The Shoshone National Forest has published a revised Proposed Action outlining its vision for winter travel management on the forest. When finalized, this plan will have major repercussions for skiing and snowboarding on the Shoshone, especially on Togwotee Pass and Beartooth Pass.

We now have until December 10, 2017, to provide comments to influence the plan as it takes shape. Your comments matter (even if you commented last year, it’s important to weigh in again).

— CLICK HERE TO USE OUR HANDY LETTER TEMPLATE TO SUBMIT A COMMENT —

Context

The Shoshone National Forest bills itself as a wild backcountry forest, and indeed there are some amazing adventures to be had deep in the Wind River, Absaroka, and Beartooth mountains. What’s at stake in this travel plan, however, and where most skiers go, is the Shoshone’s relatively accessible world-class front-country terrain. Specifically Togwotee Pass and the Beartooth Pass.

The current Proposed Action —revised from the Proposed Action of May 2016—was developed based on suggestions the Forest Service received from the public as well as from groups like Winter Wildlands Alliance, Togwotee Backcountry Alliance, and the Wyoming Wilderness Association. This revised Proposed Action doesn’t change much from how snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles (OSVs) are currently managed on the forest, and for the most part we’re pretty supportive of what the Forest Service is proposing. You can review the latest plan, and look at maps of what the Forest Service is proposing here.

Discrete Motorized Season

For the first time ever, the Shoshone is considering a set season for winter motorized use. We like that they’re proposing specific dates before and after which snowmobile use would not be allowed, but the current proposal is confusing — there are different season dates for each ranger district and even different dates within ranger districts. We suggest they simplify things with a single season: December 1 through April 30, with a slight extension to allow snowmobile use on the Beartooth Pass until May 15.

Implementing these season dates would reduce conflicts between over-snow vehicles and wildlife and is a balanced way for skiers and snowmobilers to share the Beartooth Pass while recognizing that the two user groups have traditionally used this area during different and distinct seasons. These season dates also bring the Shoshone in line with how it’s neighbor, the Bridger-Teton, manages winter use on Togwotee Pass.

Protection for Cross-Country Skiing on Togwotee Pass

We are pleased to see that the Shoshone is proposing to formally close the cross-country ski trails on Togwotee Pass to motorized use (excepting for grooming purposes). The local trails group in Dubois — DART — spends a lot of resources grooming these trails for skiing and their efforts can be completely undermined by just one or two irresponsible OSV users. By closing, and signing, these areas cross-country skiers on Togwotee Pass will finally have non-motorized trails to enjoy.

Compliance With OSV Rule and Wilderness Act

In general, we think the Shoshone needs to do more to comply with the OSV Rule. The OSV Rule requires that the Forest Service designate discrete areas for OSV use, located to minimize impacts on wildlife and the environment and in areas that won’t cause conflict with other uses. Right now we’re not so sure the areas they’re proposing to designate really will minimize impacts and we expect them to explain how they’ve complied with this requirement when they write an Environmental Impact Statement.

We are especially concerned that the Shoshone has proposed to designate the entire High Lakes Wilderness Study Area (WSA) open for OSV use. This violates the Wyoming Wilderness Act, which states that snowmobile use in the WSA is only permissible if it’s at the same “manner and extent” as occurred in 1984. Unfortunately nobody thought to collect any baseline data showing how many people were snowmobiling in the WSA in the early ’80’s or where they were going, so we have to give it our best guess. While it’s pretty hard to guess how many snowmobiles were up there in the 80’s, we are confident that the machines people were riding then weren’t as powerful as what they’re riding today and therefore people weren’t traveling very far into the WSA. Therefore, we think the Forest Service should limit where snowmobiles can go within the WSA, restricting them to areas near the designated trail network (where it seems most likely people were riding in the past). After all, until Congress changes the status of the WSA the Forest Service is legally bound to comply with the existing law.

Press

Wyofile.org. 12/8/2017: Skis and Snowmobiles: National forest examines winter travel. 

December 10, 2017 is the last day to submit public comment on the Shoshone National Forest’s latest winter travel plan. The final plan will have major repercussions for skiing and snowboarding on the forest, especially in frontcountry zones such as Togwotee Pass and Beartooth Pass.

