Friends of Lolo Peak is not against skiing or ski areas. We are, however, concerned that the massive scale of the proposed Bitterroot Resort places local communities and the public land environment of the Lolo Peak area at risk. Traditional public uses of the area such as hunting, backcountry skiing, hiking and angling will be directly affected, as will the unique rural lifestyle currently enjoyed by residents of Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley.
As concerned citizens, we must ask ourselves an important question - Is the development of the Bitterroot Resort worth the impacts?
From our first public meeting, it became apparent that public concerns focused on three major categories:
PUBLIC LAND ISSUES
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!
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 http://bsci.bigsky.org/website/Lolo_Pk/viewer.htm(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."
COMMUNITY & LIFESTYLE ISSUES
What would the "largest ski resort development in North America" mean for Missoula and the communities of the Bitterroot Valley? Will it bring in stable, living-wage jobs? Will it drastically raise the price of living in communities?
Using data from mountain towns with similar developments, the following FAQs (sources at end) provide a few of the answers.
The following FAQs were prepared by Dr. Steve Seninnger, a professor at the School of Business Administration, University of Montana. Dr. Seninger is providing economic and community impact analysis, pro bono, as a concerned citizen and member of Friends of Lolo Peak. Steve is a hiker, skier and paddler who is committed to preserving the magnificent Lolo Peak area for the continued access and use by hunters, fishermen, hikers, skiers, horsetrail riders, and people in the local communities.
How do wild public lands and wilderness areas contribute to a community’s economy?
Wild public lands represent highly-valued amenities. Open lands, mountains, forest lands, free-flowing streams, and similar amenities help support a high quality of life for area residents and have become "magnets" to new migrants in the region. They have become key economic assets.
Public lands help move a communities toward a broader economic base attracting new businesses that are more human resource based rather than natural resource based—businesses like financial services, health care, financial services, and, in some cases, information technology based businesses and professionals.
What role do public lands play in a community’s economic development?
Public lands contribute to a human-resource based economy. The economy is less and less "natural resource based," and more and more "human resource based." Do we know how to invest in human resource development? Well-designed, well-funded, adaptive systems for education and work force development are essential for economic prosperity. In the new economy, a quality environment is a key economic asset. Protecting and enhancing environmental qualities is not the enemy of economic development. It is essential for economic prosperity. The larger Rocky Mountain West region – Montana, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado – is one of the fastest growing regions in North America. Communities in this region with quality businesses and quality workers will likewise grow and prosper. When people are asked why they are moving to these areas, they say "for the quality of life, the open lands and the natural environment".
How would the proposed Bitterroot ski resort/real estate development affect public lands and the protected roadless areas of Lolo Peak?
Lolo Peak is Missoula, Montana's loftiest landmark at 9,096'. This impressive peak stands at the northern boundary of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and lies at the heart of the 16,000-acre Lolo Creek Roadless Area on the Lolo National Forest. The area is home to a variety of game and non-game wildlife species. Elk, deer, moose, pileated woodpecker, goshawk, golden eagle, pine marten, mountain goat, hoary marmot, and wolf are just some of the species present in the area. Lolo Peak and adjoining Carlton Ridge is excellent lynx habitat, and is in a grizzly bear recovery area. Local streams support cutthroat trout and threatened bull trout. Cross-country skiing and winter mountaineering are popular recreation activities as well as hiking, camping, environmental education, horseback riding, big-game hunting and fishing.
A real estate development with 2200 housing units and a four-season destination ski resort is being proposed for the area. The proposed "Bitterroot resort" is being billed as the largest ski resort development in North America. As proposed, it would include a full-service village of high-end shops, 2200 exclusive housing units, ice skating rink, a golf course, even a restaurant on top of Carlton Ridge. Ski runs, lifts and a supporting road system are planned through wild public land, reaching all the way to the summit of Lolo Peak!
The potential impacts to wildlife, water quality, access, and recreation are dramatic.
The entire area currently serves as summer, winter and crucial winter elk habitat. Disturbances such as ski runs, golf courses, fences, subdivisions, chair lifts, and maintenance roads destroy critical habitat. The inevitable increase in human activity including noise, vehicle traffic, dogs, and ski lifts will displace elk and other wildlife.
The industrialization and development of public lands for the proposed real estate development and ski resort on Carlton Ridge and Lolo Peak is illegal under the current Forest Service travel plan. The proposed new resort development seeks to lease and develop wild national forest lands classified as Management Areas 11 and 12 in the Lolo Forest Plan. The Lolo Forest Plan prohibits new road construction, recreation developments or motor vehicle traffic within the wild lands proposed for the proposed ski resort.
WATER & SOIL ISSUES
A resort development the size and scale of the proposed Bitterroot Resort requires a great deal of water. The resort village (Carlton) will require water for homes, lodges, condos and businesses, as well as for the proposed golf course and ice rink. In addition, due to the low annual snowpack, the lower elevations of the proposed ski area will be heavily dependent on snowmaking - a process that uses a great deal of water.
