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-3 Avalanche Management Policy in the United States HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT Not until the westward expansion did avalanches become a hazard in the United States. Mormon settlers moving into Utah, railroad workers laying track across California's Sierra Nevada, and prospectors and miners exploring the mountains of the Rockies all quickly learned of the dangers of snow avalanches. On a single day in 1898 on the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska, 70 gold rushers were killed hi. Fredston, Alaska Mountain Safety Center, personal communication, 1986~. Avalanches became a fact of life in the late nineteenth century mining communities. Inhabitants were forced to recognize avalanche hazards and consider legal measures to pro- tect themselves and their property. After a devastating avalanche destroyed the newly built Sampson Mine buildings in southwestern Colorado, killing one man, the local newspaper suggested that expert advice be sought when locating buildings in potential avalanche ter- rain. Another avalanche, which destroyed the 13-year-old buildings of the nearby Highland Mary Mine, prompted the following (B. Armstrong, 1976~: Again, buildings should not be put up where there is . . . danger of slides, and we believe that the Colorado legislature should pass a law making it a penal offense for mining superintendents who have buildings put up in dangerous places or where there is the possibility of a slide sweeping them away. Until such a law is passed, there will be lots of chances taken in the erections of buildings (January 27, 1887, San Juan newspaper). This was one of the earliest public calls for government to enact avalanche hazard legislation. Following the disastrous 1905-1906 winter in Colorado's San Juan Mountains, with dozens of fatalities and extensive property loss due to avalanches, the editor of the Silverton Standard proposed a full-scale zoning plan for the area, with three different types of protective controls: the power to issue or withhold building permits or licenses based on the location of a building, the gathering of statistics on avalanche location and frequency, and the actual forecasting of avalanche events so that buildings could be evacuated. These goals would eventually be met but not for more than half a century (B. Armstrong, 1976~. 20
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21 In the twentieth century, mining cleclined throughout the west and the population in mountain communities was much reduced. As a result, avalanche threats to life and property also decreased. Not until the late 1930s was there a resurgence of concern about avalanche danger. The impetus was the development of downhill or alpine skiing. Faced with the fact that the recreational ski areas being developed were on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land and that avalanches posed a hazard, the USFS took action. Before the ski lifts were built at the Alta area in Utah, the USFS established the country's first avalanche study center and assigned C. D. Wadsworth as a snow ranger (Kalatowski, 19~. This was the beginning of federal involvement in the avalanche problem. Development of instruments and techniques for avalanche management began in 1946 (LaChapelle, 1962~. In an effort to address the growing number of avalanche accidents, the National Ski Patrol System (NSPS), in 1949, sponsored a visit by the Swiss avalanche expert Andre Roch. Roch investigated avalanche sites and trained USFS rangers, highway workers, and ski patrollers in snowcraft and avalanche management. He was the first to identity the complexity of U.S. avalanche problems due to the different snow climates of the maritime, intermountain, end centralregions (Roch, 1949; cf. LaChapelle, 1966; Armstrong and Armstrong, 1987; Mears, 1984~. Following Roch's visit, the USFS took the lead role in avalanche forecasting, con- trol, research, rescue, and education in the United States, and by 1955 it had established avalanche centers at Berthoud Pass, Colorado; Alta, Utah; and Stevens Pass, Washington. These were operational centers whose purpose was to monitor avalanches in their different climatic areas, supervise control work, and administer efforts to learn and teach more about avalanches. , The Alta Avalanche Study Center took the lead role, guiding the activities of the other two centers and establishing pioneering experiments on explosive control measures (Atwater, 1968; L~aChapelle, 1962; Kalatowski, 1988; Hoagland, 1988; see also M. M. Atwater Collection, University of Oregon Library). The center also established the first training programs in avalanche forecasting and control as part of the USFS's snow ranger training, so that avalanche problems in ski areas and along highways on USFS land could be resolved by local snow rangers. In 1971 this training was formalized into the USFS National Avalanche School. In the 1960s the national focus for avalanche problems began to shift from Alta to the USFS Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station in Fort