Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Steger Smith filed a complaint today in U.S. District Court alleging Tom Maclay, who is proposing a destination ski resort on his property at the base of Lolo Peak, cut about 400 trees on Forest Service property, including trees in the Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area.
The complaint (which you can download as a PDF by clicking here) details two Forest Service investigations — one involving illegal cutting along Forest Service Road 1311 to make way for a snow-grooming machine and another that found seven closed roadways cleared without permission and seven “areas of new road construction” on Forest Service property.
Maclay admitted to Forest Service officials to clearing the roads and cutting the trees, according to the complaint.
Jessie McQuillan made the first public mention of the cuttings in the Missoula Independent last March and David Blair, the spokesman at the time for Maclay’s Bitterroot Resort, insisted that the work was routine maintenance done by the Maclay family for years and it was not related to the resort. The investigation in today’s complaint alleges the road clearing was intended to make room for the grooming machine, or the “Bombardier,” as the complaint calls it.
A spokeswoman for Maclay and the Bitterroot Resort, Jessica Flynn at the Boise firm Scott Peyron and Associates, said Tuesday evening that Maclay had only just received the complaint late in the afternoon and had not had a chance to fully review it, but that will comment to the press as soon as he has.
The big news from today’s filing is the charge that Maclay cut trees in the Research Natural Area — a section of land filled with a rare hybridization of Western and Alpine Larch. The area for all intents and purposes is treated the same as a wilderness area. The 900-acre area was the big non-negotiable for the Lolo and Bitterroot National Forests when they denied Maclay’s first attempt at approval for the resort last March and has been touted by the resort’s critics as one of the most sacred pieces of public land at stake in the proposal.
Former Forest Service research scientist Stephen Arno said on a field trip to the area near the RNA this fall (just as some of the larches were turning gold, see the picture above) that for a scientist, the area is a one-of-a-kind laboratory for studying hybridization, forest ecology, geology and even looking at indicators of global warming. The uniqueness of the area has to do with the kind of hybridization and the soil mantle where it occurs — just on the edge of what used to be a glacial valley.
The U.S. Attorney’s office is asking the court to decide whether Maclay’s actions constitute a trespass on U.S. property and to grant damages to cover the cost of restoring and rehabilitating the property and compensate for attorney fees and expenses.
The complaint states: “The unauthorized and illegal actions of Tom Maclay have interfered with and damaged the property of the United States, including the Carlton Ridge RNA. Because of the defendant’s actions, it is necessary for the United States to bring this action.”