"Why would I take a piece of
precious public land and give it away
for a few people to make money?"
Former Lolo National Forest Supervisor
Save Lolo Peak, Act Today!
Lewis & Clark historic sites, pristine roadless lands, water quality, elk habitat threatened by ski resort development
Proposal has everything to do with real estate profits!
On September 9th and 10th 1805, after traveling down the Bitterroot River, the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped at Travelers Rest in the shadow of Lolo Peak. On September 11th while traveling up present-day Lolo Creek, Lewis wrote in his journal "the mountains on the left high & covered with snow." Lolo Peak (9,096' elev.), now Missoula Montana's loftiest landmark dominates the high peaks at the northern boundary of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and looks today much as it did 200 years ago.
A massive ski resort development billed as the largest in north America (A ski area twice the size of Big Mountain in Whitefish, MT.) is being proposed for the public lands surrounding Lolo Peak. The proposed development of a full-service "village" with high-end shops, 2200 exclusive housing units, ice skating rink and a golf course is just 3 miles from historic sites at Travelers Rest State Park and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and would forever blemish the historic view from the adjacent Lolo Trail.
|Lolo Peak Summit|
Ski runs, lifts and a supporting road system are planned through 10,000 acres of wild, roadless public land currently managed by the forest service as primitive, non-motorized and for scientific research, reaching all the way to the wilderness boundary at the summit of Lolo Peak! Where else in our State, or in the nation for that matter, are we at risk of losing 10,000 acres of roadless wildlands in one fell swoop?
The area is currently home to an array of game and non-game wildlife species including elk, deer, moose, pileated woodpecker, goshawk, golden eagle, pine marten, mountain goat, hoary marmot, and wolf. Lolo Peak and adjoining Carlton Ridge is excellent lynx habitat, and is in a grizzly bear recovery area. The 125 head Carlton Ridge elk herd is the largest on the west side of the Bitterroot Valley north of Hamilton, MT. These animals rely on both winter and summer range on and around Carlton Ridge and Lolo Peak. The proposed development would sever the low elevation winter habitat around Mormon ridge from the high elevation summer habitat on .Lolo Peak and surrounding high country. Impacts from new roads, motorized use, 2200 new housing units and their noise and dogs will certainly be substantial.
|920-acre Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area|
Local streams support cutthroat trout and bull trout. Bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout are found in Mormon Creek, Carlton Creek and the Bitterroot River. McClain Creek, Lolo Creek and the Bitterroot River are all on the State of Montana's TMDL 303(d) stream, meaning they are water quality impaired and do not meet standards set by the Clean Water Act. McClain Creek is also on Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks list of "de-watered" streams, meaning…….
At lower elevations, during warm winters, and to prolong the ski season, many ski resorts rely on snow making to do nature's work. This can have negative consequences for the environment. The most obvious consequence for the environment is a decrease in the supply of water meant for other downstream users and for fisheries. To cover one square meter of ski run, a snow machine requires 100 liters of quality water. Per season this adds up to 600 liters of water per square meter. Mr. Maclay claims to have enough water to make snow on between 500 and 700 acres. This water is now designated for irrigating about 1,200 acres of agricultural land. In order to use this water for snowmaking, the developer would need to transfer his late-summer agricultural water rights to commercial use to fuel the resorts massive snowmaking needs.
Mountain streams, such as Carlton Creek, are often pumped dry during ski season and only regain their volume for a few months in the summer after the snow melts. Because artificial snow is more compact and heavier than new snow it needs almost twice as long to melt. The extended snow coverage would likely alter the natural climate cycle of Lolo Peak and Carlton Ridge. Longer melt rates would alter the natural vegetation patterns wherever it's put down and artificial snow has been identified as a source of water pollution as well.
Another consequence of the snow machines is noise. A high pressure compressor produces 115 decibels of noise (The human ear can tolerate about 85 decibels before beginning to suffer damage) Studies have shown that animals are seriously effected by the noise of the machines. Because the snow makers are turned on only at night animal's nocturnal behavior is also altered.
There is a history of mass slope failure on unstable terrain of Carlton Ridge further threatening an important public fishery resource. 15 years ago a landslide occurred in upper McClain Creek (due to roadbuilding activities on the Bitterroot national Forest) and sent massive amounts of silt downhill into McClain Creek causing damage to Mr. Maclay's property. Thus, the developers know full well the potential for this occurrence especially considering the level of construction activity proposed on these highly unstable slopes. The Lolo National Forest's forest plan confirms this susceptibility as well as a letter from a University of Montana Geologist. Mr. Maclay even filed a lawsuit against the forest service which was settled in 1998 with Maclay being awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages. The Forest Service has spent nearly 10 years and thousands of tax dollars, improving the condition of the watershed since then.
On the subject of lawsuits, Mr. Maclay, representing Carlton Creek Irrigation Company is currently suing the Forest Service to gain motorized access into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in order to rebuild and maintain an old earthen dam on Little Carlton Lake. Little Carlton Lake is inside the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
The lawsuit partly rests on an RS 2477 County right-of-way claim and is being represented by the Mountain States Legal Foundation out of Denver, CO, a conservative group whose first president was wise-use movement advocate and Reagan administration Secretary of Interior James Watt. RS 2477 is a provision of an 1866 mining law, which generally granted rights to develop roads and highways across the public domain.
Closely related to this lawsuit, is an on-going investigation by Forest Service law enforcement officials over allegations that Tom Maclay, the landowner behind this proposal, has illegally widened and cut trees along the old access route to Carlton Lake, on public land over the winter. The cutting documented by a Sierra Club volunteer in March, has occurred within the RNA with dozens, possibly hundreds, of rare larch trees felled.
