Forest finds no impacts for expansion of resort

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The Flathead National Forest has released a draft decision and finding of no significant impact for the expansion of the Hellroaring Basin at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

The expansion, which was announced last November, would include four terrain modifications, eight new ski runs, the relocation of Chair 8 and installation of a new chairlift to Hellroaring peak, selective tree removal and construction of two service roads in the basin.

The forest released its decision Monday.

In the draft decision, Tally Lake District Ranger Bill Mulholland wrote, “The proposed action was designed to minimize effects to the environment and to resolve any potential issues. As described in the finding of no significant impact, I determine that the proposed action will not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment.”

Concerns raised in the public comment period included worries about increased road density within the area, effects on grizzly bear habitat and worries over the loss of timber in the area.

Mulholland, in his report, found the degree to which the project could adversely affect endangered or threatened species or their habitat to be limited, though a wildlife analysis disclosed “that the proposed action may affect, and would likely adversely affect Canada lynx critical habitat, Canada lynx, and grizzly bear.” A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion concluded the project would not be likely to jeopardize those species, nor would it destroy or adversely modify their habitat.

The draft notice also explains that the resort would be charged for the value of the timber that would be cut as part of the project, and that the addition of two service roads will not have an affect on open motorized route density in the area.

The Hellroaring Basin Improvements Project is 802 acres with 657 acres within Hellroaring Basin and the Hellroaring drainage on the northwest side of Big Mountain. The project also includes 127 acres within the Big Creek drainage on the north side of Big Mountain.

The resort proposes to create eight new ski runs totaling 3.5 miles from the upper edge of Hellroaring Basin to the Grand Junction area. Selective tree removal is planned to create seven gladed areas, at about 61 acres, adjacent to the ski runs, as well as selective tree removal for scenery.

Some terrain modifications adjacent to Hell Fire Run and Swift Creek Run are also proposed, while the relocation of the Chair 8/Hellroaring lift would take skiers from Grand Junction to the flat area where Big Ravine and Toni Matt runs split, above the snowmaking ponds.

The current Purgatory Run would be abandoned, and installation of a new chairlift from Grand Junction in Hellroaring Basin to the summit of the Hellroaring Peak is also proposed.

The plan also calls for the construction of two new service roads, including one bridge over Hellroaring Creek, which the assessment notes is a non-fish bearing perennial tributary to Whitefish Lake.

The environmental assessment notes that Hellroaring Basin would continue to be closed to skiing on April 1 for grizzly bear habitat security, in addition to other steps taken to minimize the project’s impact on other wildlife such as Canada lynx and wolverines.

Hellroaring Basin opened for the 1996-97 ski season for skiing and riding above the Highway to Heaven traverse. In 1997 the Hellroaring Chairlift/Chair 8, which had been on the north side of the mountain since 1985 as Chair 7, was moved to Hellroaring Basin opening the lower section of Hellroaring Basin including the Grand Junction area and Hell Fire ski run. For 20 years Hell Fire has been the only intermediate-level run in Hellroaring Basin.

The project’s 45-day objection period began on Monday.

For more information, contact Rita Bennett, project leader, at 406-758-3528 or rita.l.bennett@usda.gov, or the district office at 406-758-5204. Due to holiday leave schedules, messages may not be answered immediately.

The full draft notice is available at tinyurl.com/wmzgzgs.

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