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Common sense should prevail

The Mt. Ashland Association proposal to expand its ski area is an issue already growing old, and people are tired of it. Plans provide for the clearcut logging of irreplaceable old growth timber, despite the equally clear-cut fact that in its own 2004 decision, even the U.S. Forest Service stated that "it is not possible to limit soil disturbance below allowed thresholds in the course of ski area development."

This expansion has been in the works for 20 years, for the most mundane of reasons: Mount Ashland needs more intermediate terrain to compete for skiers. To be blunt, say proponents of the expansion, despite all the wailing about Ashland's "pristine" water supply, Ashland's water is, frankly, not very tasty. The best municipal water in the area is Big Butte Springs, Medford's primary municipal source. Ashland would be drinking that water now if they had been smart. They should have connected to the Medford system years ago. Ashland now has to supplement with Talent Irrigation District water in the summer months.

Those who support the expansion claim the impact on the watershed will be minimal at worst. The watershed is far larger than the existing ski area, or the proposed expansion. Opponents make it sound like MAA wants to clearcut the entire watershed and bury Reeder Reservoir in silt.

I am becoming more and more aware of how unsubstantiated rumor plays a part in this issue, and how common sense seems to have been thrown out the window. New scientific evidence is ignored by the Forest Service, which loudly supports the expansion, and MAA is riding that all the way to the payday they're hoping for, but they're riding in the wrong direction. The real issue here is not an expansion.

I've got nothing against MAA expanding their terrain. They simply shouldn't be expanding into our watershed. The whole issue confounds me, because if they were honestly concerned with the environmental impact, they would be motivated to preserve the sanctity of our watershed, such as it is. The fact that the Ashland City Council has made stupid decisions in the past (not connecting to the Medford water system, for instance) is part of the problem, and therefore part of the story that ought to be told. However, this doesn't imply that the City Council should engage in even more stupidity.

The existing watershed is part of the federally inventoried 10,000-acre McDonald Peak roadless area, which is a pristine forest ecosystem. I've hiked into the area a number of times.

I am a trained scientist and an environmentalist, with a specialty in land management and ecology, including wildlife biology, botany and forestry. I am also a devoted skier and a former ski instructor.

I don't want to boycott Mount Ashland. I want to ski. However, proposed expansion plans include over a mile of new roads, 70 acres of clearcut logging, construction of a ski lift, numerous buildings and facilities, and another ski lodge; all in the highly sensitive wetlands in the upper Middle Fork of Ashland Creek.

MAA has options. They could expand in the other direction, for goodness sakes, and people could ski right down out of the parking lot. MAA actually has five different expansion proposals, and they've submitted the worst one.

This supports more rumor, and causes opponents to claim there are more sinister reasons why they want to invade the watershed. They have ulterior motives, opponents claim. Some think a major corporation has predatory designs on our water. Others suspect old-growth timber isn't an issue either. The three principal species of trees in the contested area are white, red and Englemann spruce, none of which are sought after by the timber industry.

The proposal even calls for another ski lodge at the bottom of the proposed new lift, in the heart of the wetlands. Either would be ruinous from an ecological standpoint. The new lodge would have considerable sewerage, runoff and pollution issues, as would the ski lift, requiring the additional construction of a large pumping station to pump the effluent of diesel fuel and sewerage out of the watershed.

It seems idiotic that the Ashland City Council would advocate such a facility in the heart of our watershed. It's just as idiotic to claim that hay bales placed down-slope will mitigate the damage. Going off in another direction is the only way to solve this matter.

Those committed to supporting the expansion appear to be no more rational than the most radical tree huggers. I'm listening to rumor and facts, which will never support commercial development in those fragile wetlands, even if Ashland's water could have been better, had the City Council made better decisions in the past.

Ten wrongs don't make a right.

W. Bruce Wright lives in Ashland.