Group appeals feds’ approval of Burnt Mountain expansion
A coalition of backcountry skiers and environmentalists refuses to surrender Burnt Mountain without a fight. This week the coalition appealed a U.S. Forest Service decision that allows the Aspen Skiing Co. to expand east of the Long Shot trail on Burnt Mountain. White River National Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson approved the Skico project as an amendment to the ski area’s master plan in February.The Skico wants to thin trees on about 500 acres of Burnt Mountain and add roughly 200 acres of skiable terrain that would provide a “semi-backcountry experience.” It might pursue the project this summer and might some day add a chairlift to serve the terrain.Donald Duerr, director of the Wyoming-based Ark Initiative, prepared the appeal. A 217-page document lays out the arguments, which often go into excruciating detail. One other environmental organization, eight individuals from the Roaring Fork Valley and two people from Florida are also appellants.They want the regional forester’s office to overturn Gustafson’s decision and turn down the expansion. They contend the approved project will ruin the character of a roadless area and have a detrimental effect on endangered and threatened species such as lynx.All top Forest Service officials in the Roaring Fork Valley were attending a “leadership team” meeting Wednesday in Redstone and couldn’t be reached for comment. Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle said no one in the company had received the appeal yet, so he couldn’t comment.The appellants charged the Forest Service with favoring recreation over resource protection.”The Snowmass Ski Area is contributing to the impairment of ecosystems needed by at least five imperiled species, and the supervisor’s decision effectively elevates providing more nonessential recreational ski trails – on a forest already fragmented by hundreds of miles of developed ski trails – over the need to halt and reverse these species’ trend toward extinction,” the appeal said.The second prime environmental issue the appeal raises is the ski expansion plan’s threat to national forest land with roadless characteristics. Although the Forest Service’s inventoried roadless area left out parts of Burnt Mountain, Duerr said the entire mountain between Long Shot and Buttermilk’s trails should have earned the roadless designation.He claimed in the appeal that cutting more ski trails and expanding operations to the east will harm the chances of designating that area as wilderness, which provides special protections.Gustafson’s record of decision on the Skico project contends the expansion has no effect on roadless lands.The appeal also cited alleged violations by the Forest Service in the review and notification process.Scott Schlesinger, a part-time Snowmass Village resident who helped lead the appeal, said he cannot comprehend the Skico’s motives for expanding into the gentle terrain of Burnt Mountain. Skiers and riders who seek a tranquil experience outside the ski area flock to the area because it doesn’t pose the risks of many backcountry areas.”What Burnt Mountain is right now is the last little piece of heaven,” Schlesinger said. “They ought to leave it alone.”He challenged the company’s assertion that it is a green leader in the ski industry. “What could be more green than marketing [Burnt Mountain] for what it is?” he said. “Why cut it up?”Schlesinger maintained more people would oppose the plan if they were more aware of it. He partially blamed the Forest Service for failing to engage the public in its review.Forest Service officials previously contended the issue hasn’t struck a chord with locals because of the Skico’s refinements to the plan over the past two decades. It is no longer placing the top of the new Base Village gondola on Burnt Mountain. In addition, it eliminated the easternmost chairlift proposed on Burnt Mountain.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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