Let the games begin. On Wednesday the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests rejected Tom Maclay’s proposed Bitterroot Resort, saying it doesn’t conform to the existing forest plan. But the debate is hardly over.
“I think of it as a ping-pong ball game,” says Public Affairs Officer Sharon Sweeney.
David Blair, spokesman for the Bitterroot Resort, agrees with the ping-pong analogy. He says the forest officials’ decision was not unexpected, and that “we don’t think it indicates anything about what the Missoula and Ravalli [county] communities think.”
Though the resort’s proposed ski runs and lifts clearly don’t fit the current plan, which precludes developed recreation, both the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests are in the process of revising their plans, which should be complete in 2006.
Blair says resort boosters will actively work on revising the forest plan to allow development of the ski area, rather than refining their proposal into compatibility with existing rules.
While the new plan could endorse some development, forest officials say use of the 900-acre Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area (RNA) is not up for debate. The Forest Service manual, Sweeney says, is clear: “Unless catastrophic circumstances significantly alter the conditions for which an RNA was originally created…the designation of a RNA shall be in perpetuity.”
Regardless, Blair says, the resort remains interested in accessing that area. “We think there are ways to accomplish the goals of the RNA and the goals of a ski area,” he says. “The RNA was established through an administrative decision and the burden is to change that.”
Sweeney says there is ongoing research on the rare hybridization of western larch and alpine larch in the Carlton Ridge RNA, and the goal of maintaining an undisturbed, pristine area for research doesn’t mesh with alpine ski development.
Regardless of what decisions are reached about public lands, Blair says, Maclay is pursuing development of his private land, and although no firm timeline is set, that development will likely commence before the new forest plan is settled.
“The development of the private property at Maclay and sons ranch is asked and answered,” Blair says. “It is going to be developed. The question is whether that development will also entail a public component.”