by Martin Kidston, Billings Gazette
CODY, Wyo. — A conservation group based in Montana is asking the Shoshone National Forest to consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when considering the impacts a zip line at Sleeping Giant Ski Area might have on grizzly bears and other sensitive species.
Mike Garrity with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, based in Helena, said the organization filed its comments after a grizzly bear scientist in Canada brought Sleeping Giant’s proposed zip line to his attention.
“It’s a winter development area that’s been used historically when grizzly bears are hibernating,” Garrity said. “The zip line will be used in the summer when bears are out walking around and that could have some impact. Before these ski areas become full-time resorts, they need to look at the impact to bears.”
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies was formed in part by grizzly bear biologists looking to preserve the Northern Rockies region from further habitat loss.
Garrity said the organization has concerns over grizzly bear habitat around Sleeping Giant, along with lynx and wolverines. The group is asking the Forest Service to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service when looking at the impacts the project may have on sensitive species.
“We’ve submitted comments in response to the Forest Service’s request,” Garrity said. “We hope to work with them to ensure this ski area is managed in a responsible way. We’re not threatening a lawsuit or anything, we’re just doing what we have a right to do in a democracy when public land is involved.”
Carrie Christman, a planner with the Shoshone National Forest, confirmed that the agency received the group’s comments. She called them extensive, but said they weren’t overly specific to the Sleeping Giant project.
“What we do when we’re doing an environmental assessment, we look at the comments and decide if they’re outside the project scope, or if we need to look at any alternatives that haven’t been considered,” Christman said. “They plan to use (the comments) as an appendix. It kind of shapes the analysis.”
Yellowstone Recreation Foundation, which manages Sleeping Giant, couldn’t be reached on Friday.
In recent months the organization has said it understands the lingering concerns over habitat and grizzly bears, and is working to mitigate the impacts.
Among other things, the foundation would limit the zip line’s use to three months from June 15 to Sept. 15, while restricting users from taking food or water on the attraction and providing an educational review on bears and habitat.
“This zip line would do a lot for us economically,” Kate Williams, with Yellowstone Recreation Foundation, has said. “It would solve a lot of our financial challenges. We would almost be in a position in a few years to stop asking our local people for money.”