Letter: Vail Resorts needs to live up to its promise
Per the Vail Resorts employee handbook, I am obligated to share with CEO Rob Katz my concern surrounding the proposed development on the Booth Heights parcel in East Vail.
In 2017, Vail Resorts committed to zero net operating impact by 2030. As stated in the press release about the Epic Promise, part of this strategy includes achieving zero impact to forests and habitat. The resort operator has committed to “stewardship of the lands on which we operate” and to “minimizing or eliminating the impact of any future resort development.”
In the statement outlining its plans to achieve zero net operating impact, Vail Resorts commits to offsetting any impact incurred as part of future resort development — specifically by “planting or restoring an acre of forest for every acre of forest displaced by the Company’s operation.” But what happens when impact cannot be offset?
As reported in Vail Beaver Creek Magazine, “just 40 bighorn sheep remain” in East Vail, “down from 100 through the 1990s.” Craig Wescoatt, the district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, attributes this decline to “habitat loss and disturbance.” In an independent review prepared for Kristen Bertuglia, the town of Vail’s environmental sustainability manager, wildlife biologist Gene Byrne concludes that the winter range of a bighorn sheep herd is vital for “the herd’s long-term viability.” He explains that winter ranges are “the most critical for [the herd’s] survival” and that “the area must be protected.”
The proposed new development is located on top of “the most important block of bighorn winter sheep winter range in the valley” — in other words, building here will destroy and eliminate the herd’s winter range. Byrne explains that this area is the “only known late season range for these sheep.” To put it bluntly, green lighting and moving forward with this project will devastate critical and irreplaceable habitat for bighorn sheep.
There is no way this project can proceed without irrevocable harm being done to wildlife habitats, and this harm cannot be offset by other environmental initiatives. This land, and this land alone, is necessary to the survival of this herd of bighorn sheep.
Vail Resorts’ code of ethics and business conduct — to which Katz is bound — is a commitment to do good to the environment and do right by acting with integrity. Letting this project proceed as planned would be in direct opposition to both.
Cindy Ryerson, Vail Resorts ski instructor, 1983-present