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Snoqualmie Ski Expansion Would Cut Through Forested Wildlife Corridor!

Submit Comments on Draft EIS by February 21st

The proposed expansion of the ski area at Snoqualmie Pass would result in cutting old-growth forests, degrading a critical wildlife corridor. The Sierra Club has criticized this and other parts of the proposal for new runs and ski lifts at Snoqualmie Pass. The Club is also concerned about the expansion of lift facilities into a roadless area adjacent to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and the building of a gondola and restaurant on Denny Mountain. These are all part of a proposed new permit for ski resort use on national forest lands at Snoqualmie Pass.

Skiing has been a fixture of the Pass for decades. Through time, this type of development has resulted in forests being cut, wetlands filled and wildlife corridors blocked. To get a new permit, the facilities should be required to meet current environmental standards, and that means protecting wildlife habitat, wildlands and water quality. While many aspects of the ski area’s proposal are not controversial, the cutting of old growth forests in a key wildlife corridor would have a major impact.

Sierra Club Proposes Alternative #4 Modified: More Habitat, Wildlands and Skiing

The Sierra Club has proposed a modified version of Alternative #4. This would avoid the cutting of old-growth forests, fragmentation of wildlife corridors, and impacts on wildlands, while still increasing ski capacity by nearly 20%. Some of the key elements of this alternative are:

  • Upgrade to provide 25 modern ski lifts with associated runs
  • No new ski lifts in section 16 (Hyak Creek) (that means do not build Creek Run and Rampart pods)
  • No new ski runs through Hyak Creek forest area (section 16)
  • No new roads in the Hyak Creek forest area (section 16)
  • No new night lighting adjacent to Hyak Creek forest corridor
  • No new lifts west of current Alpental runs
  • No gondola at Denny Mountain.
  • Donation of 390 acres in Mill Creek after decommissioning unneeded roads
  • Donation of 140 acres on Cave Ridge, with 60 acres as wilderness addition
  • Remove portions of certain parking lots in riparian reserves
  • Revegetate 3 runs in Hyak Creek forest (#65, 66, 67) as shown in Alt #3.
  • Restore more wetlands and remove more roads than alternative #4

Do not change forest plan from ST-1 (scenic travel) to RE-1 (developed recreation) in the Hyak Creek forest area (~150 acres). Rather, change it to RE-3 unroaded, non-motorized.

Add intensive monitoring for length of plan (ten years) and study of wildlife use and effects of new construction as well as mitigation measures in the vicinity of the Pass.

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

Not Just Habitat, it’s a Wildlife Corridor

The Forest Service's current preferred alternative is Alternative #5. This proposal would construct 2 new chair lifts and a road in the forests near Hyak Creek, plus cut new downhill runs through that forest – some up to 200’ wide. This will eliminate crucial habitat in an area that is already substantially constricted. It will also fragment the habitat and reduce its usefulness as a wildlife corridor across the I-90 divide. Without it, there is almost no connection between the forests south and north of the ski areas.

As one of the few forested connections in this part of the Cascades, this forestland provides a crucial pathway for wildlife. The Club questions the necessity of carving new, steeper snowboard trails to connect Summit East (Hyak) with the Summit Central resort area. Not only do skiers already have crossover runs, but poor snow conditions in recent years have seriously limited operations at Summit East, and the situation may worsen with global warming—making these crossover runs unnecessary. The ski area already provides a shuttle between the summit and Alpental, which could easily be extended to Summit East on the few days during the season that it is open for business.

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 Forest Service’s obligation to protect and restore their habitat. The Forest Service should require a complete study of habitat, wildlife use and impacts of new ski and other facilities at the Pass. This should be ready before the next planning cycle.

Pushing into Alpine Lakes Wild Lands

Another major impact is the proposed expansion at Alpental. This would push ski lifts and runs west into a roadless area near Source Lake. In addition, they propose to construct a gondola and restaurant on Denny Mtn., very near the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. This gondola and restaurant will operate year round, bringing thousands of people into this high elevation, fragile area. The DEIS ignored the impacts of unplanned cross-country travel from inexperienced visitors as well as extreme sports enthusiasts, 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; expanding parking lots and existing ones in riparian zones near streams; impacts on wetlands; pollutants such as deicers in runoff; and increased consumption of limited water supplies.

Expand Skiing, But Protect Forests and Roadless Areas

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the new master plan for the four ski areas at Snoqualmie Pass was released in December, with a comment period now extended to 60 days. The new ten-year plan would rearrange some lifts and runs and add some new ones, expanding ski terrain by 59 acres, and increasing total capacity by 39%.

The Summit at Snoqualmie (once known as Alpental, Snoqualmie Pass, Ski Acres and Hyak) spreads across both national forest (1,864 acres) and private lands (1,038 acres). They have asked to expand the special use permit into another 53 acres of public land at Hyak Creek.

Mitigation Measures

Under the alternative currently preferred by the Forest Service, 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. This may keep that land from condos, which is important. However, most of that land has been recently clearcut, and it does not provide a habitat corridor through or beyond the ski areas. It’s like fixing the Alaskan Way Viaduct to get across Lake Washington. A worthy project, but it does not solve that specific corridor problem.

Environmental groups have asked for additional mitigation measures, such as a donation of about 140 acres of land near Guye Peak to offset the impact of ski development at Alpental. These are old mining claims owned by the resort which are adjacent to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. If donated, the land could be added to the wilderness without further legislation. 

The Draft EIS is available on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest website: http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs/projects/summit-at-snoqualmie

The comment deadline has been extended, and all comments must now be received by Tuesday, February 21, 2006 

Contact: Larry Donovan, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie NF: (425) 744-3403 or

Dan Brewster, Summit at Snoqualmie: (425) 434-6751

Cascade Chapter: (206) 388-1114 

Submit comments by email: ldonovan@fs.fed.us