Ski area bill sets summer activities
JACKSON, Wyo. – A federal bill that would regulate summer activities at ski resorts on U.S. Forest Service land could pass during the lame duck session of Congress this year, resort officials and regional conservationists said.The Senate Energy Committee this past week released a list of permitted and forbidden activities included in the Ski Area Recreational Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2009. The bill is out of committee, and the House of Representatives passed a similar measure last year.The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo. Wyoming Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, both Republicans, are co-sponsors.Activities that would be allowed under the bill include zip lines, mountain bike trails, parks, hiking trails, Frisbee golf courses and rope courses. Forbidden activities include tennis courts, swimming pools, golf courses, amusement parks, water slides and water parks.The bill was proposed by the National Ski Area Association to provide consistency across Forest Service lands, said Jerry Blann, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort president. Blann sits on the association’s public lands committee.”I think it’s a reasonable accommodation,” Blann said. “We spent some time with the Forest Service on the national level. The industry is generally happy with the outcome of the House bill and as amended in the Senate committee, and so am I.”Ski areas on U.S. Forest Service lands have previously been underutilized in the summer, Blann said. Having a consistent list of permitted activities for all ski areas is an important step toward letting the public enjoy resorts when there isn’t snow on the runs, he said.The best chance for the bill to pass this year is if Congress decides to create an omnibus lands bill, Blann said.Colorado Wild executive director Ryan Bidwell agreed, saying that an omnibus bill is “probably the only realistic scenario that the bill would pass in this session.”While earlier versions of the bill weren’t specific enough, Bidwell said the latest version is better.”Originally, the bill did not include enough clarity about what kinds of facilities could be constructed on Forest Service land,” he said. “That has been addressed in the most recent version on the bill.”The bill should include activities that “depend on a natural resources setting” so “we’re not turning National Forest land into urban amusement parks,” Bidwell said.Not all conservationists were supportive of the bill. Identifying permitted uses at ski resorts is best left to the forest planning process done at the regional level, said Louise Lasley, public lands director for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.During a forest planning process, factors such as public participation and addressing the needs of individual forests could be taken into consideration, she said.”It seems like overkill,” Lasley said of the bill. “A federal law to prohibit or allow specific activities on leased ski areas on the forest seems Draconian, no matter what the outcome is.”
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