Ski area, environment stakeholders learn about Copper Mountain Resort’s native seeding initiative
Copper Mountain Resort is often recognized for its sustainability efforts, and it even won an award highlighting its innovation in sustainability this year. But in order to see real environmental impact, the resort is eager to share its strategies across the industry.
Copper hosted a seminar Monday, Oct. 11, to share the ideas behind its native seeding program with attendees from local environmental groups, the National Ski Areas Association and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area coming to learn about its strategies.
Jeff Grasser, efficiency manager at Copper, explained the details of how he identifies plants from which to take seeds and the methods to get it done. Grasser led stakeholders around the base of the ski area identifying plants in disturbed areas that are also common in the local environment.
Grasser said Copper currently has a list of 64 approved species from which it takes seeds, noting that any organization interested in these techniques would need to take the time to identify its own list of native species. Species native to Copper might not be the same ones native to other mountains in the area, and Grasser said Copper started with only five species.
Grasser also reiterated to the group that they don’t need a botanist or ecologist to do the work, as plant identification is becoming easier with new technologies, including mobile phone apps. He said the challenge comes from the lack of academia around certain species, but he said using observational evidence of how nature behaves makes it doable.
Mike Nathan, sustainability manager at A-Basin, said the resort is always looking for new ways to improve its sustainability efforts, recognizing its natural environment as its top asset.
“In general, A-Basin has had a long history of taking our environmental impacts pretty seriously and doing our best to address them,” Nathan said. “We’ve got a pretty ambitious set of goals around our environmental impacts, all centering around eventually becoming carbon neutral by 2025.”
Nathan reiterated that the ski community, especially in Summit County, is so aligned in its conservation goals that working together is always a plus.
“I think collaboration has really been one of the strong suits of the ski business in how we approach climate change,” Nathan said. “… The sharing of knowledge and experiences has always been so free and goes both directions.”
Nathan said helping A-Basin’s biodiversity along is the resort’s likely next step in its conservation efforts. He said he sees the native seeding as a great way to get the resort’s staff and guests more involved and connecting with nature.
“The model here at Copper Mountain is so easily scalable to our operation,” Nathan said. “… It’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Jim Alexander, who leads the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance’s noxious weed-fighting program, said the group always aims to help restore local ecosystems, but the native seeding program can provide them with a new way to expand this.
“Currently, we’ve been doing the noxious weeds trying to get those out, but we’re wondering if there’s something we can put back in,” Alexander said.
Kendra Fuller, executive director of the Blue River Watershed Group, said her organization has already done similar restoration efforts unofficially but that she was eager to learn more from Copper’s extensive experience.
The watershed group has done restoration work on the banks of the Swan River, and Fuller said some banks do well revegetating, while others remain barren even with various seeding techniques. She said Copper’s methods could be helpful to try in these more troublesome areas.
“This is giving us that additional knowledge, professionalism and also wisdom that they’ve gained from doing this for a few years so that we don’t make mistakes like planting invasives or collecting at inappropriate times,” Fuller said. “That actual researched knowledge and tracking is really helpful for us so that we can kind of get a model of what we should be doing to track where we’ve collected and what’s working.”
Fuller said learning how the seeding works at Copper was inspirational. She also brought her parents along to the event because they want to bring these techniques to their community in California to help restore land decimated by wildfires.
“They’ve got this habitat that was totally decimated, and it’s not returning,” Fuller said. “So they’re going to try and do a grassroots movement and get all of their neighborhood to collect seeds from their homes and then plant it in the forest.”
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