Vail Resorts ups contribution to lynx conservation fund
By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — There will be no lawsuit challenging the Peak 6 expansion at Breckenridge Ski Area, as conservation groups say they’ve reached an agreement with Vail Resorts that will help ensure long-term conservation of threatened lynx in the area.
“Our main concern was lynx conservation,” said Rocky Mountain Wild attorney Matt Sandler, who was involved in the recent talks with Vail Resorts. As part of the agreement, Vail Resorts will up its contribution to a conservation fund that will be used for habitat improvements in the region, benefiting lynx and other species.
Sandler said the agreement will help ensure the persistence of lynx in the region, as per conservation measures outlined by federal biologists in the approval for the Peak 6 expansion. The goal is to increase overall habitat connectivity across areas hammered by the bark beetle infestation.
Since being reintroduced in the San Juans in the early 2000s, lynx have spread northward, with documented breeding in Summit County. Opponents of the expansion said it didn’t make sense to cut down health spruce and fir forests — habitat preferred by lynx — in light of the surrounding dead lodgepole pine forests.
U.S. Forest Service officials said earlier this week that work on the controversial expansion could begin as early as mid-June, depending on snow and weather conditions. Site-specific mitigation for the expansion includes a design featuring relatively narrow trails and wide tree islands that can help make the area better for wildlife — although monitoring from other ski areas shows those measures are largely ineffective. The Forest Service has said every effort will be made to preserve large legacy trees in the expansion area.
“Breckenridge Ski Resort has reached an agreement with local conservationists, including Denver-based Rocky Mountain Wild, that will avoid litigation over the Peak 6 expansion,” said Kelly Ladyga, VP of corporate communications for Vail Resorts. “As a part of this agreement, Breckenridge Ski Resort has committed to increasing its contribution to a National Forest Foundation fund previously established to address lynx habitat improvements in Summit County.
“The ski resort (Breckenridge) will contribute an additional $125,000 toward lynx conservation projects in Summit County, up from $300,000,” Ladyga said. “We believe this funding for lynx conservation in Summit County will do more good than fighting to protect an area already affected by an adjacent ski area and other potential factors,” Ladyga said.
Sandler said that, as part of the agreement, Vail Resorts has reiterated its commitment not to expand farther north along the Tenmile Range unless local communities request another expansion. Additionally, Breckenridge will not proposed to add a new Peak 6 restaurant above treeline, if the resort ever looks to add a new on-mountain eatery. Sandler said there were discussions about the placement of a new backcountry access point on Peak 6, with the goal of placing it where impacts to lynx would be minimized.