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The Problem with Ski Areas on Natl. Forest Land

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
The problem is that they're there in the first place. It comes off to me as very ironic that some of you would lean on the shoulder of what is fair access to Natl. Forest land as it pertains to privately operated ski areas on such land. An issue like the Beeline pales in comparison to the montrous issue of there even being a ski area in the first place. Step back a moment and realize that we enable the viability of Natl Forest ski area operators by first allowing clear cutting for slopes and then lift device installation. Then all through the night there are grooming operations, snow making, and various sorts of vehicles that run up and down the mountain 365 days a year. There are on mountain restaurants, and with that comes litter, sewage and the obvious eye sore. Finally, have you ever looked at a ski area from the position of sustainable habitat? Would you want to live there if you were an animal? We have raped the land and its habitat over and over again.

The shoulder that you lean on my fellow skiers to make your point that the Beeline sucks would sooner punch you in the face than defend your point. We all are the problem with this land. Not some miniscule program like the Beeline. We really shouldn't be using that land the way we skiers do if we respect the tenets of what our Natl Forest lands were originally intended for.
post #2 of 14

I don't think I totally agree with you on the initial intent of the purpose of National Forests.

The tagline of the National Forests for as long as I can remember has been "Land of Many Uses". Logging, mining, water development, and recreational uses of many kinds have always been included in the charter of the National Forests. You can certainly argue that several of those activities may have been abused in the past (and may well continue to be abused), but there is no question that the activities are among those that were originally intended as valid uses of that land.

National Parks, National Monuments, Wilderness Areas, and Special Use Areas are all various types of lands that are carved out for special protection, but National Forests were always designated as available for "controlled" commercial development. Ski areas definitely fit in that category.

Now, if the commercial development of a particular activity is done poorly and damages the resource, then it should legitimately be an enforcement issue. We can argue 'til the cows come home about how passionately the National Forest Service tries to *protect* the resources within the bounds of their charter, but commercial uses are and have always been an integral part of National Forests.

post #3 of 14
I can't speak for other areas, but the land where Alta used to privately owned (some of it still is) and it was given to the forest Service with the condition that it be used as a ski area. If you look at pictures taken before 1940, you can see that there were hardly any trees i nteh area at all, they were all clear cut to use as supports in the mine shafts. Many resorts have done a good job of mitigating their impacts, Alta is one of them. Park City and Deer Valley pump their water for snowmaking out of abandoned mine shafts, instead of taking it from already stressed rivers.

There is designation status for lands that are to be untouched. Forest Service lands are there, not only to be maintained as nature areas, but also for multiple use. This includes industry, recreation, tourism, and wildlife habitat.
post #4 of 14
It's a big world. There's plenty of room for ski resorts.
post #5 of 14
..<snip> We really shouldn't be using that land the way we skiers do if we respect the tenets of what our Natl Forest lands were originally intended for.
Timber Harvest?
A buffer to keep those guys from the reservation away from the rest of us?

National Forest Lands aren't generally wilderness or pristine. Were they ever meant to be? I'm not sure. That is why we also have the National Parks, designated Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Designations for rivers etc.

Generally speaking the Forest Service is charged with managing the land in conformance with a muliple use, sustained yield approach. This is open to a lot of interpretation and often settled in court (for good or bad).
post #6 of 14
The best argument I have seen against ski area development on National Forrest Land is Hal Clifford's book, Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry Is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment. Hal was a former real estate editor at Ski and is very knowledeable on the downside of the ski business.

Downhill Slide via Amazon

That being said, I do not agree with everything he says.

Having witnessed a lot of the devastation caused by mining and forestry in WV, I've come to the realization that ski resorts are far better than other uses for land. I’ve seen more deer, groundhogs, rare birds, etc., right in front of my condo at Timberline than in the Dolly Sods National Wilderness just behind the mountain. Tree lined ski slopes are nice habitats for grazing animals and birds. That's not to say I would convert the Red Creek canyon in the Sods into a big ski resort, but I think there is room for both highly protected areas (such as National Wilderness areas) and ski resorts on National Forrest land. We should move from a "land of many uses" model to a land of sustainable uses approach. Skiing, if regulated properly, can be sustainable.
post #7 of 14
I think here in the East, at least, ski areas themselves are a relatively benign use of National Forest. Most of the land they sit on was previously devastated by the timber industry. Logging railroads, skid roads, landings, log drive dams, whole towns which once altered the landscape have all but disappeared into the forest. The "eyesore" that ski areas may be would soon disappear into the forest as well, if abandoned. Around here the mountainsides would be checkered with clearcuts if they were not being used by ski areas. The real eyesores and environmental devastation are the condo villages and associated ski town developments that disfigure the adjoining private lands. They are the indirect result of the tastes and "needs" of the ski community. The Forest Service is an easy target and they should be scrutinized for their often poor management of public lands but the real problem is us.
post #8 of 14
Thread Starter 
From Bob Peters:
I don't think I totally agree with you on the initial intent of the purpose of National Forests.
Bob, I'm going to have to concede to your comments. You're right.

I think I have my panties out of the bunch they were in. [img]redface.gif[/img]
post #9 of 14
In the 1930s - 1950s the federal government tried to get people interested in their national forests and promoted them, encouraged recreational use to get people to go out and use them.

