Readers of Snow Country magazine recently discovered a special advertising supplement tucked between stories of equipment and resorts: "Stewards of the Land: Skiing and the U.S. Forest Service, a public and private alliance."
The 15-page glossy infomercial, complete with
ads of Colorado's premier resorts, paints a rosy picture of the 140
ski areas that use national forest lands. "America's winter
playgrounds' are run by environmentally sensitive ski companies
committed to recycling, environmental education and disabled skier
programs. And the Forest Service is an appreciative - but tough -
landlord, putting the companies through rigorous planning processes
before giving out permits.
As for those who might
question whether the relationship between the feds and the ski
industry is too cozy, "the Forest Service's Jack Ward Thomas
promises: "not as long as I'm Chief." "
rhetoric outrages Luke Danielson, a Denver attorney who has fought
ski developments on national forests for two decades. "The Forest
Service has always bent over backwards to accommodate ski areas,"
The Forest Service likes to downplay
the off-site effects the ski resorts generate, he says, and often
cites the statistic that ski areas cover less than 1 percent of the
national forests. "That makes it seem like nothing," says
Danielson. "Take a look at Aspen and Vail and tell me that's
nothing. The agency is like the runaway father that won't pay child
support. They create a huge problem and then they don't take any
responsibility for their role in it."
does the Snow Country ad mention off-site impacts such as open
space swallowed by second homes and condos, service workers living
in trailer parks far beyond the resorts, or the uprooting and
displacement of working-class communities. The magazine simply
states, "There is no question mountain communities benefit from ski
Forest Service officials say
they are well aware of the associated impacts of ski resorts. "We
are required by law to look at issues such as housing and traffic,"
says John Borton, who is coordinating the Adam's Rib supplemental
environmental impact statement. In the case of Adam's Rib, "we
could decide that the impacts are too great."
But that has never happened, says Rocky Smith of
the Colorado Environmental Coalition. The ski resorts turned down
by the agency are generally those with shaky financial backing, he
says, not those likely to catalyze massive development of private
Critics also say the Forest Service fails
to look at the cumulative effects of piling up ski resorts in one
area. Thirteen ski resorts are permitted on Colorado's White River
National Forest, and a few of them, including Vail, are in the
process of expanding. Eagle County and some environmentalists have
asked the Forest Service to do a regional EIS that would consider
all of these projects - including Adam's Rib - before handing out
any more permits.
Officials at the Colorado
Division of Wildlife say they're concerned that Adam's Rib will be
the straw that breaks the camel's back along the I-70 corridor.
"You could try and come up with ways to deal
with this project if you look at it by itself," says wildlife
biologist John Toolen, "but we're concerned that Adam's Rib will
lead to the urbanization of the entire valley." That, he says, will
further reduce habitat for already stressed big game herds and
sensitive species such as the lynx. "We don't feel the Forest
Service has really looked at these issues."
Korb, who recently retired after 36 years in the Forest Service's
Rocky Mountain Regional office, says the agency has taken steps to
address off-site effects of ski resorts. The agency now encourages
ski companies to become four-season resorts in order to provide
more permanent jobs, he notes, and it prefers expansions of
existing areas over the creation of new resorts.
Recently, White River Supervisor Sonny LaSalle
made the controversial suggestion that the Forest Service provide
land for the ski companies so they could build worker housing (HCN,
But the Forest Service can't solve all
problems arising from ski areas, says Korb. "We're a land
management agency, not a public utility," he says. Like the ski
workers, "I have friends in D.C. who commute three hours to work
and return to homes they can't afford, too."
Korb says almost without exception local
communities want the Forest Service to approve ski resorts. But
that may be changing. Eagle County's reluctance to embrace Adam's
Rib may signal a weakening of the pro-ski era, says Ted Zukowski,
an attorney for the Denver-based Land and Water
"For years the Forest Service has only felt
the pressure from the ski companies," he says. "With Adam's Rib, we
may be seeing the local politics turning around. If Eagle County
stays strong, the Forest Service will stand up and take notice."