Who cares what happens to Mount Spokane?
The Lands Council has opposed a ski expansion onto the west side of the mountain, and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission could vote on the development Thursday.
A patch of old growth forest at the headwaters of Blanchard Creek would be bulldozed for the base of the proposed chairlift. Seven runs that are now native forest and meadows would be cut through the trees. We believe the commission rushed through an environmental analysis that other state agencies find woefully inadequate. But don’t just take our word, or think we are the only group opposing this expansion.
The Spokane Tribe, Upper Columbia United Tribe, Washington Natural Heritage Program, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Ecology, Spokane Mountaineers, Sierra Club and Audubon Society all oppose the expansion. Robert Fimbel, a state scientist who is very concerned, wrote that there are “14 pockets of old growth identified in BSA … the majority intersecting with the proposed lower portions of the lift line and associated trails,” and the area has the “Highest known density of goshawks in Spokane County and the only place that still has lynx, wolverine and marten observations.”
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife wrote the following comment: “WDFW predicts the following impacts to wildlife in the wake of alpine ski area expansion into the back side of Mount Spokane: Animals extirpated or greatly reduced in the park – lynx, wolverine, marten, wolf. Animals extirpated or greatly reduced in the PASEA (proposed expansion area) – northern goshawk, pileated woodpecker, black-backed woodpecker, silver-haired bat, hoary bat, moose, elk, white-tailed deer, western toad, neotropical birds.”
WDFW is also concerned about water quality, writing: “Development in the PASEA will alter water regimes and quality, causing impacts to the Blanchard Creek drainage and the fish resources that inhabit them.”
The Washington Natural Heritage Programs (part of the Department of Natural Resources) recently sent a letter saying it strongly recommends Alternative 2 (no expansion) be adopted to recognize the value of the area in its natural condition. The letter also said: “The northwest slope of Mt. Spokane (the ski expansion area) is part of the largest, least fragmented forest habitat in the Park and connects the park forests on the south to forests on and off the park to the north. Mt. Spokane Park appears not only to be the largest, least fragmented forest landscape locally but inspection of aerial photography in Washington and Idaho reveals that similarly sized and continuous forest areas do not occur within a 20 to 30 mile radius.”
So who does support the expansion? A couple of years ago the Parks Commission voted to approve the expansion, with no environmental analysis of the impacts. Their action was found illegal in court. The ski concessionaire, who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money over the years to upgrade the lodge and other infrastructure, tells people there is no old growth, they need a lift on the north side to have a longer ski season, that there used to be a chair in the expansion area, and that the expansion will bring in an additional $100,000 of revenue to the state. But all the agencies agree there is old growth. Mount Spokane already has a lift on the north side – Chair 4, and there has never been a chairlift in the expansion area. To increase revenue by $100,000, they would need to double their ski visits, which is highly unlikely.
The Lands Council supports improving the Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park and, along with other members of the Save Mt. Spokane Coalition, has a vision for those improvements (see savemtspokane.org). But expanding into the rare and beautiful unlogged forest would be an irreversible mistake.
There will be a public hearing on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at CenterPlace Recreation Center at Mirabeau Point Park.
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