Keystone plan for cat skiing released again
SUMMIT COUNTY – A simmering plan to add several hundred acres of cat-served and hike-to terrain at Keystone moved forward last week with release of a draft environmental analysis for the resort’s Independence Bowl proposal.Based on the perceived popularity of the cat-skiing experience, Keystone wants to expand snow cat service into about 278 acres in the upper reaches of Jones Gulch. The area includes some north-facing terrain that’s steeper than much of the area currently included in the resort’s cat skiing operations in Bergman and Erickson bowls. The original December proposal involved slightly extending existing snowcat routes to access terrain on the upper reaches of the north aspect of Keystone Mountain (south of Erickson Bowl), as well as on the west and southwest aspects of Bear and Independence mountains. The terrain is within the resort’s permit area, adjacent to existing cat-served areas.Initially, the Forest Service wanted to approve the project under a streamlined “categorical exclusion,” but decided to step back and develop a more involved analysis and public involvement process after the EPA questioned the use of a categorical exclusion. The agency also wanted to take a closer look at potential impacts to lynx.
The latest version of the plan, outlined in the draft study, covers almost the same ground. But it includes a wealth of information about natural resources in the area, discussing, for example, the habitat potential in Jones Gulch for lynx, boreal owls, three-toed woodpeckers, ptarmigan and other rare forest-interior species.The draft study suggests that the new service would have only negligible effects on the environment, especially with regard to Canada lynx, always a concern in areas like Jones Gulch, where there is decent denning and foraging habitat for the threatened cats.Based on a biological assessment, the cat-skiing proposal would likely have some minor impacts to lynx habitat, without threatening the continued existence of the animals. The study details the amount of habitat in the area and refers to the fact that several lynx have been tracked in the vicinity of Keystone during the past few years.The newly released information supports the early assessment by Dillon District Ranger Rick Newton that the expanded operation is environmentally benign. When the plan was rolled out in December, Newton said internal, non-public reviews and informal talks with other agencies showed the operation would likely have very little impact.
Still, the ski industry watchdog group Colorado Wild was concerned about the plan, and asked the Forest Service to evaluate potential impacts on a cumulative basis, considering other resort plans in the area, including A-Basin’s Montezuma Bowl proposal. Colorado Wild was also concerned that the streamlined approval could set a precedent for “piece-meal” expansions without adequate public review and comment.The draft study does discuss the potential for expanded lift-served skiing in A-Basin’s Montezuma Bowl, concluding that the cumulative effects are not significant.Keystone’s mountain operations chief Chuck Tolton said in December that customers had asked for “steeper and more north-facing” snowcat terrain, and said the entire realm of the “backcountry light” ski experience is a growth sector for the industry. Tolton also said early in the process that the resort took care to stay away from the forested wildlife area and that the decision-making process was tracking toward a “no-effect” call as a result.
FS to take commentsWritten comments are invited on this analysis. To ensure consideration in the decision, comments must be postmarked by June 12, 2006. Please address your comments to: Maribeth Gustafson, Forest Supervisor, c/o Joe Foreman,Dillon Ranger District, PO Box 620, Silverthorne, Colorado 80498; or fax to: (970) 468-7735. Electronic comments must be submitted to: email@example.com. Copies of the EA are available for public review, contact Joe Foreman or Jessica Pettee at the Dillon Ranger District at (970) 468-5400.Bob Berwyn can be reached at (970) 331-5996, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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