[Image source: Outdoor Industry Association]

With well over 10 million participants each season and more than $4.8 billion in direct consumer spending, human-powered snowsports — including backcountry skiing, alpine touring, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing — constitute the fastest growing segment of winter recreation in the United States. Check out our latest economic impact report, including 2017 numbers from the Outdoor Industry Association.

Need a compelling economic reason to protect opportunities for quality, human-powered winter recreation? Look no further!

Economic Impact 2016

 

Over the past couple of weeks there hasn’t been much movement on public lands-focused legislation in DC. A couple of good bills had committee hearings and moved forward in the Senate but otherwise it seems that Congress has been pre-occupied with other matters. Public lands have been more in the spotlight at the state level – from Nevadans clamoring for their legislature to designate a Public Lands Day to a Montana lawmaker doing to her best to derail support for public lands. All the same, it’s good to keep track of what’s happening in DC, so here’s a brief update on bills we’re tracking.

Let’s start with the good news…

Although we tend to hear a lot of scary stuff coming out of DC these days, there are a growing number of really good bills that backcountry skiers can definitely get behind. Here are some we’re stoked on:

  • H.R. 502 permanently re-authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), America’s most popular and successful conservation program. This bill continues to gain co-sponsors, so your calls and emails are working!
  • H.J.Res. 195 is a resolution recognizing the importance of environmental stewardship and the urgency of the fight against climate change. This resolution was introduced by a handful of House Republicans and it’s really encouraging to see some bi-partisan support for fighting climate change.
  • S.483 / H.R. 1285, the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, would designate more than 126,500 acres of the Olympic National Forest as Wilderness and designate 19 rivers and their major tributaries as Wild & Scenic.
  • S.507, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act of 2017, would add 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas in Montana, designate new recreation areas for snowmobiling and mountain biking, and ensures the continuation of sustainable timber harvests outside of the protected areas.
  • S.713/H.R. 1791, the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Act, would designate 1.5 million acres of public and private land from Seattle to Central Washington as a National Heritage Area. This designation would improve management of the area and promote economic growth and tourism in the region. It passed through committee in late March and is awaiting a full vote in the Senate.
  • S.566, the Methow Headwaters Protection Act, would protect approximately 340,000 acres of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, including tons of great backcountry ski terrain, from new industrial-scale mine development. It passed through committee in late March and is awaiting a full vote in the Senate.

And the bad bills?

Like facets buried deep in the snowpack, these bills are lurking in Congress and with the right combination of factors they could prove to be disastrous. So far none of these have had a hearing, much less made it through committee or faced a vote, but we’re keeping an eye on them. By letting your representatives in Congress know that you don’t support these bills you can help to keep them from moving forward.

  • H.R.637 and  H.R.958 both seek to undermine efforts to address climate change, by repealing federal climate change regulations and prohibiting the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses.  H.R.861 would eliminate the EPA entirely. Of course, with this guy in charge of the EPA Congress may be the least of our worries.
  • H.J.Res.46 would take away the Park Service’s authority to regulate oil and gas drilling within National Parks.
  • H.R.622 eliminates Forest Service and BLM law enforcement capabilities and puts local sheriff departments in charge of patrolling federal lands and enforcing land management regulations instead, even though local agencies generally lack the skills or resources to deal with issues that arise on public lands. This would leave millions of acres of public land vulnerable to abuse and severely compromise the safety of the recreating public.
  • S.33, S.132 and H.R. 1489 would curtail the historic power of the Antiquities Act by requiring approval from Congress and the relevant state legislature in order for the President to designate a new National Monument. Presidents of both parties dating back to Teddy Roosevelt have used the Antiquities Act to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features across the country. When Congress is seized by partisan gridlock it is sometimes the only tool available to protect these places.
  • H.R. 1349 would amend the Wilderness Act to allow wheeled and mechanized uses within designated Wilderness areas. With approximately 97% of public lands currently available for wheeled and mechanized uses we believe we should all working together to improve recreational access for human-powered users on non-Wilderness lands rather than taking aim at our nation’s strongest conservation law, damaging valuable partnerships, and undermining protections currently in place for what would be a small potential recreational gain.
  • H.R. 232 would authorize state legislatures to purchase up to 2 million acres of land from the Forest Service for the purpose of timber production. Not only does this take public land out of public ownership, it would shift the management of these lands from multiple use (including recreation) to industrial forestry.