Collins, Colorado. In 1961 this station provided assistance for Colorado State University to invite Hans Frutiger, another Swiss avalanche specialist, to spend a year as a guest researcher (Frutiger, 1964~. After Frutiger's visit, USFS research on snow and avalanches accelerated, and federal funds were made available for avalanche research. By the mid-1960s the research initiated and carried out at the Alta Avalanche Study Center under the auspices of administrative studies was transferred to the research branch of the USFS and assigned to the Alpine Snow and Avalanche Project of the Fort Collins Station (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Forest Service, 1971~. The long-term records of mountain weather and avalanche occurrence, begun at Alta, Stevens Pass, and Berthoud Pass, were continued, and additional reporting sites were established throughout the western United States. Alpine snow and avalanche research continued at Fort Collins throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, and a broad range of snow and avalanche problems were investigated. Data were collected on avalanche accidents, avalanche frequency, and mountain weather throughout the western United States, a regional avalanche forecast center was established,
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22 a three-phase National Avalanche School was developed, and an international exchange program was set up with the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research. The Alpine Snow and Avalanche Project also funded university research and produced technical and lay publications. Avalanche bulletins for Colorado were issued by the USFS regional forecast center in the early 1970s, and subsequently the USFS helped establish other regional avalanche forecast centers in Utah, Washington, and Alaska to provide daily public forecasts of backcountry avalanche conditions on USFS lands. An internal USFS document reviewed the program in 1973 and reported the following (Martinelli, 1973~: In the United States, the Forest Service program has displayed professional leadership for the ~ . _ ~ ~ ~ ~ nest ~ decades The no for cnntin,'~1 re.~.~rrh ~nr1 the ~n~rtllmitiPc tm Onnl`~ the Unpin nc r~ - - - ^~ &~ EVA All—~~ 1~11 ~11— Lll~ V~1 L~lilLl~O LO apply Lll~ 1lil~lil8~ to operational problems are enough to justify the existing program.... If the Forest Service relinquishes its leadership, avalanche work in this country will probably dwindle to a series of unrelated, short-term studies centered at two or three university research groups that are highly dependent on government grants. This is likely to result in a decline in snow safety. CURRENT STATUS After 1981 the USFS made a conscious effort to move away from its role in avalanche affairs. In 1982 it helped establish the National Avalanche Foundation, a private nonprofit foundation, to aid the transition of responsibility for snow avalanches from the USFS to other agencies. At present, the foundation is controlled by representatives of USFS recreational management, the ski industry, and the NSPS. Until 1987 its primary function was to administer the National Avalanche School, a task previously undertaken by the USFS. In 1987 the NSPS assumed responsibility for this school. In 1985 the USFS terminated the Alpine Snow and Avalanche Project at Fort Collins, thus ending its funding and direct involvement in avalanche research. No other government agency has assumed this role. The USFS has also reduced or relinquisher] its involvement in avalanche work with some regional centers. After the USFS relinquished administration, the Alaska Avalanche Center was funclect by the State of Alaska and administered by the University of Alaska's Arctic Environmental Information Data Center (Hackett and Fester, 1980~. However, the center lost its funding after the 1985-1986 winter because of the state's economic problems and has not resumed operations. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center, which forecasts for all areas of the state, continues to receive some financial support from the USFS; however, it is administered by the Colorado State Department of Natural Resources and must rely on a broad group of organizations for essential financial support. The Utah Avalanche Forecast Center, serving the northern Wasatch Range, is solely supported by the USFS. The Northwest Avalanche Center, forecasting for the Cascades in Washington and Oregon and the Olympic Mountains in Washington, is administered by the USFS with financial support from the National Park Service, the Utah State Park Service, the Northwest Ski Area Association, and the Washington State Highway Department. The National Weather Service provides housing and cooperates with all the centers. USFS snow rangers in California, Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho provide some services similar to those of the larger regional centers, but their forecast areas are small and involve less use. In these states daily information about snow and avalanche conditions in avalanche- prone backcountry areas is issued as part of the snow rangers' other duties.
