Mountain High 

The land is your land, the land is my land, but officially it’s the Forest Service that is charged with managing it. How humans perform this management, or even if humans should perform this management, is the current debate, made timely by new rule changes announced last week by the White House.

Extractionists say that since trees are a renewable resource we can cut them down and build our houses, construct cardboard boxes and make wrapping paper. Conservationists, pointing to the effects of decades of mismanagement—species extinction, habitat destruction and increases in soil temperature—say cutting the public’s trees at a loss to taxpayers is a shortsighted form of fouling our global nest.

Ostensibly to divest power from Washington to local officials, the new rules give forest supervisors more decision-making power on their forests. As more and more Americans compete for space within these wildlands, regional directors are frustrated by extensive environmental reviews and lengthy public participation periods that can delay projects for years. While enviros will claim that the delays are critical to protecting forests from ill-advised projects, supervisors say the delays prevent work that they want to complete quickly, like post-fire restoration, from happening at all.

But wildlife watchers, hunters and recreationalists using public lands think they should have a say in their management, that decisions shouldn’t just be made by forest supervisors and that individual users’ needs can, and should, be accommodated. Some in Congress agree and don’t like the new rules one bit.

“These regulations cut the public out of the forest planning process,” says Tom Udall, D-N.M. “They will just inspire lawsuits and provide less protection for wildlife.”

But forest supervisors are capable of seeing the trees for the forest, argue those in support of the changes, and the new rules include independent oversight that will hold managers accountable to their actions.

Still, we won’t know how the rubber of this rule hits the road for years, but previous administration policies might serve as indicators. They’ve reversed a road ban on 59 million acres of currently roadless country and used a “Healthy Forests Initiative” to, interestingly, decrease the health of forests through increased logging.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is hosting public meetings to discuss a host of proposed changes in hunting regulations for Region Two, an area that includes land from St. Regis to Lincoln, Butte to Lost Trail Pass. Twelve meetings, all free and open to the public, will be held in Deer Lodge, Hamilton, Ovando, Potomac, Seeley Lake, Superior, Helmville, Missoula, Drummond, Lincoln, Anaconda and Phillipsburg through Jan. 20, so contact your local office for scheduling. The main regional meeting will be in Missoula Friday, Jan. 14, at the Doubletree Hotel at 7 p.m.

Written comments may be sent to FWP, Attn: Season Comments, 3201 Spurgin Road, Missoula, MT 59804 by Jan. 24, 2005.

Rocky Mountaineer Steve Niday has his sights set on a major winter prize for Jan. 5–9: the summit of Glacier National Park’s Mount Stimson. One of only a handful of 10,000’ peaks in the park, this massive summit requires skiers to first ford the Middle Fork of the Flathead River before blazing a dozen miles up a brushy draw. From there it’s a relatively safe climb up the southeast ridge of the venerable peak and a very, very long ski down. Participants must be amped about camping, cooking and traveling in extreme cold to consider this adventure, so call Niday at 721-3790 and join this memorable odyssey.

After a holiday break, the New Rocky Mountaineers are heading up to 6,900’ Mollman Pass in the Missions on Jan. 2. You’ll ski or snowshoe up 3,400’ of trail before attaining a large basin full of frozen lakes. Call Gerald Olbu at 549-4769 for more information.

If you’re a skier age 5–12 and you’re looking to enter the world of racing, consider joining the Tommy Moe Ski League Race Series on Big Mountain. The series begins Jan. 2 and runs through March 27. There’s free coaching, two races per night, and it only costs $5—not counting the (discounted for racers) $28 lift tickets. Register 9–11 a.m. at the Base Camp Kids Center, or call Series Coordinator Beth Sobba (862-7832) for more info. Three additional races are scheduled for Jan. 16, Feb. 27 and March 27.

And speaking of Big Mountain, no other ski area in Western Montana has as much snow these days, and that’s allowed the Big to open up its deep-dependent Hellroaring Basin, a 550-acre stash of excellent terrain.

Big Mountain is also hosting a “Rockin’ Rail Jam” on New Year’s Eve, debuting a new 20-foot rail and other features for the trixter crowd. The spectator-friendly Jam runs 5–7 p.m. when a torchlight parade and fireworks show will kick off the New Year. Plenty of live music can be found in the on-mountain bars, along with giveaways, contests and—most importantly—a 60-inch base of fine snow. Call 862-2900 or logon to for more info.

Elsewhere in the resort world, Montana Snowbowl is claiming 43 inches up top with the majority of the mountain open; half of Discovery Basin (including runs off the Granite Triple Chair) is open on 20 inches of snow; Big Mountain tops the region at 99 percent open on 60 inches; Lookout Pass is claiming 49 inches with two of three chairs open; Blacktail Mountain is still closed and anxiously awaiting snow; Lost Trail is reporting 34 inches, not enough to open Chairs 3 or 4; Silver Mountain has 34 inches and is open 3–9 p.m. through the holidays for $10 night skiing.

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