Business as Usual for Colorado Ski Resorts on Federal Land

By Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
10/15/2013 9:46:42 AM

While the two-week government shutdown has forced hundreds of privately managed campgrounds on Forest Service lands to close, it's business as usual for ski areas in Colorado's national forests.

The Arapahoe Basin Ski Area in the Arapaho National Forest opened its ski lift yesterday morning, welcoming an expected 1,000 skiers and becoming the first of more than 20 resorts in the Centennial State to open on agency lands.

"The shutdown is not affecting the ski industry here in Colorado," said Jennifer Rudolph, a spokeswoman for Colorado Ski Country. "It's a different kind of a relationship than, say, a national park."

Rudolph said about 90 percent of the state's ski areas operate on national forestlands under 40-year special-use permits.

Arapahoe Basin, known as A-Basin, is located along the Continental Divide about 70 miles west of Denver. It's one of the highest-elevation ski resorts in the country.

Two more ski areas on agency lands -- Loveland Ski Area and Copper Mountain -- are scheduled to open in the next two weeks.

Photo by Flickr user dkwonsh

Ski areas appear to be among the few businesses that are exempted from the government shutdown, which has furloughed thousands of Forest Service employees, closed several hundred privately managed campgrounds and recreation sites, and halted hundreds of timber contracts.

The agency's contingency plan allows the continuation of permitted activities whose suspension would cause an "imminent threat to human life and property," including "nurseries, insectaries, tree seed labs and the minimum level of staffing to administer permits and contracts needed for protection of National Forest System lands."

But it says nothing about the operation of ski areas.

The shutdown also has not slowed an expansion project at Breckenridge Ski Resort that included the construction of a new lift, according to a report from Bob Berwyn of The Colorado Independent. Forest Service personnel are typically on hand for such improvements to ensure that all environmental regulations and best management practices are being met, the report said.

"Ski resorts operating on national forest lands apparently have a special dispensation that makes them immune to the shutdown," Berwyn wrote.

It's unclear how ski areas fared during the last government shutdown, which occurred during the heart of the ski season in the winter of 1995 and 1996.

Leo Kay, a Forest Service spokesman, said this afternoon that ski areas may open if they have submitted operating plans and conducted preseason meetings with Forest Service personnel.

"The permitted facilities are privately owned and are subject to no direct oversight once the season begins," Kay said in an email. "Concession campgrounds were suspended because they operate federal facilities and require agency oversight."

The closure of hundreds of privately managed campgrounds on Forest Service lands last week drew scorn from some business leaders, who argued that such activities were allowed to continue during the last shutdown (Greenwire, Oct. 8).

House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) last week said he's prepared to open a probe into the Forest Service's implementation of the shutdown.

"Among the issues of most concern to the committee are why the Forest Service made the determination that certain privately funded businesses operating on National Forest System land must be closed while others in similar situations are allowed to remain open," Hastings wrote in a letter Friday to Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, asking him to preserve documents related to the closures of grazing, concessionaires and other privately run businesses.

Hastings also penned a similar letter to Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe criticizing the decision to close access to hundreds of national wildlife refuges during the start of hunting season.

He said campgrounds and hunting and fishing activities are managed by private businesses or states and are only intermittently staffed or patrolled by federal employees.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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