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The Bitterroot Resort proposes to develop public land on the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests. This acreage includes Inventoried Roadless land and the 16,000-acre Lolo Creek Inventoried Roadless Area, 920 acres of which is designated as the Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area (RNA). A RNA is described by the Forest Service as a place containing unique plant or animal communities that provide unmatched opportunities for research. The Carlton Ridge RNA contains a rare, natural hybridization of western and alpine larch - many of the trees are said to be upwards of 700 years old!

Concerns about development focus around the following issues:

THE RNA: Learn more about the Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area
HISTORY: What would Lewis & Clark Do?
WILDLIFE: Where do they go?
SCIENCE: Rare hybrids in the Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area (RNA)
WILDERNESS: The invaluable Selway-Bitterroot
SOIL FAILURE: It slid before, why not again?
ACCESS: It's free now

HISTORY: What would Lewis & Clark Do?

Development would occur three miles from historic sites, forever tarnishing the historic view from Travelers Rest State Park, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and the adjacent Lolo Trail. The Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation Board of Directors supports preserving Lolo Peak in its current condition.

WILDLIFE: Where do they go
Numerous game and non-game species are present in the Lolo Peak area including elk, deer, moose, pileated woodpecker, goshawk, golden eagle, grouse, pine marten, mountain goat, hoary marmot, black bear, mountain lion, and wolf. Lolo Peak and adjoining Carlton Ridge are excellent lynx habitat and lie within a grizzly bear recovery area. Local streams support cutthroat trout and threatened bull trout. The entire area currently serves as summer, winter and crucial winter elk habitat for the largest elk herd north of Hamilton on the west side of the Bitterroot valley. The lower elevation lands to the northwest of the proposed development are crucial winter habitat for elk.

The excellence of the habitat is attested to by John Vore of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks:

“ From summer range that reaches high into subalpine basins on the mountain’s forested shoulders, to winter haunts where timber crowds the low valley grassland, Lolo Peak is home to deer and elk. Black bear, mountain lion, coyote and wolf roam the slopes, as do wolverine, lynx and fisher. Among the rocks and scree in the high country live hoary marmots, a species that is currently considered a special concern in Montana. We Montanans place a very high and special value on wildlife and wild places, and we guard them jealously, for our own sake, and for the sakes of our grandchildren.”  

To view interactive maps of the area's elk, wolverine and lynx habitat visit (please note that this site is best viewed with a highspeed internet connection).

SCIENCE: Rare hybrids in the
Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area (RNA)

The current RNA includes only about half of the ecologically unique alpine larch zone the original designation was created to protect. The scientific importance of this area is well explained by Stephen Arno, Ph.D., Clinton Carlson, Ph.D., and James Habeck, Ph.D., all of whom who have extensive professional knowledge of the Carlton Ridge RNA:

“Alpine larch is an exceptionally cold-hardy tree that grows only in a few high mountain ranges of the inland, northwestern United States and southwestern Canada. On north-facing slopes and other moist sites, it forms groves of erect trees above the elevational limits of other trees. Nearly all alpine larch-dominated sites are heavily glaciated rocklands, where scarcity of soil impedes vegetation development. In contrast, the two-mile-long upper slope of Carlton Ridge – in the existing Research Natural Area and its proposed western addition – is unique in having a well-developed soil mantle at high elevation (about 8,000 feet) that supports a continuous forest of alpine larch. This forest represents a “climatic climax” community of great interest to ecological science. Each of us is very familiar with the extraordinary scientific values of Carlton Ridge RNA, and we have concluded that these values would be compromised by the proposed Lolo Peak ski development."

WILDERNESS: The invaluable Selway-Bitterroot

The proposed ski resort directly borders the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and, if approved, will have irreversible impacts on the area's wilderness character. A place set aside by Congress for primitive adventure and solitude, the Wilderness will be impacted by adjacent vertical clearcuts, roads and vehicle use, and by the massive influx of seasonal visitors.

In a column for the Missoulian, Greg Tollefson wrote about the experience of climbing Lolo Peak and gazing in to the Wilderness:

“Stretching to the south from the summit, the jagged peaks of the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness stretch into the hazy distance. Standing on the peak, the wilderness boundary lies just beneath your feet…The feeling one gets from being in such a place, sheer joy at being alive, the reassuring permanence of things like mountains, cannot be duplicated and cannot be bought… The development of ski runs and lifts and other facilities on those lands would change forever their wild character and all that means for all of us here in western Montana.”

The Wilderness is also threatened by the corporate ski industry's need to expand and could lose acreage enjoyed by the public since its designation in 1964. To remain competitive, ski resorts of this size and scale must join an "expansion arms race" - to meet industry standard they must constantly strive to expand ski runs and associated development. This trend is especially prevalent in Colorado, but can also be witnessed in Utah, Washington and Oregon. Aggressive, profit-driven expansion and development result in severe impacts, not only to the public land environment, but also to water supplies and local communities. To learn more about the expansion race nationwide, visit

SOIL FAILURE: It slid before, why not again?

The current Forest Management Plan states that the geological make-up of Carlton Ridge lends itself to mass slope failure - as witnessed by the landslide in upper McClain Creek on the Bitterroot Nat'l Forest. Tom Maclay received $440,000 in compensation from the Forest Service because of the soil disturbance in Maclain Creek. Currently, McClain Creek is on the State's Water Quality Impaired list (303d list) due to this landslide. Obviously, logging, road building and construction are not ideal on an unstable slope and could seriously impact streams, rivers, wildlife habitat, and adjacent private land holdings.

The instability of the soils in this area is well documented. Geologist Gary Morrison provides some insight on why this area is a poor place for high-intensity development:

“Contributing to the instability of the McClain Creek slide and the surrounding area are: 1) Gneiss and schist rocks containing a high percentage of mica that weathers readily, especially when subject to wet conditions and/or being crushed by faulting; 2) Micaceous soils derived from the surrounding bedrock that act as a lubricant; 3) Ground water quantity and shallow depth which provide an ideal slip surface and the required
buoyant density to trigger slump-earthflow landslides; 4) Wet north to northeast facing slopes in established drainage basins; and 5) Faults which may make the rock break down more readily, form water courses and/or slip planes.

Construction of roads, communication towers or other facilities where the above conditions prevail has the potential to: 1) Undercut unconsolidated soil and rock and allow debris to slide; 2) Overload the top of unstable material causing it to slide; 3) Compact soils, thereby damming the ground water until sufficient pressure is built up to make it fail; and 4) Disrupt ground water and surface flow, channeling it to potential slide areas and increasing surface erosion. In view of the above, this area should be managed as a 3.1 Special Area. In addition, the conditions apply to and support the existing and proposed RNA designations.”  

Historical evidence and prevailing science indicates that this area should be managed with care, taking steps to preclude property damage and possible human safety concerns.   

ACCESS: It's free now

Currently, traditional recreation activities like backcountry skiing, winter mountaineering, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, environmental education, and horseback riding are free and open to the public. Locals and visitors alike flock to the popular Mormon Peak Trailhead destined for Lolo Peaks summit, to fish at Carlton Lake, or to view the awesome scenery from Carlton Ridge overlook. Free, year-round access would change with ski resort development, possibly requiring lift tickets and restricting activities.


Friends of Lolo Peak, P.O. Box 7444, Missoula, MT 59807
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