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Ski Area Development Process–
The Paper Monkey Wrench

Our National Forests are overseen by the United States Forest Service (USFS). In order to manage the forest they develop a Land and Resource Management Plan (also known as the Forest Plan) with a corresponding Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for every National Forest. The Forest Plan determines the desired use and condition of the forest and it contains guidelines for the USFS. The EIS is a document that outlines the environmental impact that is the proposed management direction in the Forest Plan will have.

There are more than a few pieces of major legislation that mandate the Forest Plan, the EIS, protection and the scoping* process. The key pieces of legislation are the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA). The NEPA mandates that public input must be had on all actions that might environmentally impact our National Forest.

There is a whole network of "environmentalists" that use the NEPA to throw a paper monkey wrench into the development process of our forests. Please don't get me wrong, I am not against the environmentalists -- just the fact that they seem to be against anything "not natural." They even have pages on the internet, detailing the paper monkey wrench, how best to defeat the Forest Plan, who to call to get help in writing appeals, how to get on all the mailing lists and who can help you if you want to sue the Forest Service. They are striving for nature undisturbed by human intervention. But they forget that the ecological systems are always changing. Sometimes maintaining a natural area requires considerable human intervention, from controlled burning to locally eradicating uncharacteristic species. Are we skiers such an abnormal breed. I believe each area has it uses and importance. And sometimes, it's advantageous to develop and improve Ski Areas.

But, of course, I digressed. The USFS defined process is pretty convoluted. One year alone, the appeals created 1.6 jobs in the Allegheny National Forest at a cost of $86,000. Here's how the process goes:

 1.
The Forest Service comes up with a Plan. As snow sports enthusiasts, we would be interested in the plans that would result in Ski Area development and expansion.
 2.
A scoping letter, detailing (1-5 pages) what actions the Forest Service is proposing, is sent to all interested parties -- mainly the activists. There are 30 days to respond.
 3.
Based on comments received, a Pre-Decisional Environmental Assessment (30-50 pages) is generated detailing the concern and possible alternatives. Once again, there are 30 days in which to respond.
 4.
The USFS makes their decision.
 5.
Finally, the public has 45 days in which to appeal the decision by trying to demonstrate that the Forest Plan was not followed or USFS have violated some aspect of the NEPA.
6.
Portions of this process are often repeated a number of times.

We as skiers and snowboarders need to be pro-active. To get started, get on the list to receive the Quarterly Project Report (QPR) that national forests are required to send to interested persons. Ask them to send you their QPR and be placed on their general scoping* list expressing interest in ski area development. We need to find out what's planned in the Ski Areas we enjoy, evaluate the plan and make our voices heard. We can make a difference.

* The process of soliciting public input is know as "scoping*" or determining the scope of the project.

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