Ski company payment -extortion, bribe, or neither? |

Ski company payment -extortion, bribe, or neither?

Vail Resorts Inc., which operates five ski resorts in Colorado – Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin – provided the seed money, $200,000, for a lynx reintroduction program that has now cost $2 million. Some have called it extortion, others a thinly disguised bribe. Both charges lack strong evidence.

Those charging bribery point out that the lynx were subsequently released 200 miles from Vail, in the San Juans. Since the last incontrovertible evidence of lynx in Colorado was at Vail, in 1973, according to this argument, that’s where lynx should have been released.

This argument ignores several facts: First, Vail wasn’t the only place where lynx were once found. At about the same time, trappers killed lynx at three other locations: near Silver Plume; south of Leadville; and east of Basalt. The thread here is that all are reasonably close to I-70, where traffic has tripled since the last lynx were seen.

Why release lynx anywhere close to rural Colorado’s busiest highway? When lynx were reintroduced into New York’s Adirondack Mountains in the 1980s, many were killed on roads that were far less heavily used.

Ski area operators along the I-70 corridor may have been privately relieved that no lynx have been released near here. However, there was no clear pressure to choose the San Juans, which were chosen because a hastily completed study of habitat suggested they would be best.

The argument that Vail Resorts was extorted to donate $200,000 by the Colorado Division of Wildlife also wilts in the face of scrutiny. Andy Daly, then president of Vail Resorts, says the state wildlife agency had already given the ski company the criteria of what would be necessary in order to get its recommended approval for the expansion. Vail Resorts, he said, agreed to donate the money after those criteria were issued.

“We were uncertain what would happen with the lynx, but we actually felt we were better served by having lynx reintroduced to help us and everybody in the state determine the survivability rather than to live with years of uncertainty,” he says. “I think it was a legitimate strategy, the outcome of which is obviously still unknown.”

The contribution does fall within a pattern. Without any particular pressure, Vail Resorts through the years has spent $700,000 on study of elk movements between Copper Mountain and Beaver Creek. The company’s major push, like that of the rest of the ski industry, has been to try to demonstrate compatibility with wildlife. It will, however, be years before any conclusion can be drawn.

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