the Colorado Division of Wildlife to collar and track lynx on the White River National Forest. The project hasn’t been finalized yet, but Poirer said there could be some funding forthcoming. The idea is to figure out how the rare, threatened cats use the larger habitat blocks in Summit and Eagle counties, he said.
Breckenridge resident and town councilmember Jeffrey Bergeron questioned the plan to close terrain within the ski-area boundary while Breckenridge is looking to add new terrain on Peak 6 at the same time.
“It seems like they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. They’re looking for more terrain and now they’re closing terrain,” Bergeron said. “At first blush it seems a bit contrived … to set the stage for an expansion on Peak 6.”
“This is not connected to the Peak 6 expansion,” Poirer said, explaining again that the Windows proposal is part of a forest-wide effort to balance natural resource protection with recreation.
Other local backcountry skiers expressed concern that the proposed measures could affect access.
“Personally, I would hate to see backcountry users lose access from that gate for some of the ambitious tours (in that area),” said Mona Merrill, with the Backcountry Snowsports Alliance.
“It seems like a completely different study to close the terrain to core backcountry skiers as opposed to (studying) ski-resort traffic and impacts. I hope our mountains can still remain open to people willing to earn their turn,” Merrill said.
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