December 2005

Friends of Mount Hood
December 2005 Newsletter

Message from Kate McCarthy, founder of Friends of Mount Hood and Chairperson Emerita
Mt. Hood continues in the spotlight. There is much to report.

We are truly impressed and we really appreciate that Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Greg Walden and family members and staff have put on backpacks and successfully completed the strenuous hike around Mt. Hood. This is a dramatic demonstration of their genuine interest in the mountain.

Other interesting news: at their August meeting, the Hood River County Commissioners voted unanimously in support of an historic agreement between the Commission, the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, and Mt. Hood Meadows (MHM). This agreement followed months of mediation. As it now stands, according to the agreement, Mt. Hood Meadows would trade their lands on the north side of Mt. Hood to the Forest Service in exchange for Forest Service land in Government Camp that is already planned and zoned for housing development by Clackamas County.

The Cloud Cap Inn, Tilly Jane Historic District would be expanded. The Cooper Spur Ski Area would remain with expansion limited to 20 acres and much of the mountain’s north slope would become wilderness. The Crystal Spring Domestic Drinking Watershed would be protected.

This would be a tremendous step toward achieving the Cooper Spur Wild and Free Coalition’s goal as well as protecting the domestic watershed, but to succeed, it depends, among other things, on help from the Oregon Congressional Delegation.

Additional information on the agreement between the Hood River County Commission, the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, and Mt. Hood Meadows can be found at the website of the Cooper Spur Wild and Free Coalition, Friends of Mount Hood is an active member organization of the Coalition.
Another exciting possibility for protecting more of the important lands in the Mt. Hood National Forest is the Oregon Natural Resources Council’s (ONRC) “Mt. Hood – Lewis and Clark Wilderness” expansion proposal being advanced by Senator Ron Wyden.

ONRC has carefully researched these special lands eligible for wilderness but unprotected. It is particularly important to protect these stunning places. The Mt. Hood National Forest, more than any forest in Oregon, is under pressure from the largest population center in the state.

Also what some people may not realize, Oregon lags far behind Washington and California in percent of land protected as wilderness. (California 13%, Washington 10% and Oregon 3.6%).

If both the Mt. Hood-Lewis and Clark and the Mt. Hood northside wilderness proposals were achieved, Oregon would still reach only 3.8% of lands protected as wilderness.

And now, back to the issues of Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Area. We believe we persuaded the Forest Service to call a halt to allowing 60 Landrovers to practice their skills at MHM.

We’re still having trouble with salting at MHM. We have observed some very damaged slopes. When Chair Barbara Wilson questioned the Forest Service Permit Administrator about salt, he informed us “a DEQ certification is not needed. They have used salt for 35 years, that they use much less than Timberline, and that they have never required MHM to monitor for salt.” We felt his answer was not adequate or accurate.

A DEQ certification is needed according to our attorneys.

Further when our legal intern submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Forest Service, and asked, among other things, “for all documents regarding the areas impacted by salting of the ski runs, the race courses, and other areas at MHM Ski Area,” the Regional office replied “The Forest Service maintains no records of areas impacted by salting of ski runs at MHM Ski Area.” .

In checking the 1997 MHM Master Plan, we read on page A-6, “The short and long-term impacts of salt used for both winter and summer skiing will be monitored.” The Master Plan is a legal document and should not be ignored by the Forest Service. Maybe the Forest Service should check their documents from time to time. We will pursue this problem.

On another issue: last winter was a seriously low snow year on the mountain. Meadows closed twice for lack of snow, once in January and once in February. For the two previous winters, the ski area had been experimenting on a temporary basis with one snow gun. After last winter’s disastrous lack of snow, they decided to get serious about snowmaking.

Every one wants to see a healthy snow pack on the mountain for full flowing streams and water supply for fish, for wildlife, for skiing, for wetlands, flowered meadows and healthy forests. But there are many potential problems with pulling millions of gallons of water out of the system often in periods of low flow. How will it affect aquifer recharge, stream flow, fish and the health of the extensive wetlands? More investigation is needed.

Last spring, MHM, with Forest Service approval, was planning to fast-track an extensive snowmaking system on a Categorical Exclusion (CE). A CE “excludes an action from the need to document analysis in an Environmental Analysis (EA).”

