The Beaver Creek Story

Minturn, Colorado

One of the earliest applications of the bio-social ecosystem approach to resource management evolved out of an effort beginning in 1971 to manage the impacts of proposed ski development at Beaver Creek by Vail Associates in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

This ski development was created in such a way as to save a historic local Hispanic mining community, local wildlife, and the family ranches. NEPA had just been passed and Dr. Kent and associates decided that this development would be the first test of the new law. They assisted the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, to employ an Issue Management approach to address off-site impacts beyond the forest boundary. By incorporating the human habitat into the early stages of the Beaver Creek decision-making process, a potentially acrimonious fight over the issues was avoided while preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA). The Forest Service, much to its surprise, learned that their forest boundary was merely administrative and new boundaries were drawn that included the social and physical environment in a single bio-social ecosystem called a Human Resource Unit. This early recognition and care in dealing with the community around this process saved the Beaver Creek project and the town of Minturn. Issue identifications and resolution were so complete that the Beaver Creek Ski Area was approved in 1976 at the EA level without conflict. It never went to an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which is required if "significant" effects are discovered in the EA process. Those significant effects were resolved as the issues were discovered between 1971 and 1976. The Mountain Management Plan insured that the mitigations necessary to stabilize this town were undertaken by Vail Associates.

Phase I construction was completed in 1981. The traditional employer in this small Hispanic mining town, New Jersey Zinc, closed in December of 1977. Miners, vulnerable to being driven from their valley by outside economic forces, were provided assistance by the Forest Service during and after the EA process. Undesirable adverse impacts were forecasted and avoided through a community diversification/environmental enhancement program. This effort was conceived as a mitigation measure and placed as a condition to the issuance of the ski area permit. Through cooperative issue identification among the Minturn community, the Forest Service, and Vail Associates, permit conditions were conceived to enhance the local community's diversification options that would lead to long-term permanence. Two hundred mining families and their community habitat were retained through a developer-funded small business ownership program to help miners become business owners. There are now over 30 Hispanic businesses employing over 800 people located throughout this area. A Manpower Conversion Program was developed that had several facets for moving people into skilled jobs, such as ski instructors and lift supervisors. A Life Cycle Mitigation program was established that saw high school Hispanics entering college to study for hotel, restaurant, and ski area jobs that included management positions.

The physical integrity of the community, and the habitat for surrounding wildlife and ranchlands also were preserved. The Forest Service, with help from the Minturn community and Vail Associates, secured $5.9 million from the National Land and Water Conservation Fund for the purchase of 3,000 acres of private land surrounding Minturn. This created a "green belt" buffer where strip development between the town and Forest Service lands would have occurred. In total, these socio-physical environmental enhancement programs, required by the Forest Service permit, were estimated, in 1993, to be worth over $1.2 billion as a cash credit to society.

In contrast, most stories of resource development are laced with putting people out of work, people having to leave the community, destruction of open land and natural ecosystems. Because of the creative use of issue management to address the boundary issues, through the productive harmony model, none of the destructive elements that usually cost society personally and financially occurred in Minturn.

In 1981 Dr. Kent was recognized for his creative work with the Forest Service by receiving the USFS 75th anniversary Gifford Pinchot Award. The award was given for "your work in developing and implementing a socially responsible management system within the US Forest Service system".

Kevin Preister and James A. Kent, "Social Ecology: A New Pathway to Watershed Restoration", Chapter 3 in Watershed Restoration: Principles and Practices, by Jack E. Williams, Michael P. Dombeck and Christopher A. Wood, Editors. Bethesda, MD: The American Fisheries Society, 1997, pages 34-35.

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