Heavenly Mountain Resort’s plan calls for widening up to a dozen trails and removing potentially hundreds or even thousands of trees, in the hope of reducing skier and snowboard traffic bottlenecks on busy days, as low-snow seasons are expected to become more common due to climate change.
In the hazard removal areas, boulders would be blasted with explosives to a height of 12 to 18 inches and moved by hand or equipment. Stumps would be ground or cut to a height of fewer than 6 inches.
By making terrain more skiable with less snow the operators reduce the amount of snowmaking necessary to open runs.
“The height of these natural features can require up to five feet (1.5 meters) or more of snow coverage before runs can be opened,” the draft assessment states. “During low snow years, a great deal of energy and water resources for snowmaking is required to provide enough snow on these trails so they can be safely opened.”
But Elizabeth Kingsland of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources questioned whether analysis of the potential impact on whitebark pine at Heavenly was sufficient. She said the project would result in the loss of more than 6 acres (2 hectares) of the trees.
“It appears that the impacts cannot be fully stated without properly evaluating the long-term effects of removing thousands of healthy whitebark pine trees from the part of the Lake Tahoe Basin with the healthiest whitebark pine population,” Kingsland wrote.
The Forest Service responded by stating the removal would be a small portion of the total whitebark population.
The Forest Service is currently reviewing the plan. It determined in a draft environmental assessment the plan would have no significant environmental impacts. Twenty-two of the 25 public comments on the initial plan didn’t include any objections, and the assessment is now subject to a 45-day public comment period.