How to speak up

A couple of weeks ago we attended a town hall hosted by Montana Senator Jon Tester and somebody asked the Senator for his advice on how best to be heard in DC. His response? Phone calls and emails are the way to go. Congressional staffers listen to your voicemails and they read your emails. Handwritten letters, while nice, take forever to make their way to DC and through security screenings, so they aren’t the best way to communicate with elected officials. Our friends at the Outdoor Alliance posted a really informative blog about how to call your elected officials. Or, you can use the easy-to-customize online tool we’ve developed for you to email your Senators and Representative.

It’s more important than ever for backcountry skiers and others who love our public lands to know about the threats these lands face, and to show support for protecting places where we all play. Help us spread the word by forwarding this email to your backcountry partners and encouraging them to join Winter Wildlands Alliance today.

Thanks for all you do,

 


Hilary Eisen
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager

[Trip Report] Unplugged and On Skis in the Lower 48’s Largest Wilderness

The plane sputtered (like small planes do) as we lifted from the Boise airport, soaring north above the rolling hills of the city. I’d departed Bozeman far too late after meetings and a dinner party, arriving in Boise in time for a one-hour nap in the airport parking lot. Relief hit as we coasted in the air, leaving the bustling world behind and entering the wild landscapes of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

There is nothing quite like a bird’s eye view of a wild landscape — ultimate eye candy.

The Middle Fork Lodge is an in-holding nestled in the middle of the largest wilderness area in the lower 48. The Middle Fork of the Salmon River snakes alongside beautifully renovated, yet quaint, buildings. Turquoise pools of natural hot spring water welcome visitors. The silence and views are divine.

Our crew was excited to bring along ski touring gear and explore the glisse potential of nearby terrain. We had three days, and ample energy and motivation.

That afternoon we split into two groups and headed out for our first tour above the lodge. Ski conditions were marginal, but the wildness more than made up for the sandwich of crusts. With any luck we’d time our tour just right and have a touch of corn on the descent.

My group made our way up a hill just above the lodge with phenomenal views of the river below. Along the way we spotted numerous tracks; mule deer, elk, and possibly a bobcat, among other smaller critters. We skinned until the slope became too steep, and switched to booting up the variable crusty snow. As we topped out on our intended knoll we realized this was one of those places where each ridgeline goes on and on — you think you are reaching the summit, only to realize there is yet another one ahead, and then another. The vastness of the place began to trickle in.

We found decent corn snow and even a touch of leeward powder for some turns towards the river below, marveling in the beauty.

We decided to ski as a larger group on the second day and explore some terrain to the south of the lodge (with north facing aspects, that might hold nice snow). Tricky snow made for a variable ascent alternating between skinning on firm snow and boot-packing. Despite the marginal conditions camaraderie was high, and conversation meaningful. As a group there was a deep appreciation for wildness and wilderness — a kindred mindset instantly connecting us all.

From the top of Scarface Mountain the views were spectacular. How could they not be with 50 miles of wildness surrounding us in every direction? We parted ways again, one group headed for the hot springs, another for an adventure ski (unknown conditions, questionable exit, and high bushwhack potential).

Each afternoon returning to the lodge was a bit surreal. A hot soak, a delicious meal, and incredible company made me feel like I was in Never Never Land. “Where am I?” I kept thinking to myself, “Is this real?”

Our final day was forecasted to be rainy. I could hear the pitter-patter of raindrops as I awoke. We decided we ought to try to ski anyway, because well, why not? There are a lot of things in life worse than skiing in the rain. And when you have hot springs to come back to you have absolutely no reason to complain. As we made our way higher and higher, climbing up and out of the isothermal snow, the surface began to firm up and become coated with an increasingly deep layer of snow. Slowly we climbed into winter, cresting a windy ridgeline, and eventually finding ourselves on top of a small peak with 4 – 6” of fresh powder! Our perseverance was rewarded (kind of) as some of us surfed above the crust and others broke through to challenging isothermal snow. But it was still fun, and beautiful! We returned to the lodge for another delightful and insightful evening.

It was such a treat to be surrounded by a group of like-minded people — celebrating and sharing skiing in such a unique place. Quality time with WWA Executive Director, Mark Menlove, and fellow ambassador Forrest McCarthy, with whom I’d conversed but never shared the skin track with, was wonderful. I felt so honored to listen and learn from everyone around me, and from the wilderness.

It’s important to remember to unplug and to re-center; to remember why we do the work we do, and why we must protect wild places like the Frank Church Wilderness.