Later, after people figured these forests are pretty fun and have lots of recreational potential the federal government then decided they wanted to limit use and some wanted to eliminate use all together.. Now they charge you to park your car, or to just hike a trail and discourage most any use to get people out of the forest....kinda weird, eh?

To the original message, the cutting of trails through the forest does not hamper wildlife, but actually helps. The cut trails gives places for berries to grow and be eaten by deer and such.... Summers on the slopes of most WA resorts are very quiet and you will rarely see vehicles let alone other people. PinHed you are way off on your description of what happens to the forest when ski development occurs. Only in the very large destination resort type atmosphere would you find anything close to what you describe, and that is not most ski areas.
post #10 of 14
By Mr. Hyak:
Now they charge you to park your car, or to just hike a trail and discourage most any use to get people out of the forest....kinda weird, eh?
If I recall correctly, the user fees were instituted to supplement Forestry Service revenues since they were not receiving sufficient funding from Congress. A lot of States and local governments have recently done the same with their recreation areas and facilities for similar reasons.
post #11 of 14
Just for the record, I'ld like to point out two instances where ski areas have not interfered with wildlife. One early season morning at Wolf CReek about 8 years ago I was skiing with another instructor. It was slow and we were just enjoying the mountain, when low and behold we came across a fresh elk track in the snow.

Then 2 years ago two friends and I were sking Spiral Staircase at Telluride. As we headed into town for lunch and saw a deer just inside the tree line.
post #12 of 14
Bob.P, I think you are correct from a PUBLICLY ANNOUNCED policy perspective, but the USFS long has been about promoting ECONOMIC benefits from the use of forests. Gifford Pinchot's dream for the USFS was realized when it became a part of the US Dept of Agriculture, and not the US Dept of Interior. That says a lot more than "Land of Many Uses."

Pinchot saw the economic value in "preserving" forests for optimal logging production. Thus, we now have a "healthy forests initiative" that is right in line with Pinchot's true thoughts and plans for the USFS... the "healthy" refers to a forest that is ECONOMICALLY HEALTHY -- i.e., best suited for repeat timber harvests. If left alone, natural forest ecosystems follow a different cycle and do not optimize for timber harvest - they optimize for biohabitat.

That's why I think PinHed is right on the money with his opening post.

Can't wait to ski with ye at JH, Bob!
post #13 of 14
Lest all we skiers get tendonitis from patting ourselves on the back, it should be at least mentioned that there *are* some very serious ecological consequences to ski area development.

While most of the area resorts on National Forest land have done a pretty good job of mitigating their impact on the forest land itself, there are a lot of peripheral impacts that the Forest Service has no control over. In today's ski market, attracting more skiers seems to require more and faster lifts, better grooming, more snowmaking, and more nearby amenities like beds and bars and golf courses and shopping and restaurants, etc.

All of those translate into more impact on the surrounding land and watershed. They require better roads to bring visitors to the area, with resulting congestion, energy consumption, and air quality concerns. They mean more beds and much higher housing prices, with resulting serious problems in providing affordable housing for the workers who support all that recreation.

More than anything, all of this requires more and more *water*. Snowmaking requires it, toilets and taps require it, golf courses guzzle it, whitewater rafters and flyfisherpeople demand it. Over the remainder of our lifetimes, the issue of water quantity/quality and who claims what water is available in the Western US has the makings of the biggest interstate battle since our Civil War.

Many of the mega-resorts that are anchored by ski areas located on National Forest land have grown far beyond what anyone probably envisioned when those use permits were first granted decades ago. A drive from the Eisenhower Tunnel to Eagle in Colorado or from downtown Salt Lake City to Park City demonstrates that fact.

So, while the sport we love so dearly may not mess up the mountain *itself* as badly as a strip mine or a slash-and-burn clearcut, there's a great deal of impact going on that we ought to at least consider.


PinHed, I know I disagreed with you about whether ski areas should even be on National Forests, but I felt some of this needed to be added to the discussion. As always, I'm squarely on the fence in all difficult philosophical arguments.
post #14 of 14
Gonzo, you posted your note while I was in the middle of composing my last response, so I didn't see yours until I hit "submit" on mine.

While I agree with you completely in your *political* analysis of the current state of direction the USFS is getting from the Administration, I think you also have to keep in mind the the USFS has evolved over the last century just like every other aspect of our society.

When I first attended college, I was a forestry major. That was long enough ago that it was sort of on the front end of the environmental movement. Back then (thirty years ago), the US Forest Service was very much an economic development agency. Logging was going great guns, special use permits were easy to come by, and the "old line" management of the USFS was made up almost exclusively of people with very close ties to the timber industry.

That makeup has changed fairly dramatically since then. There are an awful lot of people in higher level roles at the USFS who truly do believe in preservation and conservation. I still know quite a few people in that agency and their commitment to the concept of stewardship would impress you.

Believe it or not, much of the USFS management is actually dragging its feet on implementing some of the "improvements" that the Administration would like to impose on the way our National Forests are managed.

All I'm saying is that the course of the ship really has changed over the last few decades from one of fire-up-the-chainsaws-and-bulldozers to one of better understanding all the pieces that make up a forest community. I'm totally convinced that this Adminstration too "shall pass" without too much long term damage to the more enlightened way that we're looking at forest resources.


BTW, I'm looking forward to skiing with you, too. Just don't expect me to go cliff-jumping with all you male adolescents who are going to thump your chests all day.
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