Skico will protect elk
We, like everyone, are concerned by recent news stories surrounding the current review of the Snowmass Ski Area Master Plan and plans for the Elk Camp area. We are in the process of updating our National Environmental Policy Act documents for the ski area and are working with the U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) to ensure that future improvements will be fully compliant with the 1994 Forest Service Record of Decision and wildlife management and protection guidelines.We at Aspen Skiing Co. have no intention to conduct any activities which will lead to the demise of the Burnt Mountain elk herd. We will work closely with DOW. If we collectively agree that elements of the summer plan will be detrimental to the health of the habitat or herd population, then plan elements will be amended or deleted from the proposal. The comment letters from former DOW employees come as a surprise due to the fact that the current plan reflects a dramatic scaling back from what was approved by the Forest Service and DOW in 1994. As evidence of our focus on protection of wildlife values for Burnt Mountain, the reading public should be aware of the following:1. The Elk Camp gondola was approved to go to the top of Burnt Mountain. It is now planned to stop at the base of Elk Camp. This represents a significant cut back in trail clearing and a reduction in potential human intrusion into the area.2. The Burnt Mountain plan was amended in 1998 to eliminate a costly and environmentally disruptive traverse that was planned to go from Café Suzanne to the Burnt Mountain chairlift. This was supported by all reviewing environmental agencies in the valley.3. The chairlift which was planned for East Burnt Mountain has been voluntarily withdrawn by Skico. The potential for this lift was eliminated when we amended our ski area permit boundary as part of the White River National Forest management plan.4. To our knowledge, we are the only ski area operators in North America to have proactively supported the reclassification of lands from alpine skiing to wildlife management. We supported, in writing, the reclassification of the alpine skiing areas in the Owl Creek Valley and the summit of Aspen Mountain and the Little Annie Basin. This resulted in the removal of more than 3,000 acres that one day could have been developed for commercial alpine skiing.5. We have supported operating regulations which prohibit summer operations at Elk Camp and Burnt Mountain before June 20 of the year to eliminate disturbance of elk during the calving season.6. With the town of Snowmass Village, we are embarking on a resource-based recreation plan for Elk Camp that will focus on outdoor activities which will heighten public awareness of the environment. 7. We have reserved $250,000 to support wildlife management improvements for Burnt Mountain. Some of these monies have been used to implement signs on Owl Creek Road discouraging vehicular travel during critical migration seasons. These funds will also be used to monitor the health of the herd.Despite the development of the Long Shot trail and initial glading on Burnt Mountain, it is our understanding that the elk population in this area is growing, not declining as suggested. We understand that winter range is now the critical constraint for the growth of this herd and not limitations on summer range.We have the utmost respect for the Division of Wildlife and Forest Service and their management obligations for our ski area permit, and we appreciate their vigilance in protecting critical environmental resources. We will work with DOW representatives to make sure concerns are addressed in the plan.Bill Kane is the vice president of planning at the Aspen Skiing Co. He oversees planning issues for the entire company, from lift planning to real estate development to ski area master planning.
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