Colorado Wild joins in appeal
Environmental group questions use of Buffalo Pass
Steamboat Springs — For the first time, a high-profile environmental group has entered the debate on motorized vs. nonmotorized use on Buffalo Pass by authoring an appeal to a Steamboat Powder Cats/Blue Sky West backcountry skiing tour permit.
Colorado Wild, which is usually involved in roadless and logging debates, joined with local nonmotorized groups Backcountry Skiers Alliance and Friends of the Routt Backcountry in appealing the five-year permit Monday.
Colorado Wild Executive Director Rocky Smith said he doesn’t have any problems with Steamboat Powder Cats/Blue Sky West as a company operating in the backcountry. But he said he and the other groups’ members have two main concerns about the permit, issued Aug. 22 by the U.S. Forest Service.
The first issue allows Steamboat Powder Cats/Blue Sky West to build and maintain an additional mile-long snow road off its normal access for three years, then undergo an evaluation. That road would go right by a suggested nonmotorized area called Bear Tree Ridge.
“We are afraid that it will draw snowmobilers to that area,” Smith said.
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The second issue has to do with the number of guests the company can bring to Buffalo Pass. The permit increases the number from 1,200 the number allowed in the permit issued in 1996 to 2,200.
“We think, overall, it’s not a good thing for the Forest Service to approve,” Smith said.
Steamboat Powder Cats/Blue Sky West uses tracked snow machines to carry skiers to the top of mountains in the backcountry on Buffalo Pass. It has been working on a temporary permit for the past two years. During that time, the Forest Service has allowed the company to explore new routes and apply to bring more guests to the area, Forest Service recreational planner Ed Patalik said.
The new permit reflects the growth of the company.
It also mandates the company to place signs indicating the nonmotorized areas and to educate users on backcountry ethics.
This will be the second winter Buffalo Pass will have officially suggested nonmotorized areas. Users agreed upon the nonmotorized zones after much debate. It allows skiers to enjoy parts of Buffalo Pass without competing with snowmobile traffic.
Steamboat Powder Cats/Blue Sky West General Manager David Barnes said he hopes the issues with the permit can be worked out.
“We understand the appeal and we understand that everybody wants to protect its use,” he said.
He wanted to assure backcountry users the company is going to do its best to be a positive influence on Buffalo Pass.
“We are going to prove that we are good neighbors to the nonmotorized users,” Barnes said.
The Forest Service has 15 days to meet with the appellants to see if an agreement can be worked out. The final decision on the appeal must be made by Nov. 25.
If the groups are not satisfied with the decision, they have the option of suing the Forest Service.
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