Need for water trumps love of skiing

I love to ski and empathize with the Mt. Ashland Association board members who hope to create more exciting ski runs on the mountain. However, my appetite for skiing is tempered by my daily need for clean water, my awareness of Ashland's currently pristine water supply, my understanding that MAA's proposed expansion would seriously jeopardize Ashland's water supply, and my recent experience of losing a water supply due to flooding and landslides in the Himalayan mountains.

Two months ago I returned from my fourth trip to the subsistence farming culture of Ladakh, India (on the northwest edge of the Himalayas) where, in August of 2010, I witnessed extreme, unprecedented weather.

Since Ladakh receives an average of only 3 inches of rainfall per year, the Ladakhi people rely primarily on glacial meltwater to irrigate their fields. In 2010, I coordinated a homestay program through the nonprofit called the International Society for Ecology and Culture. In August 2010, I brought 16 foreigners to Takmachik village. In the first three days we were there, three inches of rain fell in Takmachik and throughout Ladakh.

In the evening of our fourth day in Takmachik, we watched a massive mudslide wash down through the village, taking with it thousands of trees, huge boulders and the paved bridge that was the only road linking Takmachik to the rest of Ladakh, and thus, to "civilization" (Internet, phone, hospital, airport). Throughout several other villages, many people and houses were washed away with the mudslides. Following this mudslide, all the canals bringing snowmelt and spring creek water were blocked with mud. (A documentary about the Takmachik flood, called "The Wolf's Brother," is posted on vimeo.)

After doing flood relief work in Ladakh this year, I returned to the United States in late July. In my first week upon returning to Ashland I was shocked to learn the current state of the controversy over Ski Ashland's proposed expansion into Ashland's watershed: The injunction currently in place against the Forest Service may be lifted any day and logging may begin shortly thereafter! The wonderful source of water that Ashland has in its watershed is not something to take advantage of; Ashland's watershed should be protected with no exceptions.

Because of the urgency of this situation, I have been joining other concerned Ashland residents to canvass the community with the facts surrounding this issue. With every person who will listen, we share a map of the proposed expansion area which shows the 70 acres of 200-foot swaths of forest to be clearcut to make room for the proposed ski runs and ski lift.

We also highlight a letter from the local, highly respected geologist Bill Hicks, in which he says: "The Forest Service does not have sufficient quantitative data or study to justify any plans of expansion. If I were asked to use my experience in stable fill construction and recent expertise defining landslide hazards in the planning, design, and construction of the expansion I could not do so. The reason is simple: The risk of unexpected events — destructive to this basin and affecting the West Fork and even Reeder Reservoir — is just too great. We cannot predict the timing of such events — but I believe, geolo gically speaking, they will occur ... The proposed expansion is into land and vegetation totally (or nearly) different from the existing ski area. Thus the effects on that impacted area cannot be used to evaluate the expansion ... I consider that this area is in a state of "dynamic equilibrium" causing massive damage below — even to Reeder Reservoir."

After Ashland residents are informed about the grave dangers of the proposed expansion, most of them ask, "What can I do?" Our answers follow: First, sign a petition opposing the expansion which will be delivered to our city officials and the Mt. Ashland Association board. Next, call Steve Johnson of the Ashland Ranger District of the Forest Service and Ashland's Mayor Stromberg to tell them why you oppose the expansion.

In addition, continually inform your friends and neighbors about this crucial issue and ask them to sign the petition and call our elected officials. If you who are reading this now are interested in also canvassing, please email me at I will provide you with maps, petition sheets and a fact sheet to assist you. For more detailed information regarding the expansion, please see:

Deb Van Poolen lives in Ashland.

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