U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell today announced a series of meetings in Colorado, Utah and California that will focus on the development of a ski area water rights clause impacting ski facility operations on national forests.
“Skiing is an important recreational activity on our nation’s forests and greatly contributes to the economy of resort communities,” said Tidwell. “The water used by ski areas for snowmaking and other activities is essential to sustain the long-term future of the communities. The Forest Service welcomes input from the ski areas, the communities and the public as to how water rights should be managed in order to ensure long-term benefits.”
Currently, the Forest Service policy keeps water with the land and allows ski resorts to use water from nearby streams and lakes for snow-making during times when snowfall fails to provide enough cover for ski runs. The agency has maintained that by keeping the water with the land, the ski industry will remain vibrant while mountain communities will have abundant water supplies into the future.
The announced meetings are open to the public and will seek input regarding how to best meet the needs of surrounding communities and ski areas. The open forums are scheduled in Denver on April 16, Salt Lake City on April 17, and Lake Tahoe, Calif., on April 18. Forest Service leaders and technical experts from Washington, D.C., as well as from local and regional offices will be on-hand to take public comments and provide additional information on the water rights issue.
The Forest Service has long enjoyed a beneficial relationship with the ski industry, which boosts state and local economies and provides healthy playgrounds for people. In Colorado, for example, roughly $1.5 billion flow into the local and state economy from downhill skiers and snowboarders. Nearly half the downhill skiing capacity in the U.S. is on national forests with about 27 million people visiting those areas annually.
The announced public meetings are predicated on the agency’s need to update a clause on the ski area special use permits, which it did in 2011 and 2012. The clauses were challenged in federal court, and a U.S. District Court judge determined the clauses were a legislative rather than an interpretive rule, which means that the agency is required to provide public notice and comment before issuing a final clause. The judge did not comment on the substance of the clause as written.
There will be an additional opportunity to comment later on a proposed clause.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $27 billion per year. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.