New ski runs would hurt wilderness | AspenTimes.com

New ski runs would hurt wilderness

Dear Editor:

Contrary to the U.S. Forest Service’s claim in the July 20 story published in The Aspen Times – “Colorado Roadless Rule helps Aspen Skiing Co. on Burnt Mountain” – the roadless issue on Burnt Mountain has not been eliminated.

For years, the agency has been trying to hide the fact that the part of the national forest where the new ski runs would be cut is roadless.

In 2002, the Forest Service drew the boundary of the inventoried Burnt Mountain Roadless Area to exclude this parcel even though it is just as roadless as the rest of the mountain – and is in the same wild and natural condition as the immediately adjacent Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness.

When the Forest Service authorized this project in 2006, it again failed to inform the public this area is roadless. And it failed to explain that if the ski runs were cut, the area would no longer be eligible for roadless protection or wilderness designation.

The agency apparently assumed that if people didn’t know the truth, they wouldn’t speak out against the ski runs. It was a gift to Skico – a giveaway of wilderness-quality lands – that violated federal law. The new Colorado “roadless” rule tries to cement this illicit back-room deal.

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We asked for documents and maps that would prove the area is roadless, but the Forest Service withheld them. We had to file a lawsuit to get copies of those public records, and the documents the Forest Service did finally release under court order last week do not show the area is anything but entirely roadless.

On June 20, we respectfully invited Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams to visit the site with us and explain why his office disqualified these lands from roadless status. He didn’t even give us the courtesy of a reply.

So on July 16 we filed a formal petition with the Forest Service chief. We presented new evidence showing this area is roadless and asked him to correct the unlawful mistakes. The chief has not responded, either.

If another lawsuit is filed over this project, the agency will only have itself to blame for trying to dupe the public and skirt the law.

In the article, a Skico official suggested the only opposition to this project is from a few local skiers who want to keep Burnt Mountain undeveloped for selfish reasons. Untrue. Beyond the fact that the article itself recognizes the area is already “hugely popular” with many skiers, no one from our organization has ever gone skiing or snowboarding there, and we probably never will. Yet we have been trying to save this place for many years without receiving any pay (our organization is an all-volunteer 501[c][3] charity).

The reason is simple: This place contains important wildlife habitats, and this is partly because it’s still in a natural condition. For instance, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that carving out the new ski runs would cause a “significant” loss of lynx habitat.

In addition, the traverse ski run alone would be about 30 to 50 feet wide and 2,700 feet long. It would be equivalent to a clear-cut road bulldozed for the better part of a mile right across the face of the mountain. It is ludicrous for the Forest Service and Skico to claim this wouldn’t change the roadless character. If the ski runs are cut, the remaining undeveloped lands on the mountain would be effectively disqualified from future wilderness designation due to the proximity of these ski runs and the irregular shape of the remaining roadless patch.

Skico likes to portray itself as a green company. However, its aggressive push to cut up this roadless forest and lynx habitat right next to the wilderness area proves otherwise.

As for the safety issue alleged in the article, ski patrollers have been going in and out of Burnt Mountain for years, occasionally to retrieve an injured skier. They are skilled and capable individuals and don’t need a 30-foot-wide snow highway to do their job. “Safety” is just an excuse Skico is using to create “more of the same” ski terrain so it can try to rake in more money by developing these public lands.

If you want to find out what is really going on with Burnt Mountain, email the Forest Service at bkight@fs.fed.us and ask for electronic copies of our June 20 letter to Fitzwilliams and our petition filed with the chief.

Sylvia Callaway

The Ark Initiative

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