OVERVIEW OF PROPOSED WATER USE
The Bitterroot Resort outlined its projected water needs and supplies in its initial plan:
"The Bitterroot River drainage is currently closed for new surface water appropriations. Water use for homes, lodges, condos, businesses and similar uses would be provided by wells and new groundwater appropriations are not affected by the closure. Snowmaking would likely require surface water rights.The private land portion of this project has associated irrigation water rights including storage in Carlton Reservoir that could provide substantial snowmaking. These rights would require a change-of-use application process through the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.The place of use for snowmaking would change from the irrigated pastures to ski runs but remain within the Carlton Creek drainage.The timing of runoff may be affected and would be analyzed during the change application process with public input. Converting the consumptive irrigation use to mostly non-consumptive snowmaking could result in higher streamflows (most irrigation water is transpired to the atmosphere while snowmaking water melts back into the surface and groundwater systems)."
"Bitterroot Resort will need snowmaking on the lower third of the mountain to assure a Thanksgiving opening. All destination resorts depend on snowmaking for a reliable winter season. Bitterroot Resort will install an automated snowmaking system, taking advantage of the advanced technology currently available in the industry."
"Water supply for domestic use will be pumped from wells on the east side of US Highway 93 in the Bitterroot Aquifer. Water will be pumped to million-gallon storage tanks above the proposed Mountain Village. The water system will provide adequate supply for domestic use and fire protection. Additional capacity can be designed into the system to extend service beyond the site."
LITTLE CARLTON LAKE LAWSUIT
Carlton Creek Irrigation Co. v. USA (2004): In August 2004, Tom Maclay filed suit as the Carlton Creek Irrigation Company after the Forest Service denied recognition of an easement on Little Carlton Lake in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. The agency denied the easement claim as the original dam was officially drained and breached by the irrigation company in 1960 - four years before Congress designated the area as Wilderness.
The irrigation company is also claiming a R.S. 2477 Road Right-of-Way to access both Carlton and Little Carlton Lakes.
It is interesting to note that despite the Bitterroot Resort's unending claims to be environmentally sensitive, Maclay hired the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) to represent him in the above case. MSLF has the honor of being started by James Watt, funded by Coors, and serving as an employer of Gale Norton. It is the premier anti-conservation law firm in the country, working to find loopholes that help large corporations avoid health laws.
Dam flap leads to resignation from Lolo Peak ski resort committee
By PERRY BACKUS of the Missoulian
Bill Worf, a retired U.S. Forest Service regional director of recreation and lands, has resigned from a steering committee for a proposed ski resort at Lolo Peak after the developers refused to discuss a controversy now working its way through the courts."I decided last night that, by God, I had my fill of this," Worf said Tuesday. "They've had all kinds of opportunities to bring it up and they've refused." More>>
RESPONSES TO THE RESORT'S CLAIMS
The following responses are provided by John Fergusen, executive director of the Montana Water Trust, in response to updated claims (3/05) made on the Resort's web site.
1. RESORT CLAIM: "We are working to develop the information necessary for detailed conversations about our plans and opportunities to enhance stream habitats."
RESPONSE: The information regarding the impacts of the proposed resort on surface and ground water as well as potential adverse impacts to other water right holders in the affected watersheds must be gathered and shared with the public as soon as possible, and before the consideration of forest service permits or water right changes proceed. Without this information, the public and agency decision-makers cannot make informed decisions.
2. RESORT CLAIM: "The ranch controls a bundle of water rights, which taken together amount to more than 4000 acre feet of water"
RESPONSE: This statement is not entirely correct. The water rights mentioned have not completed final adjudication, meaning the water court has not decided that the claimed volume, which is 4000 acre-feet, is what was historically used. Oftentimes, water right holders claim more than they historically used (for reasons such as lack of measuring devices to specifically identify how much water was in fact used before 1973 , or to try and get more water). Thus, Maclay may have the right to significantly less water, which will need to be determined by the water court and through the water change application process with the DNRC.
3. RESORT CLAIM: "We would change some of this water from summer use for irrigation to winter use for snowpack"
RESPONSE: Currently, the DNRC does not allow changing the period with which water is diverted from a creek or river, such as Lolo Creek. Meaning, if a farmer historically diverted water from the creek in the summer, but now seeks to divert in the winter, this is not currently a legal change of use. However, a water right holder can divert water in the summer and store it for use in the winter in a reservoir.
With respect to period of diversion change, it is important to make sure that the public objects to any period of diversion change. Withdrawing water in the winter months can be just as devastating to a fishery and aquatic life as in the summer, because in the winter the wetter perimeter of a creek is already significantly impacted by ice, and even the slightest withdrawal could have severe and negative impacts.
With respect to stored water, it is important to ensure that Maclay is not storing more water than which he historically used for irrigation prior to 1973. No enlargement of Maclay’s rights is authorized under the Montana Water Use Act. In addition, by changing the period of use for the "storage use" will also likely have an impact on late summer stream flows in Lolo and Carleton Creeks as discussed in the following answer.