A nationwide stand-down on federal logging projects has left some ski areas scrambling as winter approaches.
“They haven’t contacted me one way or the other,” Montana Snowbowl owner Brad Morris said of the hazard-tree removal work he hoped to finish this fall. “It’s just getting rid of trees that are dead, but it’s a timber sale.”
No U.S. Forest Service personnel were available for comment Monday after an announcement that timber sales would be postponed indefinitely until Congress settles the federal budget standoff. The Friday statement to 450 timber purchasers said they would have to suspend work. Most were allowed seven days to finish cutting and hauling on timber sales already in progress.
Morris said a Forest Service supervisor was working with his ski area staff during the summer, but was pulled away for duty on the Lolo Creek Complex fire. No agency personnel have returned since, and the fate of his tree removal work is unknown.
“This is just general maintenance – not part of an expansion,” Morris said. “Ski areas all through the West have a lot of beetle-killed trees and they’ve been doing this for the last couple years.”
Lost Trail Powder Mountain ski area near Sula did get permission to finish a major timber project, according to Tony Colter of Sun Mountain Lumber in Deer Lodge. The resort has been thinning trees on 225 acres in its ski run terrain.
“I think it was allowed to go on because it was a ski area,” Colter said on Monday. “It would have disrupted the whole season if it had to be shut down. But we’ve got a couple other sales that are shut.”
Colter said a Bureau of Land Management sale has been allowed to finish because all the logs were already decked and ready for hauling out of the woods. But a Forest Service project was ordered to suspend work as of Friday.
“That’s an issue because we have to be out of there by Dec. 1,” Colter said. “That area gets heavy snowmobile use. So the project may be extended until next year.”
Pyramid Mountain Lumber Co. in Seeley Lake didn’t have any ski area projects, but it’s trying to finish its two Forest Service sales currently in progress.
“The direction from the Washington (D.C.) office is to pretty much wrap up everything by next Monday,” Pyramid resource manager Gordy Sanders said. “We may have a little latitude, but it has to have approval from Washington. On the Larry Bass sale (west of Stevensville), all the logs should be hauled by this weekend. We still have to do some erosion control and road maintenance before winter.”
Sanders said logs from a sale in the Clearwater National Forest near Lolo Pass might be left on the ground over the winter if the delay lasts too long. He was uncertain what that might do to the value of the timber, which is mostly beetle-killed salvage material.
Pacific Northwest Ski Area Association president John Gifford said his member resorts had been told they could finish projects where trees were already identified and ready to cut. The association represents Montana’s Whitefish Mountain Resort, along with numerous other ski areas in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.
“Timber harvest has stopped for lumber companies, but as far as I know the ski areas can continue,” Gifford said on Monday. “They can’t start anything new, but can finish what they started this summer.”