(The Center Square) - The Snowmass Village Town Council sent a letter of support to two members of Colorado's congressional delegation who are sponsoring legislation that would allow ski resorts to send their land use fees directly to the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).
Under the current system, ski resorts pay land use fees to the U.S. Department of Treasury, and there is no requirement for them to be spent on the nation's forests. The Ski Hill Resources for Economic Development (SHRED) Act aims to require funds be invested in local but federally-managed forests instead.
The legislation has bipartisan support, with Sens. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo. backing it in the Senate, and Reps. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., Ann Kuster, D-N.H., John Curtis, R-Utah, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., cosponsoring a bill in the House.
"This bill is not only critical to maintaining the active management of our national forests by providing much needed support to the USFS, but it also greatly aids in the sustainability and vibrancy of our mountain communities and local recreational opportunities," the council's letter read.
According to the bill, any national forest that receives less than $15 million in annual funding would be able to retain 75% of those funds. Forests with greater than $15 million in funding would receive 60% of those funds.
All funds retained under the bill would be appropriated to the USFS in addition to its budgetary allocations, according to the legislation. SHRED funds would be required to be spent on maintenance projects, staff training, and wildfire preparedness efforts.
As it stands, ski resorts pay fees to the USFS that average $39 million annually, according to federal data.
The bill is supported by the National Ski Area Association and its 122 member ski areas operating on public lands, the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Colorado Ski Country USA, and several other similar organizations.
To Shawn Regan, vice president of research at the Bozeman, Mont.-based Property and Environment Research Center, retaining local fees would go a long way toward remedying the billion-dollar federal backlog of maintenance projects that are desperately needed.
"Demand for outdoor recreation is surging, but federal budgets related to recreation on public lands are stagnant or even declining," Regan told The Center Square in an emailed statement. "Allowing the Forest Service to keep the majority of its ski-area revenues would help address those funding shortfalls while also expanding or enhancing recreational opportunities."
Skiing, and the broader outdoor recreation economy, is big business for many small towns. Nationwide, ski resorts support over 500,000 jobs and contribute more than $55 billion annually to the economy, according to federal data.