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Centennial Mountain Heli-Skiing

Photo: Steve Shannon.

On Friday, March 12th, Ashton/Island Park District Ranger Liz Davy withdrew the possibility of a permit to allow helicopter skiing in a portion of the Centennial Mountains on the Idaho side of the range for the following reasons:

+ Research indicates use of helicopters has significant negative impacts to denning grizzly bears, a threatened species. Wildlife biologists have documented occupied grizzly bear dens in the vicinity of the proposed use. Based on a preliminary review of this project, US Fish and Wildlife agreed with Caribou-Targhee determination of an adverse effect to denning grizzly bears as well as an adverse effect to grizzly bears emerging from their dens. Helicopter use would likely cause injury to denning females and possible mortality of cubs of the year.

+ Some of the areas proposed for skiing and landing a helicopter are located within known avalanche prone areas creating a risk to public health and safety.

+ This use as demonstrated by the applicant can be accommodated on lands other than National Forest System lands.

On December 30th, 2020, conservations organizations Yellowstone to Uintas Connection, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and the Native Ecosystem Council submitted scoping comments to the Caribou-Targhee National Forest arguing that the Forest Service must complete a full environmental impact statement (EIS) for this project because the project will have significant individual and cumulative impacts on the environment.

Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies stated “the Alliance has reviewed the statutory and regulatory requirements governing National Forest Management projects, as well as the relevant case law, and compiled a check- list of issues that must be included in an EIS for the Project in order for the Forest Service’s analysisto comply with the law.”

“Circa 2000, the Wasatch Cache National Forest produced a map representing the Regionally Significant Wildlife Corridor that connects the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and Northern Rockies to the Uinta Wilderness and Southern Rockies.  The Forest Service must provide a map and analysis of the Corridor addressing habitat fragmentation and the presence of core habitat and habitat connectivity for special status species in the project area including Grizzly Bear, Canada Lynx and Wolverine, and Goshawk and owl home ranges” said Jason Christensen, Director of Yellowstone to Uintas Connection.  Christensen continued “The Forest Service must formally consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) regarding the impact of the project on these special status species and when they did, the Forest Service agreed with our position.  We are happy the District Ranger pulled the permit allowing the helicopters to potentially have negative impacts on Grizzly bears in the project area.”

“We also asked the Forest Service to specify how the helicopter ski company would deal with the safety issue of snowmobilers in the areas in which   they want to operate.  Helicopters in and of themselves are capable of triggering avalanches.  The project area is located within known avalanche prone areas creating a risk to public health and safety while only benefiting the private helicopter ski company.” Garrity added.

Sara Johnson, Executive Director of the Native Ecosystems Council added “This project is in Canada lynx habitat. In order to meet the requirements of the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service Conservation Agreement, the Forest Service agreed to ensure that all project activities are consistent with the Lynx Conservation Assessment andStrategy (LCAS) and the requirements of protecting lynx critical habitat. The Forest Service did not do so with this project analysis. This project will adversely affect lynx habitat in violation of the Endangered Species Act.”

“Habitat is increasingly fragmented and deteriorated by human activities while the agencies charged with managing this region fail to address or correct any aspect of these issues while continuing to approve projects that increase the fragmentation, habitat deterioration and pollution.  We are thrilled to see this permit pulled” Christensen states.

Contacts:

Jason Christensen, Director, Yellowstone to Uintas Connection 435-881-6917

Mike Garrity, Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies 406-459-5936

 

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