Critics? Crickets.

The Lolo National Forest released a draft environmental impact statement for Montana Snowbowl's proposed resort expansion weeks ago, but only one critic has stepped forward so far. Considering the wide array of potential environmental flashpoints, the silence has come as a surprise to the plan's lone dissident.

"If all these different subsets of conservation and preservation groups are going to be impacted, why has there been no response from any of them?" asks Hayden Janssen, a Missoula economic and environmental researcher. "When we're dealing with endangered species, I would hope there would be a number of groups who would choose to voice their concern."

Snowbowl's expansion plan includes a long list of possible impacts to the local ecosystem. It would draw more water for snowmaking from Butler Creek, home to endangered cutthroat and bull trout; clear-cut 39 acres of old growth timber; and intrude onto elk foraging ground and critical habitat for Canada lynx. So why the drought of voices raising the conservation flag?

Janssen feels that, beyond the conflicts of interest raised by Snowbowl's status as a recreation hotspot, the answer lies in the amount of attention a lawsuit against a finalized plan can draw.

"It's a misallocation of resources," Janssen says. "If you can get away with writing a letter now and it quells it, what's the point of wasting money on litigation later?"

Janssen also questions the seemingly inconsistent arguments coming from local conservation groups. Years ago, critics of the Bitterroot Resort directed the public's attention to the 2006 Lolo National Forest draft management plan, which panned the need for increased ski area capacity. The information, gleaned from a Forest Service-sponsored industry study from late 2005, backed arguments launched against the resort by groups like Friends of Lolo Peak.

Yet those same findings also appear to undermine Janssen's point. The Forest Service's 2005 Downhill Skiing Needs Assessment states, "Considerations should be given to Montana Snowbowl's proposal to provide a more balanced mix of terrain to meet the desires of the skiing public."

click to enlarge CHAD HARDER

Regardless, Janssen plans to voice his complaints against Snowbowl's proposal during the March 30 open house at the Grant Creek Inn, even if he fails to generate additional opposition in the local environmental community.

"Paying $28 to ride to the top of the mountain as the excuse for cutting down old growth forest is pretty ludicrous," Janssen says.

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