Backcountry skiing and winter mountaineering are popular recreation activities as well as big-game hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, environmental education, and horseback riding. On any given weekend 12-15 vehicles will be parked at the popular Mormon Peak Trailhead with outdoor enthusiasts destined for Lolo Peak's summit or to fish in Carlton Lake, or to view the awesome scenery from Carlton Ridge overlook. Traditional access, recreation and opportunities for solitude would be lost forever. Free, year-round access would be replaced by $70 lift tickets.
An IMS site (Internet Map Service) of the Lolo Peak area has been created. There, you will find map layers of the proposed development as well as wildlife habitat like elk winter range, fisheries, water quality, land ownership, agency management allocations, the resort proposal, etc… Use the tools on the left of the map…the link is: http://bsci.bigsky.org/website/Lolo_Pk/
Let us not forget that exclusive access to these public lands above the private "village" adds enormous value to the real estate below. The skiing is an amenity that drives up the price of real estate just like a golf course or ice skating rink, the difference being that the public is being asked to hand over 10,000+ acres of "our" land to serve as the developers amenity.
Many question the feasibility and need of a downhill ski area on Lolo Peak. Global warming, drought and lack of snow play a large role and in fact have led to downtime and even closure on many western Montana ski areas For example, skier visits at Big Mountain resort for the 2004-2005 season were down 17.5% - the lowest number of visitors to Big Mountain in five years. The resort closed two weeks early due to the lack of snow. Bitterroot resort proposes ski runs that are lower than those on Marshall Mountain, which recently went bankrupt. Additionally, skiers would be faced with a confusing maze of chair lifts to carry them to the next downhill stretch. In fact from Carlton Lake eastward along Carlton Ridge for some 2.5 miles, the elevation loss is only 80 feet. This presents serious logistical problems in getting skiers to and from the Carlton Lake area. It also presents very serious implications for Carlton Ridge in that the north side of the ridge would be cut to shreds with lateral cat tracks, lifts, and ski runs contrived to get people back to the base area (see paragraph regarding landslides.)
There are currently 6 ski areas within 100 miles of Missoula, MT. providing ample opportunities for varied downhill skiing. Skiing (even with the popularity of snowboarding) has remained relatively flat when it comes to the numbers of people who engage in this activity.
Within the 16,000 acre Lolo Creek Inventoried Roadless Area is the 920 acre Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area (RNA). According to Stephen Arno, Ph. D. and retired research forester, the Carlton Ridge RNA is of special value to science because "it contains a rare 'climatic climax' development of alpine larch forest on zonal soils and the transition down-slope through a fir-spruce forest with rock outcrops containing both alpine and western larch and their hybrids." Earlier this year The Forest Service denied a request on a preliminary proposal from Maclay because a ski area doesn't fit within the current guidelines contained in forest plans on both the Lolo and Bitterroot national forests. The agency pointed out that the 920 acre RNA is permanently off-limits to development and that the area requested for development is almost entirely designated for semi-primitive and non-motorized uses.
The current plan allocates a majority of the 16,000 acre Lolo Creek IRA as Management Area 11 (MA-11.) These are large blocks of roadless lands, where new roads, logging and other developments are not allowed. MA-11 areas are closed year-round to motor vehicles. However, the two forests are in the midst of revising their forest plans which will set the direction the agency will take in making broad land management decisions over a 15-year period.
Keeping the current management direction for the Lolo Creek IRA is absolutely essential.
Over the summer, Sierra Club volunteers and staff have participated in over a dozen community meetings urging the agency to retain the status quo in regards to management of MA-11 areas. The Bitterroot-Mission Group sent post cards and phone banked area members to increase awareness and participation in the process. We were not alone. On July 21st the FS planning team held a meeting in Missoula to address management of the Lolo Peak area and 250 people crowded the hall. The following day the Missoulian reported; "Leave it alone. And if that's not possible, then protect it more." "That appeared to be the consensus of most people attending a U.S. Forest Service meeting. "
The draft forest plan is expected in November, which will be followed by a 90-day comment period. The final is expected to be completed next summer. Sierra Club action during this time will be critical - look for an up-coming opportunity to comment later this fall.
The developers point to Tamarack Resort in Donnelly Idaho as a model and even share the same PR team. President Bush stayed here August 22-24 mountain biking at the resort. One can get an idea of what would be in store for Lolo and Missoula Montana by looking to Donnelly Idaho. In a High Country News article earlier this year, Carol Amburgy a real estate broker in Donnelly said that prices for existing homes and raw land in the former timber-mill town have "doubled, tripled, even quadrupled" in the past year. She says "affordable housing is gone. If you're a local working person, and you haven't bought anything yet, you're out of luck."
Tamarack resort boasts of windfall real estate sales and with lots going for $700,000 and a 4500 sq. ft. home for a cool $2.9 million one can see why Mr. Maclay and his investors are eager to develop north America's largest destination ski resort on the slopes of Lolo Peak. It deserves to be reiterated… this resort is really about real estate profits!
Write to Senators Conrad Burns and Max Baucus asking them to oppose this abuse of OUR Public Land.
Sen. Conrad Burns
187 Dirksen Senate office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Sen. Max Baucus
511 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510-2602
Send a copy to the Forest Service:
USDA Forest Service
Lolo National Forest
Forest Planning Zone
Fort Missoula Bldg. 24
Missoula, MT 59804
For more information on how to get involved or to schedule a group presentation, contact Sierra Club's Missoula field office at 406-549-1142.
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