Op-ed: Conservation on Mount Hood

The following article appeared December 4, 2012, on the Commentary page of The Oregonian. It was written by Dennis Chaney, Chairman, Friends of Mount Hood.

Conservation on Mount Hood: A bike park at Timberline is a threat to our forest

As expected, the Mount Hood National Forest recently concluded the study of the controversial mountain bike park proposal at Timberline Lodge with a “Finding of No Significant Impact”, or, in the language of bureaucratic acronyms, a FONSI. This decision will allow the bike park proposal to move forward to an expected administrative appeal higher up the ladder. The FONSI decision was expected because the U.S. Forest Service, which is the federal agency in charge of our national forest and Timberline Lodge, has stacked the deck in favor of development over conservation.

The state of Oregon publishes the odds of winning the lottery so at least you know how the game is played. But the Forest Service dresses up their decision with a 354 page report full of charts and maps, and unless you are in the know you may be fooled into thinking it is a fair and accurate analysis.

Here is an example of how the deck is stacked against a fair analysis. You might think that a basic question to be answered is, “Are there alternative locations for a bike park other than historic Timberline Lodge?” Well, believe it or not, the Forest Service answers this question by stating that the question is “outside the scope of the analysis.” Welcome to Kafka’s alternate world of beaurcratic think. And when it was discovered that “mitigation” failed to stop damage in the last project at Timberline the Forest Service just reports that it will be fixed when the same types of mitigation are done for this project.

Sadly, focusing on the bike park issue is a redirection effort that diverts attention from the most serious problem on Mount Hood. You may believe that the Forest Service is the one agency that has an overriding goal of preserving Mount Hood for the generations that follow us. You would be mistaken to think this. There is no long range planning to ensure that future generations will experience Mount Hood in a natural state. Sadly, the only future planning is for future development. When the operator of Timberline Lodge and the ski resort, RLK and Co., submitted their Master Development Plan (MDP) the Forest Service accepted it without any public input or comment.

The Forest Service will only accept input from the public, who actually own Timberline Lodge and the entire National Forest, when each individual building project is submitted, not the Master Development Plan as a whole. When it is pointed out that another lodge and more parking lots are described in the MPD, and that the approval of a bike park will attract more people which will then be used to justify more parking lots and day lodges the response is the same Kafkaesque “outside the scope of the analysis.”

There is one undeniable fact. With the exception of the designated Wilderness, we are slowly building and paving over critical pieces of the mountain one acre at a time. You need only look at another national scenic landmark, Yosemite Valley, to see the future. The federal govenment first deemed the area worthy of preservation, and then partnered with private enterprise to extract a resource, in this case ‘recreation.” And then fifty or so years later, the government is spending huge sums of money to repair all the damage and bring back the natural state (see: Restore Yosemite Valley Plan of 2000). A cynic with a sense of humor might call this generational job security.

Oregonians, we can do better than this. Another meaning of FONSI is “Finding of Not Sufficiently Important.” Is this what we Oregonians really think when we view majestic Mount Hood on a clear day. If we really believe that Mount Hood is worth preserving we need rational planning now or we will end up paying dearly for huge restoration projects in the future.

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