By Kerry McClay

Winter is nearly upon us and that means SnowSchool sites across the country are gearing up to engage thousands of kids in an exploration of snow covered public lands!  And while we often talk about SnowSchool in these big-picture terms, of critical importance are the individual educators and leaders who make these programs happen in dozens of communities across the country. For example, our SnowSchool site in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah- Cottonwood Canyons Foundation– recently brought Katie Burbank onboard as their new Education Director. To highlight the importance of local leadership, I’ve included below an excerpt from my interview with Katie. Her inspiring story illustrates the impact WWA can have on individuals and communities through the combination of our programs.

 

KM- Welcome to SnowSchool Katie! Can you tell us the story of how you got involved?

KB- I had always thought that my love of nature would guide me to a career path protecting our environment.  However, my curiosity of the natural world led me to a PhD program at Montana State University, and subsequently, a position teaching chemistry at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. Recently, I found myself re-visiting the notion of focusing my efforts on our public lands.   This past winter I was up in McCall, ID for a ski race and attended the WWA Backcountry Film Festival.  One of the films was about SnowSchool. I was incredibly inspired and thought to myself, “Now, that is something that I would really like to get involved in.”  As luck would have it, a month later, Cottonwood Canyons Foundation advertised that they were seeking a new Education Director who would oversee the Salt Lake City site for SnowSchool.  I wound up getting the position, dove head first into a pretty drastic career change, and am so glad I did.

KM- Why do you think it is important to have programs like CCF’s SnowSchool to get kids outside?

KB- While CCF is a non-political organization, I feel that environmental education is a very important component of advocacy. If we can get kids outside and teach them, I believe that it is more likely that they will feel connected to the outdoors when they grow up. Specifically for CCF, by introducing kids to the unique environment and incredible biodiversity of the Cottonwood Canyons, we hope to cultivate a sense of ownership for these public lands.  Additionally, Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons provide 60% of the drinking water for the Salt Lake Valley.  By connecting our local youth to the mountains that are their watershed, we hope that they will become aware of the importance of protecting this area for their community’s health and for future generations to enjoy.

KM- What excites you about CCF’s SnowSchool program?

KB- I grew up in a more urban focused family.  It wasn’t until I attended a sleep away camp in the wilderness of Northern California that I cultivated my own connection to nature.  Many of the students that we take snowshoeing have lived in the Salt Lake Valley their entire lives but have never been up to the Canyons.  I love being the one who introduces them to this new environment.  I hope that their experience with the program gives some of them the same spark that I had when I first discovered the magical world of nature.

KM- What do you personally like to do outdoors?

KB- I pretty much live and breathe backcountry skiing.  I just love it.  So much so that I even wound up marrying my ski partner. It has been a real treat to live next to the Wasatch Mountains. In the summer, I like to mountain bike and trail run, but mostly so that I can be outside in the mountains and stay in shape for skiing. 

 

-Kerry McClay is National SnowSchool Director with Winter Wildlands Alliance

To find out more about SnowSchool and all our amazing sites click here!

 

 

 

The National Park Service recently announced that it is considering increasing entrance fees to $70 at 17 of its most popular parks – Acadia, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Shenandoah, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion. This increase would double, and in some cases triple, current entrance fees. We are very concerned about how the proposed fee increase would impact the public’s ability to access and enjoy the National Parks and we oppose the fee increase in its current form. If you enjoy visiting National Parks we encourage you to comment on the proposed fee hike.

Almost all of the Parks included in the proposed fee hike are world-class destinations for skiers, many of which have a ski season that extends into the peak season when the proposed fee increase would be in place. However, our concern about this fee increase goes far beyond backcountry skiing. We strongly believe that entrance fees should never be set at levels where people are priced out of enjoying their public lands.

The Park Service is proposing this fee increase, which is projected to generate $68 million, in order to address an $11 billion maintenance backlog. We accept that fees increases are appropriate or necessary in some limited circumstances but we cannot and should not address a multi-billion-dollar maintenance backlog on the backs of Park visitors. This fee increase strikes us as unreasonably high, particularly when proposed in conjunction with overall Department of Interior budget cuts to the tune of $1.5 billion, including a $380 million cut to the Park Service budget. This backlog is the result of decades of systematic underfunding of the land management agencies, including the Park Service, by Congress. A much more appropriate course of action would be for the Administration to work with Congress to appropriate adequate funds for the Park Service each year and for Congress to pass the National Park Service Legacy Act, which would establish a dedicated park maintenance fund to invest a more substantial amount toward the Park Service repair backlog.

The Park Service is accepting comments on the proposed fee increase until December 22.

Click here to submit a comment