On May 6, Deputy regional forester Pena denied Crested Butte Ski Area’s appeal of GMUG forest supervisor Richmond’s decision rejecting the ski area’s proposal to expand downhill skiing onto Snodgrass Mountain. Pena notes correctly that NEPA is not triggered when a private entity proposes a project on the national forests; thus, Richmond’s decision denying the ski area’s expansion plan does not require an EIS.
That’s the simple part of Pena’s decision. Things get more complicated when Pena turns to NFMA. He is obviously troubled that the GMUG’s NFMA plan zones Snodgrass Mountain for downhill skiing. Crested Butte thinks this ski area zone creates a presumption that it can expand downhill skiing to the undeveloped Snodgrass Mountain. Pena appears to agree. His decision directs Richmond to either tell Crested Butte what an acceptable Snodgrass Mountain ski area expansion would look like or revise the forest plan to eliminate the ski zone on Snodgrass Mountain.
Under current NFMA rules, a forest plan revision (as distinct from an “amendment”) requires an EIS. Thus Pena is giving the ski area what it wants — an EIS — but through an NFMA backdoor instead of NEPA.
This illustrates an underlying problem of viewing NFMA plans as all-resource, comprehensive zoning documents. That’s not what Congress required or envisioned. Doing so creates perverse consequences, such as at Snodgrass Mountain, where NFMA zoning creates an EIS obligation not required by NEPA.