Friends of Mt. Hood felt strongly that the issue was much too complex to be hurried through on a CE. With the support of our attorneys and our hydrologist, we told the Forest Service and MHM, we’d go to court if they didn’t do an Environmental Analysis.

So they are doing an Environmental Analysis (EA). In the interim, we agreed to allow MHM to temporarily use three snow guns, above ground pipes, and no permanent structures.

We’re all hoping for a heavy natural snowpack for the health of the mountain and the health of the many important resources.

This late October we went to MHM to check on the new stormwater system which is now in place at the main parking lot. This was done on a court order. The water from the parking lot, rather than eroding a raw bank at the lower end, is now directed to flow to two locations over absorbent booms to collect petroleum pollution, and then down a rock-protected slopes. This should be a big improvement.

While we were looking at the storm water system, we were struck by the new look of adjacent wetlands. The wetlands by the yellow lift bottom terminal had been mowed and ground down. The wetland vegetation including wetland willows had been chopped off close to the ground. We were surprised and dismayed as this destructive mowing and chopping in the wetlands had never occurred in the past (to the best of our knowledge).

Further investigation disclosed that extensive mowing of wetlands had occurred on the slopes by the reservoir, and by the blue chair. Riparian vegetation in riparian areas along a tributary of the East Fork had been cut.

Considering that not only are wetlands to be protected, but riparian buffers around wetlands as well as along streams are to be protected, we are concerned.

Barbara Wilson called the District Ranger. “Yes,” she had given permission. “The vegetation was a hazard to skiers.”

This is a disillusioning response. Over the many years of expressing concern over impacts of many thousands of skiers, as many as 450,000 in a season on the high alpine slopes, we have again and again been assured by the Forest Service that a heavy snow cover is required before skiing would be allowed and would protect vegetation from the hazard of skiers.

In fact, the 1997 MHM Master Plan states on page A-7: “Minimum snow depths will be established for both winter and summer skiing to protect vegetation from mechanical damage and effect of salt (if salt is authorized).”

Also, Forestwide Standards (1990) state, “Special aquatic habitat — ponds and wetlands — shall be maintained in natural condition or enhanced in both quality and quantity.” We believe mowing certainly is not “maintaining wetlands in their natural condition.”

In addition, the MHM Master Plan states on page A-8, “Appropriate buffers will be established to protect wetland and riparian values for all wetland units” and that in “riparian wetlands and other sensitive areas, the existing ground cover will be retained.” It appears that Meadows is in violation of the Record of Decision.

We are pursuing this issue.

Friends of Mount Hood will continue “the good fight” for the conservation of our beautiful mountain. Every day is a new challenge in protecting the mountain. We are deeply appreciative of the financial support that we have received in previous years. Your support enables us to be successful.

Please help us continue this important fight to protect Mt. Hood by your continued generous support.

Thank you!

Kate McCarthy, P.O. Box 293, Mt. Hood, OR 97041

Message from Barbara Wilson, Chair of Friends of Mount Hood (FOMH)

As most of our readers are aware, Congressmen Blumenauer and Walden held two hearings on their proposal for expanded wilderness in the Mt. Hood National Forest on December 3. Last year Senator Wyden had proposed 177,000 acres for Mt. Hood and the Columbia Gorge. Blumenauer and Walden proposed only 75,000 acres of expanded wilderness. They explained the smaller acreage was due to the current make-up of the Congress and the Administration. This was “the best they could move forward.”

Blumenauer and Walden proposed nothing for the east side or the south side of the actual mountain.

Please note that wilderness protection for the north side of the mountain (Cooper Spur) is dependent on the success of the land exchange proposed by Dave Riley, General Manager of Mount Hood Meadows.

FOMH has great concerns for White River Canyon as MHM has mentioned many times their desire for expansion into this pristine area. Riley has also expressed serious interest in building a 1000-person-capacity restaurant at a site above the top terminals of the Yellow and Hood River Express chairlifts. Riley has also talked of a gondola from Government Camp over the White River to Meadows. We will carefully follow these issues.

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