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US Forest Service rejects Bitterroot Resort proposal

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
US Forest Service announced yesterday that it would not approve Tom Maclay's proposal for a 4-season mega-resort in Lolo, Montana.

From our local paper, The Missoulian:

Bitterroot, Lolo national forests reject ski area

By SHERRY DEVLIN and COLIN McDONALD of the Missoulian

Bitterroot Valley rancher Tom Maclay cannot build a downhill ski area on Lolo Peak under existing forest management plans, supervisors of the Lolo and Bitterroot national forests said Wednesday. And at least 900 acres on the mountain - the Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area - is permanently off-limits to development, said Lolo National Forest supervisor Debbie Austin. Maclay has two choices, Austin and Bitterroot forest supervisor Dave Bull said: He can either come back with a proposal that is compatible with the management plans, or he can get involved in the ongoing revision of those plans.

Of course, Austin said, there is no guarantee the revised plans will allow development of Maclay's proposed 13,000-acre downhill and nordic ski resort.
Maclay was not available for comment Wednesday, but a spokesman for his Bitterroot Resort said the development is far from dead. "We disagree with their response, but the important thing is where we go from here," said spokesman David Blair. "We will continue to work with the Forest Service, and keep working with the Missoula and Bitterroot communities for this development."

A lifelong Bitterrooter, Maclay wants to build a four-season destination ski resort reaching up from his 2,900-acre ranch below Carlton Ridge to the south summit of Lolo Peak. His ranch land would accommodate the planned golf course, hotels, condominiums, conference center and shopping plaza. The national forest land above - 8,554 acres on the Lolo forest, 2,383 acres on the Bitterroot - would provide most of the downhill and cross-country ski runs.

Austin and Bull got their first good look at the proposal in early February, when Maclay delivered maps showing roads, ski lifts and runs. They looked first, Austin said, at whether a ski area would be compatible with the land-management direction set out in the Lolo and Bitterroot forest plans. It was not. "On the Lolo National Forest, the area is mostly designated for semi-primitive and non-motorized uses, where developed recreation is not appropriate," Austin said.

The Bitterroot forest's plan carries similar direction for the management of Lolo Peak and its environs. The area is also within two inventoried roadless areas. But forest plans can change, and both forests are in the midst of revising their plans. However, none of the discussion to date has looked at changing Lolo Peak's mostly primitive status.

"Where I am personally," Austin said, "is we've gone through a series of meetings about our forest plan revision and this was not a topic of discussion. "And I would like to have that as a public discussion before we come out and say, 'This is what we want to do.' We haven't had a chance to talk with the public."

Even if Maclay abandoned his Bitterroot Resort proposal, the public needs to talk about the future of Lolo Peak, Austin said. "This has been talked about for years at Lolo Peak by a number of different people, and we need to determine what we feel that land is suitable for over the next 15 years," she said. However, the Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area is off the table, Austin said. "Those 900 acres are off-limits, and that is not going to change," the supervisor said. "Research natural areas are established in perpetuity." The only way a research natural area can be revoked, she added, is "if some catastrophic event renders it unapplicable to the research it was established for." Carlton Ridge is home to a unique larch habitat, according to Austin, and is the site of several ongoing research projects.

Blair, however, said he believes the Bitterroot Resort "can work around or through" the larch forest. "I'm just saying it's not an open-and-shut case," he said. "The larger question is: Do the communities want to pursue this economic and recreation opportunity? And if so, can people work together to solve the environmental and other issues associated with a ski area in a way where everyone feels there is a good outcome?"

Bull, however, said the Bitterroot Resort did not pass the Forest Service's initial screening criteria, so will not move on to the next step in the process - preparation of a full-blown environmental impact statement. Said Austin, "It's a very deliberate, step-by-step process that we go through before we decide whether we would even accept a special use permit application for a development of this sort."

