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Ski Expansion To Cut Wildlife Corridor

March 2006 - The Forest Service received over 1,500 comments on the Draft EIS for the proposed expansion of the four ski areas at Snoqualmie Pass. The new ten-year plan for the Summit at Snoqualmie would rearrange some lifts and runs and add new ones, increasing total capacity by 39 percent. However, the proposal would result in cutting old-growth forests, degrading a critical wildlife corridor, and impacting roadless areas and wetlands. Two-thirds of the ski area is on national forest land. A Final EIS and decision are due later this year.

Skiing has been a fixture of the Pass for decades, but over time, resort development has resulted in logged forests, filled wetlands, and blocked wildlife corridors. The new plan should meet current environmental standards, including protecting wildlife habitat and water quality. While many aspects of the ski area’s $48 million proposal are not controversial, the cutting of old-growth forests in a key wildlife corridor would have a major impact. The Seattle PI published an editorial expressing alarm at the cutting of the forest and urged the Forest Service to go slow, allowing time to carefully study the impacts on wildlife. The paper’s website poll received over 340 responses, of which 2 out of 3 were against cutting the forest in the Hyak Creek area.

Sierra Club Proposes More Skiing, But Protect Habitat & Wildlands

The Sierra Club has proposed a modified version of Alternative #4. This would avoid logging old-growth forests, fragmenting wildlife corridors, and impacting wildlands. Some of the key elements include:

Ø  Provide 25 modern ski lifts with associated runs and increase ski capacity by nearly 20 percent.

Ø  Protect the Hyak Creek forest corridor: Do not build the Creek Run lift, and move the base of the proposed Rampart lift 800 feet south, to the existing ski runs. No new ski runs or roads through this forest.

Ø  Protect wildlands on Denny Mountain; no gondola.

Ø  Provide additional mitigation, including donation of 390 acres in Mill Creek after decommissioning unneeded roads, and 140 acres on Cave Ridge, including a 60-acre wilderness addition.

Ø  Keep new parking lots out of riparian reserves and restore damaged wetlands

Ø  Expand shuttle system between ski areas with electric or hybrid vehicles.

Ø  Add intensive study of wildlife use and needs, plus effects of new construction as well as mitigation measures in the Pass vicinity.

Not Just Habitat, it’s a Wildlife Corridor

The Forest Service proposal would construct two new chair lifts (Creek Run and Rampart) and a road in the forests near Hyak Creek, plus cut new downhill runs through that forest – some up to 200 feet wide. This will eliminate crucial habitat in an area that is already constricted. It will also fragment the habitat, reducing its usefulness as a wildlife corridor, one of the few upper elevation forested connections between the north and south Cascades. The Forest Service’s

own land management plan precludes projects that are not neutral or beneficial to late-successional forest habitat.

Many question the need to carve new, steeper 20-foot wide snowboard trails through the Hyak forest to connect Summit East and Central. Skiers already have crossover runs. Summit East operates less often than the other areas, and the resort could provide a shuttle for snowboarders, like they already do between the Summit and Alpental.

Wildlife are already at risk in this area due to other development projects near Summit East and Gold Creek, and the additional impacts of the ski area expansion into these forests near Summit East would have a detrimental cumulative effect. These other development projects increase the need to protect and restore habitat on the public lands. The Forest Service should require a complete study of habitat, wildlife use and connectivity needs, and impacts of new ski and other facilities at the Pass, with a report ready before the next master plan revision.

Pushing into Alpine Lakes

The proposed expansion at Alpental generates significant impacts. These include pushing ski lifts west into a roadless area near Source Lake and constructing a gondola and restaurant on Denny Mtn., very near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This would operate year round, bringing thousands of

people per day into this fragile alpine zone, some looking for high routes to peaks and lakes. The DEIS ignored the impacts of cross-country travelers trampling sensitive vegetation and creating dozens of eroding paths through the roadless area and adjacent wilderness. Other issues include the availability of other winter recreation such as cross country skiing; putting part of the Pacific Crest Trail through a paved parking lot; impacts on wetlands; expanding parking lots in riparian zones near streams; pollutants such as de-icers in runoff; and increased consumption of limited water supplies.

More Mitigation Needed

Under the Forest Service’s preferred alternative, The Summit would donate 390 acres in Mill Creek to the Forest Service as mitigation for impacts to old growth and wildlife connectivity at Hyak. However, most of that land was clearcut, and since it is south of the ski areas, does not provide a habitat corridor northward through the resort. The Sierra Club has asked for additional mitigation measures, such as a donation of about 140 acres of Summit-owned land near Guye Peak to offset the impact of ski development at Alpental. If donated, these parcels could be added immediately to the adjacent Alpine Lakes Wilderness. 

The Draft EIS is available on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website:

http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs/projects/summit-at-snoqualmie

For more information: www.cascade.sierraclub.org/snoqualmiepass. The official comment deadline was in February, but there is no time limit on telling the Forest Service what you think. Send comments by email: swetterberg@fs.fed.us