Picking the wrong battle

Opponents of the proposed expansion of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area continue to press their case, despite scientific analysis that shows they are barking up the wrong tree.

The environmental movement has much to be proud of, and this editorial board has consistently supported efforts to protect valuable resources and wild places when it is clear that protection is necessary. In this case, the environmental groups battling the ski area expansion have picked a bad fight.

The ski area has operated for many years. Mount Ashland is already developed. This debate is over a modest expansion that would have no significant effect on water, fish or wildlife.

The expansion would remove 68 acres of trees out of 960 acres covered by the Special Use Permit that allows the ski area to operate on public land.

The ski area serves the entire Southern Oregon region. If it depended only on the 21,000 residents of Ashland, it would have gone belly up long ago.

Ski area managers say skiers from this area make 30,000 visits a year to the Mt. Shasta Board and Ski Park because it has more beginning and intermediate-level terrain. The publicly owned, nonprofit Mt. Ashland Ski Area, known for its steep runs, needs more gentle terrain to compete for those skiers' business and ensure its long-term survival.

Ashland residents who oppose the expansion say they are concerned about the city's watershed. Those concerns are understandable but misplaced.

In the Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal issued eight years ago now, the U.S. Forest Service determined that watershed restoration projects and mitigation efforts planned as part of the expansion work will actually reduce the amount of sediment that flows into Ashland Creek from the ski area now. In other words, the expansion project will actually improve the quality of the city's water supply.

In 2007, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Forest Service needed to take a closer look at potential effects of the expansion on the Pacific fisher, a relative of the weasel.

The supplemental environmental impact statement that resulted found that the small amount of logging needed for the new ski runs would remove between two-tenths of 1 percent and five-tenths of 1 percent of one male fisher's range, and about 1 percent of one female's range. Mount Ashland sits at the far northern edge of an estimated population of 1,000 to 2,000 fishers extending into California.

The expansion opponents raised legitimate questions about the project. After years of delay, those questions have been answered and answered again.

When you ask a question and receive an answer you don't like, that doesn't mean it's wrong.

If this expansion project had been found to be a serious threat to water, trees or wildlife, we would oppose it, too. Rogue Valley residents should ask themselves why expansion opponents insist they support the ski area while repeating claims that have been thoroughly disproved.

Share This Story