"This is not something we take lightly," she said. "We are very careful. This proposal would involve a very large commitment of national forest." Missoula District Ranger Maggie Pittman said forest managers could not determine whether Maclay's plans for nordic skiing would be appropriate because his proposal focused so heavily on the downhill area. The cross-country skiing apparently would make use of lower-elevation forest roads, nearly 40 miles of which would be groomed.

Pittman said she invited Maclay to present a more detailed description of the nordic uses. Bull explained that before any development could occur on public land, Maclay would need a special use permit. The first steps in that process involve two levels of screening to evaluate whether:

* The proposal is consistent with laws and regulations.
* The project would create a serious risk to public health or safety.
* It is consistent with, or can be made consistent with, forest plan standards and guidelines.
* Is in the public interest.
* The use of national forest system land is necessary.

If the proposal failed to meet any of the screening criteria, it would be returned to the developer - who could choose to modify the proposal and resubmit it for further consideration. "It's a back-and-forth process," Austin said, "and it could go on for quite some time."
LINK FOR ATTRIBUTION -- http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2...top/news01.txt
post #2 of 8

There's enough resorts out there. Leave some of the back country alone.

On that note, I hope MHM never builds on Mt. Adams or Cooper Spur for that matter.
post #3 of 8

Thanks for the post! The Bitterroot area is beautiful. Some places just demand that you earn your turns. I hope the resort proposal stays off the table.
post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 
because Maclay is stubborn and victimized (he knows most of his neighbors dislike him, more of them preferred his father, a man who appears to have realized the inherent value of undeveloped land), he will likely cause a "forest fire" in the Larch stand in the Carlton Creek drainage, thereby obviating one of the biggest hurdles to his resort's approval.

manmade forest fires are routine around here, where a lot of people DO NOT WORK in the summer if there are no fires to fight. am I accusing Maclay of future arson? not really. am I discussing a high likelihood given his acts to date regarding his land versus what is USFS land? yes. yes indeed. he has been doing LOTS of unapproved logging up there.

you folks should know that I ride my MTB on the Carlton Ridge trail at least 4-5 times per MTB season, and that this trail runs right through and alongside (depends on what part) the protected Larch stand that the USFS wants to protect. riding this trail enables one to see what Maclay is doing on his adjacent land. it's the easiest way to keep tabs on his larger scaled acts toward creating his "resort" dream. and he does an AWFUL lot that most people who don't use that area realize. but then, if you don't use the area, maybe your say isn't as valuable? I think that is Maclay's (and his well-paid spokespeople's) angle. he's counting on successfully building the groundwork over time, cutting timber on his own land and affecting USFS lands through more long-term means (viewshed, fire breaks, etc).
post #5 of 8

Hurrah for the USFS

Gonzo, keep fighting the good fight up there.

"A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch (or alpine larch along the slope of Lolo Peak) has the curious ability to remind us - like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness - that out there is a different world, older and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship." Ed Abbey - Desert Solitaire
post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 

Blodgett Canyon adjacent to Hamilton MT (40 miles south of Missoula) contains a curious rock arch that is reminiscent of the Delicate Arch but MUCH smaller. every time I ride in Blodgett I try to stop to look at the arch. I've yet to take a digipic but now that you've raised the issue I think I'll do that next time I'm there. it's a pretty astonishing thing to see, it sits atop the southern ridgeline of the Canyon and the canyon is pretty deep.

Blodgett Canyon is one of the many scenic spots along the Bitterroot Mtns range. from the canyon's mouth you can see the almost perfectly U-shaped nature of the glacially carved canyon, but once inside the canyon the U shape just about disappears in the larger scale of canyon walls imposing their narrowness on your small human self.
post #7 of 8
Gonzo, you shouldn't be so selfish. Do you know how much gas it takes for your fellow Bitterroot residence to drive their Ford Excursions and Hummer 2s to Lost Trail?
post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 
Rio, you and Tom Maclay are poker buddies? hunting buddies? fishing buddies?
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