Bridger-Teton National Forest officials have not yet decided if they will assemble an “alternative” that would give the public the option of favoring a plan B over Snow King Resort’s desired changes to the Town Hill.
A step managers of the 3.4-million-acre national forest have taken as they prepare an environmental impact statement is choosing, and eliminating, specific issues that will be analyzed. The Bridger-Teton last week published a consultant report, prepared by Cirrus Ecological Solutions, that outlines those issues.
Issues to be assessed — and not — were hand-picked from the input that poured in during the first phase of the Snow King analysis, called “scoping,” which attracted comments from 10 agencies, 11 organizations and 419 people.
“From here, what we do is we take the issues and we determine what level of analysis needs to occur,” Jackson District Ranger Mary Moore said.
If lots of analysis is necessary, an “issue” could evolve into its own alternative in the impending environmental impact statement, which must present the public with a reasonable range of alternatives to satisfy federal environmental law. Those decisions, however, have not been made, Moore said. The Bridger-Teton is also still undecided if there will be a customary “preferred alternative” in the plan, which is bureaucratic language for an option an agency is leaning towards.
So what issues will be carefully assessed in the lengthy planning document, and what will not be?
Climate change and its expected effects on the viability of Snow King’s desired additions is one topic area that earned the nod yes. The relatively low-elevation ski resort, which tops out at 7,800 feet, is proposing to add a chairlift and ski runs on its south-facing backside in Leeks Canyon.
“A significant reduction in snowfall over time could preclude the need for any additional winter recreation infrastructure or recreational opportunities,” the 12-page Cirrus report says. “The analysis will address that issue.”
The issues report also identifies Snow King’s effects on air quality, surface runoff, erosion, effects on impaired Flat Creek and noxious weeds as other issues that will be carefully analyzed. “Special-status species” of wildlife, like those classified under the Endangered Species Act, also fall into this category, as well as sensitive species listed by the U.S. Forest Service.
Impacts to specialized habitats, like mule deer and elk winter range, would also be analyzed.
There are also a plethora of “human environment” issues to be analyzed in the Snow King plans. Effects on historic properties and “historic landscapes” would be addressed, as would any effects on Native American tribal resources, according to the report.
The loss of vegetation in Leeks Canyon, where the ski area boundary overlaps a grazing allotment, will be considered and assessed. Other issues to be analyzed in-depth cover livestock grazing, noise, ski terrain, visitor services, trails, Phil Baux Park, user safety, avalanches and scenery.
There were 27 total issues that the Snow King consultant identified as irrelevant, or that will not receive in-depth analysis. These dismissed issues include impacts to “general” wildlife species, effects on the town of Jackson’s “character” and expected changes to Snow King’s pass prices as a result of new infrastructure. (See all the dismissed issues in the consultant report, attached to this story online at JHNewsAndGuide.com.)
The Bridger-Teton is on pace to release its draft environmental impact statement for Snow King in “early fall,” Moore said. Ahead of that release, in “early August,” the national forest is planning to issue a report that will outline the draft alternatives, she said.
Snow King General Manager Ryan Stanley declined comment for this story.
Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Director Skye Schell, who has watchdogged the Snow King process, has pushed for two separate alternative options to the ski resort’s proposed action. One alternative on his wish list would be focused on addressing wildlife concerns, while another requested option would espouse a “balanced vision” for the future of the Town Hill.
“If there’s a middle-ground alternative with no boundary or footprint expansion — and that’s the preferred alternative — that’s a great win for the community,” Schell said. “I really hope we see that, but we don’t know yet.”