Kearns and Sons RS Aesthetics

Bitterroot Ski Resort proposal turned down again


By Michael Howell

In a letter dated September 20, Regional Forester Faye Krueger informed Bitterroot Valley resident Tom Maclay that she would not be conducting any further review of the third rejection of his application for a special use permit to build a ski resort utilizing Forest Service land.

On August 16, the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests rejected for a third time an application by Maclay for a Special Use Permit to build a ski resort utilizing Forest Service land with associated skiing and biking trails on Carlton Ridge. Maclay’s first two proposals involved the use of his ranchland at the base of the mountain. Since then that land has been foreclosed upon and sold at a Sheriff’s auction to the lending company for $2.5 million. His latest proposal was to do a revised development completely on Forest Service land. This proposal, like the previous ones, did not pass the initial screening review and was returned without further review by the Supervisors of the Bitterroot and Lolo National Forests. Maclay then hand delivered a letter to Regional Forester Faye Krueger on September 6, appealing the rejection of his proposal.

“To date,” wrote Krueger, “all your proposals simply represent modifications of the same basic proposal.” And that basic proposal is what does not meet Forest Plan standards, Krueger states.

Maclay’s latest proposal includes alpine skiing, snowboarding, guided ski touring, mountain biking and Nordic ski trail development on national forest lands. The Forest Supervisors noted that the proposal “seems contingent on the area being developed as a downhill alpine ski area…” which they found to be inconsistent with the Forest Plan for developments in that area.

The Forest Supervisors noted that the proposal calls for ski lifts and several ski runs and snowcat-served skiing on Lantern Ridge and vicinity. They noted that these developments are not consistent with the management directions for large blocks of land in the area in which the Forest Plan has prohibited motorized access, except for the development of mineral resources, and public access may be restricted.

Another objection to the proposal was that it called for ski lifts, ski runs and a lodge within a management area where the visual quality objective is partial retention.

“Human activities may be evident but must remain subordinate to the characteristic landscape,” they wrote. They note that the proposed ski lifts would not be subordinate to the landscape.

The same developments also intrude upon another management area which encompasses the Lolo Creek Inventoried Roadless Area. The Forest Plan goals for that area “emphasize motorized and non-motorized, semi-primitive recreation activities and elk security.” They also “manage for recreation activities associated with roadless areas, including hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, motor bike riding and snowmobiling.” The Plan also states that “facilities and trails will be compatible with the semi-primitive setting.” The visual quality objective is retention.

In her letter dismissing Maclay’s hand-delivered “appeal,” Regional Forester Krueger emphasizes that Maclay’s proposal was “unsolicited.” She notes that the solicitation for proposals referenced by Maclay in his letter was actually made by the now defunct Missoula Economic Development Corporation and not the Forest Service.

“Again, the Forest Service never issued a prospectus to solicit proposals for ski area development near Lolo Peak,” wrote Krueger.

Secondly, Krueger points out that, according to law and regulations, the decision to return an unsolicited request for a permit was not appealable.

Thirdly, she writes, “in consideration of your numerous proposals, review of the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests management plans (Forest Plans), discussion with the Forest Supervisors and conversations I have had with you and others, it is readily apparent to me that any proposal for ski area development in the Carlton Ridge/Lolo Peak area will not, and cannot be made to, meet current Forest Plan direction.”

Krueger rejects Maclay’s suggestion that a Forest Plan amendment could be pursued. She argues that, with a Forest Plan revision scheduled for 2016, to take on a significant amendment at this time would be “expensive, time consuming, redundant to Plan revision and possibly confusing to the public. Additionally, we simply do not have the capacity to take on such an effort at this time.”

“The Plan revision process will allow us to gather information and solicit public input to identify resource values, social values, changed conditions, new information and public concerns related to the management of this area as well as the Forests in general. Clearly, that is the most appropriate time to consider such a significant development as you propose,” wrote Krueger.

Krueger concludes, “Unless you have a proposal that does not include these types of improvements and activities, and therefore is consistent with applicable Forest Plan standards and guidelines, I see no reason to accept any other proposal for ski area development in the Carlton Ridge/Lolo Peak area prior to the Forest Plan revision process.”

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