The forested hump of Pelican Butte stands like an island in Oregon's Cascade Mountains. Bounded by a wilderness area, a national park (Crater Lake), and a national wildlife refuge, the butte is known for its stands of old-growth Shasta red fir, nesting spotted owls and wintering bald eagles.


A ski area proposal from Jeld Wen Inc., a development company that owns a nearby golf resort, could disrupt the area's serenity. The company says it wants to mix old-fashioned tourist attraction with modern ecological sensitivity on the 8,036-foot mountain. It would do that by limiting skiing to the top of the butte. A gondola would ferry skiers up and over old-growth forest on the bottom to almost 700 acres of ski runs at the top of the mountain. Skiers would stay at the company's Running Y Ranch, about 25 miles away, sparing the mountain the usual rash of condominiums.


Local business boosters have tried at least three times to rally support for a ski area on Pelican Butte. This time, the developer seems more likely to succeed. "We're jazzed," says Klamath County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brian Baxter. "We're trying desperately not to become a burned-out industrial town."


But the plan is meeting resistance from conservationists who say it would violate the Northwest Forest Plan brokered by the Clinton administration in 1993. Under that plan, much of Pelican Butte is designated as an "Ancient Forest Reserve," and protected from timber cutting.


The Oregon Natural Resources Council, which recently won an appeal of four timber sales in the area, would like to see Pelican Butte protected as wilderness. "These roadless areas are basically the ecological stronghold in the West," says Ken Rait, the group's conservation director. "They're our bank for future wilderness area designations."


Kurt Schmidt, a planner for Jeld Wen Inc., insists the ski area won't harm the mountain's wild values. "We're the first to admit that we'll have some impact to those areas," says Schmidt, "but this project is a little different."


A draft Environmental Impact Statement on the ski area is due out in March. For information, call the Winema National Forest at 541/883-6714.


* Shea Andersen