High Mountain Heli-skiing under attack again!
By Daryl L. Hunter

Jon Shick of High Mountain Heli-skiing, the 12 good paying jobs that he provides and the $870,000 that 1, 200 heli-skier days would bring into our community are under attack again. A couple of aggrieved forest users Merlin Hare and biological consultant /environmental activist Debra Patla and the usual environmentalist groups filed suit in Idaho Federal Court challenging the U.S. Forest Service’s issuance of a permit that would increase the amount of heli-skiing allowed in a wilderness study area. The safe and appropriate upper limit of skier days was determined in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was determined to be 1200.

The radical environmentalist lawyers of Earthjustice of the heartless “Klamath Basin Bucket Brigade” fame (http://www.klamathbasincrisis.org/ ) are representing the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Sierra Club, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, the Wyoming Wilderness Association, and Merlin Hare and Debra Patla in the suit.

The area of concern is the Palisades portion of the Snake River Range that spans the Idaho-Wyoming border between Jackson, WY and Swan Valley ID, the mountains south of Teton Pass. This area has been under permit to Mountain High Heli-skiing for 3 decades now. The environmentalist groups seek to limit heli-skiing here to the level that existed in 1984. Fred Smith of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance said: “We just want a solution that protects the interests of wildlife and restores the wilderness character of the Palisades.”

In reality, Congress mandated the Forest Service to manage the Palisades Wilderness Study Area (WSA) to preserve its ‘wilderness character’ as it existed in 1984.” Jon Shick says: this refers to irreversible activities such as the construction of roads, buildings, bridges etc., which are incompatible with future wilderness designation. If congress ever decides in the future to designate the Palisades as wilderness and to forbid heli-skiing, then heli-skiing would stop and there would be no evidence we were ever there. That’s what happened in the Jedediah-Smith and Gros-Ventre Wildernesses in 1984.

According to a Forest Service study, the permit area provides habitat for rare animals including lynx, wolverines, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. Debra Patla and Merlin Hare of Victor, Idaho, claim to seek out the Palisades for quiet winter recreation such as backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. Kate Drexler of the Sierra Club making an argument against heli-skiing said, “Wolverines have been known to abandon their dens upon finding human tracks. This begs the question: if this is the case, should Merlin Hare and Debra Patla be allowed in there either? David Gaillard of Predator Conservation Alliance has said: “In two other recent decisions for the Sawtooth and Lolo Forests, the Forest Service took actions to help wolverines by reducing the area affected by winter recreationists. It’s curious the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee Forests haven’t follow suit.”

In considering the comments of David Gaillard, Kate Dresler and Fred Smith, wouldn’t the exponential growth and popularity of the Teton Pass backcountry skier and snowboarder, considering their ever-expanding boundaries apparently be grave threats to the denning wolverine as well. In reality, the backcountry skier community can take heart that the EIS states no wolverines have been observed in the area WSA, although biologists have actively attempted to trap wolverines there for years, none have ever been observed or caught.

Once again I would like to thank the environmentalist community for marginalizing themselves by putting forth another imbecile's argument to further their anti multiple use agenda on our forests. Their red hearing about heli-ski operators scarring and stressing the wildlife living in snow deep enough that powder hounds pay $725.00 a day to ski it is amusing. I have another theory, they hate noisy machines and their “heart strings” wildlife argument is just another bogus means to an end. These are the same environmentalists that don't want us to snowmobile on the snow covered roads of Yellowstone because snowmobile trails make it to easy for Bison to get from one food source to another therefore not starving to death in a timely fashion which exasperates the Bison overpopulation problem, as if starving to death doesn't stress them. Please, let’s have some consistency!

I’m flattered that Debra Patla and Merlin Hare of Victor, Idaho would rather travel 30 miles to come ski and snowshoe at Palisades Creek 5 miles from my home than to do the same 2 mile from theirs in the beautiful Jedediah Smith Wilderness at Moose Creek. I ski Palisades Creek often and have never seen a helicopter there in winter maybe because I am not hardy enough anymore to ski the 7 miles to get past the cliffs that gave the Palisades its name, to get to a hill where a tourist could ski. Somehow I find their claim implausible.

Jon Shick summarizes, “This has been a trying 4-year process that included multiple public comment periods. It has been studied and reviewed, appealed, restudied and appealed a second time, and yet the FS still can find no significant impacts and no compelling reason not to issue us another special use permit.“

 

 

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