Rocky Mountain Chapter

Message from the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter Director, Joshua Ruschhaupt:

"Sacrifice Zones"

A close, wise, and environmentally conscious friend once suggested to me that there are certain zones of human impacts that could be considered sacrificial, like a ski area.  And that it is better to corral those impacts into a single area than to allow these impacts to spread.  

The notion certainly helps an environmentally minded person balance their guilt with enjoying things that in and of themselves do have impacts, such as staying on the hiking trail (not expanding illegal social trails), using existing roads (not maintaining the use of illegal roads), or skiing at a ski resort with a conscience (Aspen has the highest 2011 Ski Area Citizens Coalition report card rating in Colorado- #4 of the "top ten," while Breckenridge is the lowest-rated on the "worst ten" list in the entire country).  

Being "ok" with an existing sacrifice zone because it is there is very different than proposing a new one.  To a person of conscience when faced with a decision that will have long-lasting environmental impacts, one can have intelligent foresight in the decision-making process that is ethically-rooted, but one has extremely limited (or hard to change) options available to remove the impacts of something that already exists.

The idea of the sacrificial animal, even the sacrificial human, dates back to ancient times.  Usually, there is an oversight involved, or a misunderstanding, like the fact that causing the death of one thing actually has nothing to do with causing any benefit.  Thankfully, we've grown out of that behavior.  

Or have we really?

The idea that we believe in sacrifice, that a thing should suffer or die so that we can reap the benefit we perceive we will get by killing the thing, is still hugely prevalent today.  In today's world of environmentalism, the "draft environmental impact statement" is the altar, and the alternate options it faces us with means that we can bleed the animal, we can kill the animal, or we can choose to do nothing- in which case the animal lives unhurt.

For example, in this August edition of the Peak and Prairie, you will read about the Featured Action: "Let the Forest Service and Brickenridge Ski Resort know that expansion isn't the answer."  This is a case where the ancient tendency to sacrifice something for a perceived benefit becomes our reality.  But there are options.

The sacrifice: clear-cutting a zone of 550 acres of forest, destroying prime habitat for multiple species, such as the endangered lynx, and laying-waste to living trees when the surrounding lower elevation's trees are ravaged by bark beetles.

The (perceived) benefit: more recreational opportunity, increased "comfortable carrying capacity," and more money for a publicly traded corporation.  

The oversight: (this, coming from a die-hard skier) perhaps expanding the ski area isn't the solution to the problem of poor crowd control, perhaps the comfortable carrying capacity can even increase within the existing skiable terrain with better management, and perhaps we, the public, should disallow a corporation from clear-cutting critical habitat for private gain.

The "sacrifice zone" already exists: Breckenridge Ski Area.  I enjoyed skiing there once.  You may have skied there, too.  I didn't have any problem with the comfort of the day's carrying capacity while there, though granted, it could be worse on other days.  

But to additionally sacrifice hundreds of acres of nearby habitat for the purpose of alleviating a few days in winter where it might be a little crowded on the slopes due to effective marketing by a corporation just seems greedy.  

Creating an environmentally impactful solution that is only trying to serve the misguided perceived needs of a corporation that is based on a bottom-line of "more" and "increase," and by definition will never be satisfied with "status-quo," is not a solution at all.  Instead, it is enabling an addiction.  It is sacrificing what we hold dear, something that we truly need, something that those ecosystems cannot do without, for whim, recreation, and personal profit.

Given time, would the ski area want to expand again?  And again?  Let's stick to the existing sacrifice zone, and manage it well.  The Forest Service answers to the people- we should endeavor to persuade them to lower the knife at the throat of the Peak 6 forests, and choose alternative 1- status quo.  Take a minute and give the Forest Service your comment about the Breckenridge expansion now.

Eldora Ski Resort is attempting to expand, too! 


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