No surprises in Mount Ashland report

A supplemental environmental study of the proposed Mount Ashland ski area expansion should put to rest claims that the project poses a threat the Pacific fisher. It should, but it won't.

Opponents of the expansion long ago demonstrated that their goal is to prevent the expansion, and that they will use any pretense, no matter how flimsy, to do that.

U.S. District Judge Owen Panner initially rejected a legal challenge to the expansion by three environmental groups, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled him. Panner then halted work on the expansion while the Forest Service addressed its impact on the Pacific Fisher and rezoned soils in some areas where new ski trails would be built.

So how would the fisher fare?

Forest Service biologists say cutting trees for new ski trails would remove suitable habitat within the range of one male fisher and one female fisher. Let's put that in perspective.

Male fishers have an estimated range of 15,000 to 36,000 acres (The range expands during breeding season). The new ski trails would require removing 68 acres of trees.

That's less than five-tenths of 1 percent of one male fisher's range at the low end of the estimate. At the high end, it's less than two-tenths of 1 percent.

The ski runs would remove 1 percent of one female fisher's range.

What's more, Mount Ashland is at the far northern edge of an estimated population of 1,000 to 2,000 animals extending into California.

Does the ski area expansion pose a significant risk to the Pacific fisher? Hardly.

As for the soil rezoning, it has to do with concerns about erosion sending silt into the headwaters of Ashland Creek, which feeds Reeder Reservoir, the city of Ashland's primary water source.

But the original environmental impact statement — now six years in the past — found that mitigation measures planned by the ski area's managers as part of the expansion would actually reduce erosion. That's right: Expanding the ski area would be good for Ashland's water supply.

One could argue that opponents of the expansion, by delaying the project year after year, are threatening the drinking water of Ashland residents. It makes about as much sense as claiming to defend a wildlife species that probably is smart enough to steer clear of the ski area in the first place.

The new report should put to rest any legitimate concerns about the effects of the expansion and allow the work to proceed. But don't hold your breath.

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