Forest Service OKs ski-area tree removal at Aspen, Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Forest Service OKs ski-area tree removal at Aspen, Snowmass

ASPEN – A plan to clear dead and dying trees from as many as 4,200 acres at Aspen Skiing Co.’s four ski areas has been approved by White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.

Fitzwilliams issued a finding of no significant impact on Friday. His office notified interested parties by letter this week.

Aspen Skiing Co.’s Forest Health Project is needed because of mountain pine beetle and spruce beetle infestations, mistletoe disease and the ravages of past droughts, Fitzwilliams wrote in his decision. Clearing the dead and dying trees will maintain a healthy ecosystem, he said.

“There is also a need for retaining forest cover sufficient to maintain a positive guest experience at each ski area,” Fitzwilliams wrote in the decision. “Forest health is the driving factor, thus setting priorities for treatment.”

The partial clearing of trees will take place on 2,625 acres at Snowmass, 845 acres at Aspen Highlands, 352 acres at Buttermilk and 143 acres at Aspen Mountain. That doesn’t mean all the trees will be cut off that amount of acreage, the decision said. Instead, treatment could occur on portions of that acreage.

All of the work will be performed within the special-use-permit boundaries for each ski area. That includes land outside what is actively used for in-bounds skiing. Fitzwilliams said he directed Skico not to undertake any tree clearing in the Burnt Mountain inventoried roadless area on the east side of Snowmass or in the McFarlane inventoried roadless area east of Aspen Mountain.

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The work will be performed over the next 10 years. No new roads can be created for the work. Where existing roads can be used, the Forest Service approved mechanical felling of trees using heavy equipment. No mechanical felling of trees will be allowed on slopes greater than 40 percent. On the steeper slopes, Skico can use methods such as hand felling, helicopter use, burning on-site and over-the-snow skidding.

Fitzwilliams’ finding of no significant impact meant that no environmental impact statement was required on the project. An environmental assessment was performed at Skico’s expense.

scondon@aspentimes.com