Critics claims Forest Service approval violates regulations and environmental laws
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- Memo and Text of Breckenridge Peak 6 expansion MOU
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- Breckenridge Town Council weighs Peak 6 pros and cons
- Breckenridge, Vail Resorts clash over Peak 6 expansion plan
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Critics of the controversial Peak 6 expansion and Breckenridge Ski Area have formally appealed White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams approval of the project, charging that the agency violated its own regulations and federal environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act.
The appeal was delivered to the agency’s regional headquarters last week. Forest Service officials have 45 days to respond to the appeal, which was signed by 45 entities, including numerous Breckenridge residents, along with local, statewide and regional conservation groups. Read the appeal here.
“The Forest Service is just not upholding its responsibility to protect endangered species,” said forest conservation activist Rocky Smith. Approval of a one-time forest plan amendment that removes protection for lynx connectivity specifically for the Peak 6 expansion is particularly egregious, Smith said.
“I was not in favor of them moving forward on Peak 6,” said Rick Warren, chair of the Blue River Sierra Club group, which signed on to the appeal. “Part of it was walking through there, when we did that tour, the old-time growth that was in there was really good. It seems we ought to keep that while we’re taking down beetle-killed trees,” Warren said.
The White River National Forest approved the expansion plan in August after a contentious review and analysis that saw many locals speak out against the project. Fitzwilliams said the project balances resource conservation with meeting recreational demand, and that the new terrain will help reduce congestion on the busy mountain.
The expansion adds about 550 acres of new terrain, including several traditional clear cut ski runs as well as above-treeline bowl skiing and hike-to terrain. Forest Service documents on the expansion are online at the WRNF website.
The Forest Service acknowledged that the expansion will impact about 80 acres of lynx habitat, but the agency has embarked on a plan to improve conditions for the threatened cat on a larger scale, hoping to offset the site-specific loss of habitat in the long run. As part of the approval, Vail Resorts agreed to fund some of the habitat improvement work.
The appeal also criticizes the agency for never really considering a less impactful alternative, as required by environmental laws.
“The Forest Service never really considered an alternative that doesn’t expand the resort,” Smith said, adding that the expansion won’t meet the project’s stated purpose and need of reducing crowding.
White River Forest officials said they wouldn’t comment until the appeal process has run its course. This story will be updated with additional comments.