EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE something pretty rare comes along and you can’t help but take notice. For instance, early this morning we witnessed a super blue blood moon eclipse. That happens even less than once in a blue moon! Along the same lines, of things that happen “once in a blue moon” (or less), the Forest Service is taking a new look at what they do to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and they’re accepting preliminary comments through the end of this week.

The NEPA process is the environmental review the Forest Service does whenever they make a major decision. It helps ensure that public lands and waters remain healthy, resilient, and attractive outdoor recreation destinations and it’s the primary avenue that we, the public, have to participate in decisions about the way Forest Service lands and waters are managed. The vast majority of comments submitted thus far in the process are from the extractive industry – it’s time for the outdoor recreation community to speak up.

Click here to submit a comment on

Because of the way the Forest Service is collecting comments we’re unable to provide a one-click comment template for you to use. You’ll have to write your own letter. But feel free to use the following talking points:

  • I strongly support the principles of NEPA and believe that environmental review and public comment are a vital components of the land management decision-making process, since it helps to ensure that public lands and waters remain healthy and resilient.
  • I urge the USFS to approach any changes to the NEPA regulations carefully so that the agency has the tools needed to ensure that the lands they manage remain attractive recreation destinations for a wide range of users.
  • I believe NEPA and environmental review are important to preserve opportunities for the recreating public to participate in decisions about the way the agency’s lands and waters are managed.
  • The Forest Service should continue to invest in more up-front public process, including collaboration, to help improve and expedite project planning and implementation.
  • One way the Forest Service could streamline its approach to NEPA is to better utilize programmatic, landscape-scale analysis and decision-making, with tiered project-level analysis and appropriate use of categorical exclusions.
  • The Forest Service should not consider expanding upon existing categorical exclusions to enable larger-scale salvage logging.

Comments are due Friday. Act now!

At midnight on Friday, March 23rd, Taylor Schefstrom and Hallie Holland (aka the Wild Winter Women) took on the Grand Traverse to benefit Winter Wildlands Allianceskiing 40 miles through the night from Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado.

“I learned a lot about myself and my leadership style. But most importantly the people I met have inspired me to go on and continue to do great things with my life.” – Artist and former SnowSchool educator Nick Kiriazis

Nick’s nearly complete wooden map of Lake Tahoe

After graduating college with a degree in biology Nick Kiriazis took some time to ponder his options and spent a few months volunteering as a SnowSchool leader at Bogus Basin SnowSchool.  In the essay excerpts below (circa 2011) Nick reflects on his experience at SnowSchool and how it shaped his ideas about his path moving forward in life.  Now, years later, Nick is a celebrated artist and former high school science department director.  His handmade wooden maps are a reflection of his passion for the outdoors.  As way of giving back to the program 20% of proceeds from the purchase of his amazing maps (see right) and select outdoor photography will benefit WWA SnowSchool (click this link to view all options).

Photo by Nick Kiriazis

“It’s really difficult to put into words how and why SnowSchool was such a great experience.  I guess it was the context of each incredible moment that made its impression on me and not the moment itself… Remembering how I felt after a day working at SnowSchool instantly brings a smile to my face and a warm feeling to my heart. I felt like every day I went to work I gave everything within my power to make a difference in the life of a student. I tried everything to ensure that each student had an experience that they’ve never had before, and wouldn’t forget for the rest of their lives. If you want to achieve great things, set high goals right? Working with kids almost every day made it impossible for me to not give them everything I had. In addition to helping the students, I tried to change myself for the better as well. Figuring out that I needed to improve my life would only get me half way there. The other half was comprised of the learning, trying, succeeding, failing, and experiencing necessary to improve myself. I encountered that all at SnowSchool.”

Nick and his wife Lori

“Working as a full-time SnowSchool volunteer these past few months has been everything I could ever hope a job would be. Moving out west was a leap of faith, and my experiences at SnowSchool provided me with the necessary elements to help me spread my wings. Every incredible day spent on the mountain was filled with equally incredible experiences for not only myself, but for the students I had the pleasure of working with. I truly believe that SnowSchool has molded me into a more effective leader, a more patient and creative mentor, and has allowed me to become fully aware of what I feel is important. This wonderful program has shown me that every child should have the opportunity to be outside, and even more importantly, should have the experience of exploring something completely new and exciting to them. As time goes on, one can observe our natural world fading away and out of our grasp quicker than we can understand how and why. We’re losing land, wildlife, and natural resources right before our eyes. However, I believe that inside every child lies the ability to imagine and dream for a flawless world. As long as programs like SnowSchool exist to help stimulate that excitement and curiosity, I think we have the first necessary step toward ensuring our world stays as wonderful and unspoiled as it should be, just like we dreamt it would be when we were kids.” – Nick Kiriazis

Over 90% of winter recreation takes place on public lands.

Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for backcountry skiers, splitboarders or cross-country skiers to help collect data for an important trailhead snowdepth study to inform upcoming winter recreation planning on public lands in the Sierra Nevada.

Snow depth measurements recorded by citizen science volunteers can be integrated into snowpack models to improve the accuracy of the models and to better evaluate how snow is distributed on the mountain landscape. When these measurements are collected at trailheads used for winter recreation activities over time, we can develop a relationship between long-term measurements observed at remote weather and snowpack stations (such as SNOTELs) and conditions at the trailhead. These relationships can help inform whether a trailhead can be opened for snowmobile use in order to prevent damages to the underlying soil and vegetation. Reducing the likelihood of such damage will greatly aid maintaining access to winter recreation opportunities.

In the Sierra Nevada of California and Nevada, we are particularly interested in the timing of sufficient snow depth for winter recreation and how this varies by elevation and location. A major goal is to evaluate how sufficient snow depth timing has varied historically and how this may change in the future. In the last 10 years, we have observed a rise in winter snow levels during storms.

This implies that lower elevation trailheads are seeing an increase in rain and decrease in snow, which means we have to wait longer for enough snow to accumulate to recreate in these places and that our window of time to enjoy places accessed from these trailheads is getting smaller. Developing relationships between trailhead snow depths and remote snow sensors will help us identify trailheads that are most resilient to continued changes in the mountain environment and assess how these changes may play out in the future.

By incorporating field snow depth observations from citizen scientists into snow models, all groups interested in mountain recreation and science will benefit. This information will improve our capabilities to accurately simulate snow cover and snow depth in the mountains. It will also enhance the quality of daily avalanche forecasts during big storms and runoff predictions (think flooding) during storms with high snow levels.

Ongoing work by researchers near Valdez, Alaska has shown very encouraging results. We hope to apply similar techniques throughout the Sierra Nevada during the winters of 2017/18 and 2018/19. Your contributions of snow depth measurements from along your ski tour or when you are staging your snowmobile will be instrumental in helping this project succeed.

Interested? The Community Snow Observations group has put together this tutorial on how to record your depth measurements using the MountainHub App. Also, if you sign up below we will be in touch with information about training opportunities and other project updates.

Sign up here to volunteer!