Sliver of land halts Burnt Mountain plan
A sliver of roadless national forest that overlaps Snowmass Ski Area sunk the Aspen Skiing Co.’s plan to expand skiing on Burnt Mountain this year, according to a review of U.S. Forest Service documents by The Aspen Times.The U.S. Forest Service’s regional office in Denver determined this week that the Skico couldn’t move ahead with its Burnt Mountain expansion plan as proposed without a federal study on the effects on roadless areas.The Skico applied to thin trees on Burnt Mountain and create new routes east of the existing Long Shot trail. It also planned to expand a narrow path through the woods into a wider traverse to get skiers and riders back to the part of Snowmass served by chairlifts.A 1,300-foot-long section of that traverse proved to be the Skico’s Achilles’ heel. That stretch goes through a sliver of the 1,710-acre Burnt Mountain Roadless Area. Lands in the Forest Service’s official inventory of roadless forest are eligible for special protection and management.White River National Forest Supervisor Maribeth Gustafson ruled earlier this year the Skico’s plan wouldn’t change the character of the roadless area because it required “minimal tree removal.”A Wyoming-based environmental group that’s heading a coalition of Aspen-area backcountry skiers and nature lovers appealed the decision.”Hundreds of trees need to be cut down to create the egress trail,” The Ark Initiative said in its appeal. “This would not constitute ‘minimal tree removal.'”Ark Initiative Executive Director Donald Duerr argued that Gustafson and her staff can’t simply contend that a project will have minimal effect on roadless areas. They are required by law to do a thorough review. That was lacking, he said.Duerr’s appeal claimed the Skico’s proposed work would have dire consequences on the roadless area. He criticized the trail work as well as the traverse because he said it could affect adjacent roadless lands even if it didn’t penetrate them.”The [Forest Service review] refers to this ski trail construction by the euphemism ‘glading’ but the runs would be the functional equivalent of permanent strip clearcuts,” The Ark Initiative contended. The combined work on the traverse and trails could “fragment” or isolate 500 acres of roadless area, the group contended.Greg Griffith, a deputy regional forester, ruled in favor of The Ark Initiative on some of the roadless issues it raised. He said the traverse and trail work “may not be implemented” unless there is further study on their effects on roadless areas.White River National Forest planner Dan Hormaechea said the Skico has a couple of options to consider. One is assessing if it could expand skiing on Burnt Mountain in the coming winter without widening the traverse or glading trails. Skiing isn’t prohibited in roadless areas, he noted. The regional office’s decision prohibits only work on trails and the traverse. The other option is to ask the White River National Forest to review the effects on roadless areas, Hormaechea said. That would likely postpone expansion onto Burnt Mountain for at least a season.Skico officials were still assessing the decision and didn’t have any comment Thursday, spokesman Jeff Hanle said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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