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23 Because avalanches occur or originate in large part on lands administered by the USFS, the National Park Service, or the Bureau of Land Management, some responsibility for avalanche mitigation falls on the federal government to assure protection of the general public and private enterprises on federal lands. A similar argument supports the involvement of the U.S. Geological Survey and the USFS in volcano hazards (Bailey et al., 1983; Brown, 1982~. At many locations, such as Mono County, California, avalanches that threaten private property originate on federal lands (S. Burns, Planning Director, Mono County, written communication, 1987; M. Martinelli, Jr., U.S. Forest Service, written communication, 1989~. The justification for USFS involvement in avalanche problems is in part related to winter backcountry use, since federal lands~specially national forests—are designed to provide opportunities for unconfined outdoor recreation. USFS policy is to "enhance recreation experiences through a minimum of regulation and law enforcement" (USFS Manual 2303, Item 7) and "regulate users only to the extent necessary for user safety" (USFS Manual 2350, 3, Item 5~. A 1987 review of existing policies carried out by Colorado's White River National Forest, prompted by Il avalanche-caused deaths in the state during the winter of 1986-1987, stated that the USFS should review its level of financial support for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to ensure that the USFS is providing its fair share, since such centers provide "a very valuable service to users of the National Forests" (Woodrow, 1986~. The federal government retains specific though limited responsibilities, as defined by Public Law 93-2S, the Disaster Relief Act of 1974. This law authorizes federal agencies to be prepared to issue disaster warnings to state and local officials (Sec. 202) and to provable technical assistance to states in developing preparedness plans and programs, including h ~ 7~ rA rmA ~ ~ rtinn a`'niA ~ n rat ~ n A m iti n~ titan f For on 1 ~ for " ~ no `~1~ I ~ ~ ~JA~A~' BALM AAAA~4,~%JA~ aft- ~^' ~^ ~~ · · . landsilde, mUdSlide' snowstorm . . . or other catastrophe in any part of the United States" (U.S. Department of Agriculture/Forest Service, 1983, pp. 340-348~. Although it is clear that snow avalanches may be included under this umbrella listing of natural hazards, ambiguity exists for purposes of response as to whether to group avalanches under the category of landslide, snowstorm, or other. Such ambiguity may contribute to the present lack of federal agency involvement. Policy on avalanche matters has generally been lacking at the state level. Few states have enacted legislation that applies unambiguously to avalanche mitigation. In 1973 the State of Washington enacted the Land Development Act, which requires the disclosure of any natural hazard on or around a development. This law applies only to developments of 10 or more lots, with smaller ones exempt from the requirement. This legislation is a direct result of the Yodelin avalanche accident, in which 7 cabins were damaged and 13 people were buried, 4 of whom were injured and 4 killed. The residents of the Yodelin development sued the State of Washington, the developer of the Yodelin homesites, and the real estate agency that represented the developer. The appellate court decision acknowledged that the state could be tried for negligence if it could be shown that it had assumed the common law duty to warn the appellants and had either done it improperly or had not done it at all, thus acknowledging in limited fashion the state's "duty to warn" fBrown v. MacPherson's. Inc. 1975; Gerdes, 1988~. In 1974 the Colorado Legislature passed House Bill 1041, which made avalanches a matter of state concern and required individual counties to consider assessment of natural hazards for land-use decisions. As a result of this legislation and with financial support from the state, many of the mountainous counties in Colorado now have some type of natural hazards plan that includes a specific avalanche hazard section (Ives and Plam, 1980; Mears, 19801-
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24 Further, as part of the responsibility of the Colorado Geological Survey under House Bill 1041 (C.R.S. 1973, 24-65.~-10l, et seq.), and when the need seemed most urgent, snow avalanche hazards were identified at several areas where development was contemplated (Mears, 1976, 1979~. In Utah, where avalanches have resulted in more fatalities than has any other natu- ral hazard, the Geologic Hazards Information Act 1984 HB-28 specifically identified snow avalanches as a significant hazard to public safety and property (UGMS, 1983~. The leg- islation required that hazard maps be prepared and made available to the public. Utah's governor, S. M. Matheson, has expressed his commitment to the concept of disclosure of known hazards to potential property buyers (UGMS, 1983~. On the local or municipal level, avalanche hazard policy is highly variable. In Ketchum, Idaho, the municipal government passed an avalanche zoning ordinance that pays particular attention to the "duty to warn" by providing that the public be notified of avalanche potential within all designated avalanche areas, as determined by detailed studies (Mears, 1980~. Ordinances and restrictions for development are currently under study in Mono County, California (S. Burns, Planning Director, Mono County, written communication, 1987~. In Alaska municipal governments continue to ignore studies and recommendations for avalanche zoning. In the 1950s a proposed school site in Juneau was relocated because of avalanche hazard, in response to an effort involving the U.S. Geological Survey (Twenhofel et al., 1949; LaChapelle, 1972~. But faced with a precise definition of this serious hazard (Hart, 1972; I-aChapelle, 1972; Frutiger, 1972; Hackett and Santeford, 1980), Juneau has for almost 20 years