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Sun Valley Resort’s famed ski area getting forest makeover

July 23, 2021 GMT

KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) — A multiyear project to improve forest health in and around one of the nation’s top ski destinations has begun in central Idaho.

The 10-year Bald Mountain Stewardship Project is intended in part to reduce the chances of a wildfire at Sun Valley Resort’s Bald Mountain ski area that operates on U.S. Forest Service land.

The Idaho Mountain Express reports in a story Friday that work has started on the Forest Service’s plan to reduce fuel, restore forest health and enhance recreation opportunities.

The ski area is a huge economic driver. But pine beetles, dwarf mistletoe and white pine blister rust are killing trees on the ski-run-carved mountain that forms a scenic and much-photographed backdrop for the resort towns of Ketchum and Sun Valley.

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Experts say the aging forest long protected from wildfires is at risk, leading to the project that also will clear debris within the ski area.

“Some of these thinned areas will provide fabulous skiing,” Sun Valley Resort operations manager Peter Stearns said.

The 9-square-mile (23-square-kilometer) project includes Sun Valley Resort’s nearly 5-square-mile (13-square-kilometer) ski area, of which about 4 square miles (10 square kilometers) is skiable terrain.

Officials say wildfires in 2007 and 2013 surrounded 9,150-foot (2,789-meter) Bald Mountain with burned forest, creating an island of green trees and increasing bark beetle attacks.

Miller Timber Services is doing the work, using special equipment for the steep terrain that avoids building roads and other traditional logging methods.

Company owner Lee Miller said his goal this summer is to work on about 21 acres (8.5 hectares) in the project area. He said the total cost is $210,000.

Douglas fir are the dominant tree species, experts say, and they are susceptible to insects and parasites during warm weather and drought. It’s not economical to log the area because of the difficult terrain and the limited value of the Douglas firs.

The project is supported by the Forest Service, Sun Valley Resort, the National Forest Foundation and the Bureau of Land Management.

The nonprofit foundation partners with the Forest Service to promote national forests. It aims to restore and enhance national forests and grasslands through collaboration with local groups. The foundation serves as the project’s sponsor for tax-deductible donations.

Dani Southard, the Northern Rockies manager of the foundation, said seven people on Tuesday each donated $10,000, which will be multiplied fivefold by partnering organizations and add $350,000 for additional work on the mountain.

She also said the foundation is eyeing a $2.3 million federal grant to speed up work.

“I hope to have this project completed in under five years,” Southard said.