On May 6, Deputy regional forester Pena denied Crested Butte Ski Area’s appeal of GMUG forest supervisor Richmond’s decision rejecting the ski area’s proposal to expand downhill skiing onto Snodgrass Mountain. Pena notes correctly that NEPA is not triggered when a private entity proposes a project on the national forests; thus, Richmond’s decision denying the ski area’s expansion plan does not require an EIS.
That’s the simple part of Pena’s decision. Things get more complicated when Pena turns to NFMA. He is obviously troubled that the GMUG’s NFMA plan zones Snodgrass Mountain for downhill skiing. Crested Butte thinks this ski area zone creates a presumption that it can expand downhill skiing to the undeveloped Snodgrass Mountain. Pena appears to agree. His decision directs Richmond to either tell Crested Butte what an acceptable Snodgrass Mountain ski area expansion would look like or revise the forest plan to eliminate the ski zone on Snodgrass Mountain.
Under current NFMA rules, a forest plan revision (as distinct from an “amendment”) requires an EIS. Thus Pena is giving the ski area what it wants — an EIS — but through an NFMA backdoor instead of NEPA.
This illustrates an underlying problem of viewing NFMA plans as all-resource, comprehensive zoning documents. That’s not what Congress required or envisioned. Doing so creates perverse consequences, such as at Snodgrass Mountain, where NFMA zoning creates an EIS obligation not required by NEPA.
A guest post by Lynn Jungwirth
Clearly modern forest plans must have a restoration plan embedded in them. We’ve been struggling here lately with trying to figure out “how much is enough”. Currently “cumulative effect” means that you figure out where the threshold is for negative impact….how many roaded acre equivalents can happen before you have tipped the watershed into an unacceptable trajectory. But if we are going to be planning for restoration and maintenance of ecosystem function, we do not have an equivalent cumulative effect analysis for when you reach a threshold which means the system is on a good trajectory and can take care of itself, or is at least adequately repaired or resilient in the face of projected climate change.
How could a forest planning rule help us make that investigation?
I’m also pretty concerned that many of these place-based approaches in legislation are sort of just running over the forest planning process and again splitting the baby . wilderness vs industrial restoration seems so old fashioned. The forests have been run ragged with this either “too much” or “not enough” management approach. The 22nd Century seems to ask more of us. If we are truly going to wrestle with the integration of recreation, silviculture, restoration, ecosystem services, biodiversity, and an “all lands” approach, it seems that what is required in forest plans is going to be very very different than what we have now.