refused to enact an avalanche zoning ordinance. In May 1985 the Anchorage Assembly voted down a proposal to establish avalanche hazard zones (Armstrong and Williams, 1986~. The law would have identified potentially dangerous avalanche areas on maps assembled by avalanche experts, required landowners to notions prospective buyers or lessors of the hazard, restricted development in the zones, and imposed strict building standards. COMMENTS 1. Throughout U.S. history, government policy toward avalanche hazard has been one of laissez-faire. In most cases, policy was formulated only when individual government agencies were directly involved and a policy was required. Public policy evolved in response to problems a reactive approach that tackles each problem on an individual basis, rather than establishing broad national policies. The USFS's involvement with avalanches, for example, came about as a result of avalanche problems at ski-area developments on national forest lands. 2. Currently, there is no national management of avalanche information, research, forecasting, zoning, or education. Nor is there any formal coordination of avalanche-related activities at other levels of government. The USES has retreated from avalanche hazard management by withdrawing its financial support for education, research, and general management of its centralized repository for avalanche data and information. Policies for avalanche hazard zoning exist mainly at the local level, among municipalities and counties. Only a few states have land-use policies that specifically refer to avalanches. 3. The problem of fragmentation is repeated with avalanche forecasting. Many agen- cies are involved in forecasting avalanches the USES, National Park Service, state de-
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25 partments of natural resources, state highway departments, and local public and private organizations—yet no unifying policy exists and financial support is insecure. Similarly, the administration of avalanche education and forecasting programs is fragmented by state, region, and agency. 4. The states' role should lie between that of the federal government and the local government: to determine priorities, guide efforts, and coordinate statewide the results of federal, university, and private work. If its role as middleman is done well, the state can free the local governments through enabling legislation for the work they are best suited to do (see, e.g., Jochim et al., 198S, for an excellent example of a state response to landslide mitigation). 5. The private sector has been slow to take responsibility, partly because of the high costs and federal restrictions on established avalanche control procedures. State and federal agencies have been equally slow to assume leadership in avalanche mitigation, since many avalanche accidents occur on USES lands. It should be noted that research and development to defray some of the rising costs of avalanche mitigation is not being supported by any organization. 6. Yet in regard to the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, legitimate arguments can be summoned to include snow avalanches under the aegis of snowstorms or landslides, which after all is merely a popular term to encompass the variety of styles of slope failure in a variety of materials (Varnes, 1978; Voight, 1978~. Landslides are accepted as a serious national problem, and although federal funding has been insufficient to allow full compliance with the responsibilities indicated by the Disaster Relief Act of 1974, the need for a national landslide hazard reduction effort is recognized (National Research Council, 1985~. The U.S. Geological Survey's landslide research program, which has responsibility for important parts of this effort (U.S. Geological Survey, 1977, 1981, 1982), had peak funding of about $4 million in the 1980s (including Geologic and Water Resources Division activities; G. Wieczorek, U.S. Geological Survey, personal communication, 1988~. In comparison, funding for (now-defunct) snow avalanche research by the USES amounted to about $250,000 during the peak year. When comparing snow avalanche and landslide programs, it should be recognized that many types of slope failure exist, not all of which are hazardous to life or cause severe economic loss. Instead, different kinds may prevail in different regions, at different times, or under different climatological conditions. One cannot therefore speak of a national problem involving rock avalanches, debris avalanches, or debris flows individually. It is only when all these examples are grouped together that the cumulative severity of the slope failure problem can be appreciated. In this respect, snow avalanches appear at only slight disadvantage when compared to the cumulative effects of all other types of slope failure. Snow avalanches kill about 17 persons each year, compared to perhaps 12 on average for all other types of slope failure and about 25 in peak years (Iahns, 1978; Schuster and Fleming, 19~. With some federal attention to the avalanche problem warranted, and with snow avalanches recognized as a type of slope failure, a possibility that should be further explorer} is the incorporation of some snow avalanche process and hazard-delineation research into the U.S. Geological Survey's slope failure program. Such a linkage could be accomplished to the mutual benefit of both the national snow avalanche hazard-mitigation effort arid the U.S. Geological Survey's capability to exercise leadership in slope failure research. No
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26 addle federal agency carries out r~earcb iD dope stabibV, the responsibUiV being Debark by the u.s. Geological Sumac the USES, the Agricultural R~earcb Service, the Bureau of ~damaboD, and the u.s. gamy Carps of Engineers among other Similarly it should not be assume that one agency must n~essarOy card out aU federal responsibUides for SD~ act.
Representative terms from entire chapter: