The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked the expansion of the Mount Ashland ski area.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked the expansion of the Mount Ashland ski area.

A three-judge panel in San Francisco ruled that the U.S. Forest Service failed to evaluate how the expansion would affect the Pacific fisher, a predator that looks like a large mink. The judges also found that the Forest Service failed to appropriately designate buffer zones around fish-bearing streams.

The ruling is a setback in a 10-year effort to expand the publicly owned ski area. The Mount Ashland Association wants to add 16 ski trails, two chair lifts and about 200 parking spaces to the ski area near the summit of 7,500-foot Mount Ashland.

The Forest Service had to evaluate the expansion plan because the ski area lies on federal forest land. Three environmental groups had challenged the expansion in federal court, claiming the Forest Service.

The court reversed the opinion of U.S. District Court Judge Owen Panner, who had ruled for the Forest Service in 2006, and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to enjoin the Mount Ashland expansion until the Forest Service corrects the violations of the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Rick Saul, the ski area's marketing director, said today that ski area managers and their attorneys will review the court's opinion before determining plans.

"We don't know yet if we will have to do more studies or whether the opinion will have more permanent effects," Saul said.

— Bill Kettler