BOZEMAN — The U.S. Forest Service has denied permit applications to explore heli-skiing in the Centennial Mountains just west of Yellowstone National Park after concerns were raised over avalanches and impacts to grizzly bears.
Heli-skiing is a type of backcountry skiing, free-riding that involves using a helicopter to access remote areas and slopes of fresh powder snow.
Elizabeth Davy, a district ranger for the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, said Tuesday she is no longer considering Rocky Mountain Heli’s request to establish a heli-skiing operation on the Idaho side of the Centennial Mountains, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported Wednesday.
Davy said she was considering between two permit options for the company — a temporary special use permit and a research permit. She said she decided against issuing either permit because she was worried about negative impacts.
“I said it’s not worth it for this type of use and for how little use (Rocky Mountain Heli) would have in the Centennial Mountains,” Davy said.
A temporary special use permit would have allowed the company to try heli-skiing for a limited time. A research permit would have allowed information-gathering in Idaho so the company could collect weather and snowpack data on different slopes by fixed-wing aircraft and snowmobiles. It would not have authorized heli-skiing.
Davy said some opponents of the project referenced studies showing heli-skiing could harm denning bears.
Andrea Zaccardi, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said her organization shared multiple studies with the Caribou-Targhee National Forest that suggested noise from low-flying or landing helicopters can wake grizzly bears from hibernation, causing cubs to die young among other things.
Davy also said some areas proposed in the permit application included avalanche-prone areas, which could threaten other people recreating in the area.
The Centennial Mountains are located along the Montana-Idaho state line, which run through several special designations across the states which limit recreational uses. The Caribou-Targhee National Forest and a few special designations are on the Idaho side and the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and several special designations are on the Montana side.
Davy began working with the company more than a year ago and had said the company first proposed exploring heli-skiing in five zones, but three were abandoned because they overlapped with wolverine denning territories.
Company agent Jeremy Henrichon said Rocky Mountain Heli still wants to pursue heli-skiing in the Centennial Mountains but needs to learn more about wolverines and grizzly bears in the range.
“We’re definitely looking at the zones and studying them with our team,” Henrichon said. “We’re also taking feedback from the Forest Service and trying to figure out what zones to go in and stay away from.”
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