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Posted: December 01, 2009

On Management: Ski-lift snub raises questions

When the government forces an imbalance, look deep for the real reasons

Pat Wiesner

My wife and I were visiting the San Diego area for the first time. Quite a nice place to go! One day we wound up at Mission Beach at lunchtime. It was just like in the movies, people everywhere, surfers catching big waves, roller-skaters on the sidewalk, many on the sand and along the wall separating the beach from the sidewalk eating their lunch watching the activity.

And thousands of gulls, some flying lazily, others flying around stalking something or other to eat and still others meandering on the sand and on the wall, seemingly not paying attention to anything in particular.

We noticed that none of those eating lunch were sharing with any gulls. The system was in balance. Everyone was relatively happy. I was sure the gulls would have liked to have some of those lunches, but they were very well behaved.

That was until the woman eating her lunch about three feet away from us dropped a french fry. It bounced off the wall and onto the sand. Suddenly it was like a scene out of the movie "The Birds." Hundreds of gulls flocked and squawked to get the food. The flapping cloud was thick enough that you couldn't tell which way was "out."

It reminded me of the scenes in "Finding Nemo" where all the gulls were saying "Mine! Mine! Mine!" Quickly, the toughest one got the fry and slowly the others settled. But the gulls never went back to neutral. They were all re-arranged. Many took up positions to stare at the woman with the fries. All were on guard. Some were fighting for what they thought was a particularly good perch.
A similar imbalance has been set up between Crested Butte and the rest of the mountain communities. (I should also say at this point that I own a home in Crested Butte and have an interest in a business in Gunnison, and we care about what happens there.)

In a letter dated Nov. 5, Charlie Richmond, National Forests, effectively ended the process whereby CBMR (Crested Butte Mountain Resort) was making application to expand on Snodgrass Mountain across the valley. The process has been proceeding normally (for ski towns) for five years. All that was left was the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process. Tim Mueller, CBMR president, said in the Crested Butte News, "It is difficult to express the depth of our disappointment. ...The feedback we have received from the Forest Service up to this point has been both positive and encouraging."

The Forest Service summarily skipped the NEPA step (not skipped in the cases of skiing expansion in towns like Vail, Breckenridge, Copper, Steamboat) by indicating that ski lifts on Snodgrass Mountain "would not be in the public interest." No more discussion.

This is a big problem for Gunnison County where the big economic drivers are Crested Butte Ski Area, Gunnison/Crested Butte Airport, Western State College and agriculture. And, I believe that all the above will suffer because of this decision. I can't see how this will not damage both Crested Butte and Gunnison. At the same time it is clearly an example of government meddling in the natural competition among the mountain towns. The Forest Service has arbitrarily and capriciously tilted the playing field.

A well-known Crested Butte resident, John Norton, wrote the Crested Butte News, saying, "Forest Service to Crested Butte: ‘Drop Dead.'"

And the unintended consequences (or are they really unintended?) will be felt for a long time. For example: The future of a molybdenum mine at Crested Butte has been argued. Will this leave this mine as the only way for Crested Butte to survive?

Or is there a social engineering agenda being executed by some political force way above Mr. Richmond? Right now I don't know but Crested Butte has to change its way of life for some reason other than lifts.

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Pat Wiesner is the retired CEO of WiesnerMedia, publisher of ColoradoBiz. He still leads sales training for the company. E-mail him at pwiesner@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

Pat Wiesner, My wife and I own an organic farm, a slaughterhouse, a primary health-care clinic, and a portion of a manufacturing company. We never feel like others in our town or in neighboring towns are trying to compete with us or crowd us out of our positions. We chose activities that diversify the local economy and provide goods and services that are profoundly needed. Since our ancestors came to Durango 100 years ago, there have been waves of boosterism promoting precious metal extraction, sheep grazing on public land, rubber tomahawk shops, gas drilling, skiing, golf, and trophy home building. Your description of some of the gulls in San Diego was right on. If you are disturbed by the gulls at mission beach at lunchtime, there are probably some other gulls nearby that make a living the old-fashioned way. Some of the people of Gunnison County will continue to hassle the Forest Service for another french fry. Others will revolutionize ranching-open-space-wildlife-management, or higher education, or maybe carefully extract from a world-class deposit of molybdenum,or tan hides. You have a choice of who you spend your time with. By Jerry Zink on 2009 12 29

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