The Forest Service reports that an effort to allow heli-skiing for the first time in the Centennial Range near Island Park is still stalled at the beginning of the process.
“We’re still working on the application and what it would take for me to even accept that application,” said Caribou-Targhee Forest Service ranger Liz Davy.
Davy said the Forest Service was approached about a year and a half ago by the Yellowstone Club, a private group in the Big Sky, Montana, area, with the idea of taking clients heli-skiing to five different areas in the Centennial Range.
The Yellowstone Club dropped their interest in the proposal, but another company has taken up the idea.
After consulting with a Forest Service biologist, three of the areas were taken off the possibility list.
“We necked it down to two because of conflicts with wildlife and concerns of what use in those areas would do to wildlife, primarily wolverine,” she said. “There’s a lot of concern from our wildlife biologists about the effects of helicopter use on denning bears and wolverines.”
The two possibilities remaining are the Sawtelle Peak area and the Reas Peak area.
While things are still in the preliminary idea stages and no permits have been issued, Davy said she has already received “hundreds of comments and most of them are not supportive, but also a lot of them are form letters.”
The organization Winter Wildlands Alliance erroneously posted on its website that “the Caribou-Targhee National Forest is about to issue a permit for commercial heli-skiing on the north side of Mt. Jefferson and several of its neighboring peaks in the Centennials” and requests followers to write the Forest Service.
Davy said her office may issue a research permit this winter season to allow guides from the company to snowmobile into the area and explore its safety, potential landing and pick-up sites and avalanche potential. But many questions remain before her office will even accept an application for heli-skiing.
“The next step would be for them to complete a full-blown application that addresses our questions,” she said. “We may have additional questions as this rolls along. I have to decide whether I will even accept the application or not. I have criteria that I use to evaluate applications. If it meets all the criteria, I can accept the application.”
Once an application is accepted, the Forest Service will conduct an environmental analysis which includes taking public comment.
Davy said heli-skiing is controversial in the places it’s allowed in the Rocky Mountains. Heli-skiing operations have been operating out of Jackson, Wyoming, in the Bridger-Teton National Forest for decades. A day of heli-skiing is advertised at $1,550 per person.