This month we were in D.C. with our Outdoor Alliance colleagues (including policy staff from all of the OA member groups) to assess our work thus far into the current administration, to talk strategy for the coming year, and to meet with Congressional offices on the Hill.

It was a productive whirlwind. It’s always fun to hang out with our OA colleagues and brainstorm how we can work together to protect public lands and human-powered recreation experiences. And by teaming up with the climbers, paddlers, and mountain bikers, we’re able to get our issues in front of way more offices. And when we speak as a united team on behalf of the entire human-powered outdoor recreation community we have a lot more political power.

On the Hill, we advocated for the bi-partisan Recreation Not Red Tape bill, which OA helped to draft, plus a fire funding fix, the permanent re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and to defend the original Nation Monument designations for Bears Ears and the Antiquities Act. These are all things that affect all forms of outdoor recreation on public lands, including snowsports.

Forest and Winter Recreation Planning

While we were in D.C., we also met with the Forest Service’s Washington Office staff who oversee the travel management program. Keeping things pretty high level, we updated them on how winter travel planning is playing out here in the West, and shared our thoughts on what we thought was working and what wasn’t.

We’re trying to find ways to make winter travel planning less intimidating, so that forests start to prioritize getting it done and doing it right. The D.C. staff seemed keen to talk about opportunities to front-load the process with collaborative efforts, and we are hopeful that they might provide some guidance to forests to encourage this approach. Until Congress appropriates more money to the Forest Service (and fixes the fire borrowing issue) they have to keep trying to figure out how to do more with less, and winter travel planning won’t happen the way it should unless we can convince each Forest that it’s a priority and worth the effort. Well-grounded, facilitated collaboratives can help make travel planning easier, which helps in convincing Forest Supervisors and District Rangers that it’s something they want to prioritize.

Another major focus this month has been Custer Gallatin forest planning. The Custer Gallatin National Forest is home to Montana’s highest and snowiest peaks, some of the best ice climbing in the country, and tons of great skiing. The comment period for the Proposed Action ends on March 5 and WWA’s Policy Director has been busy participating in two collaborative groups (love those collaboratives!) and writing comments on behalf of both Winter Wildlands Alliance and Outdoor Alliance Montana. In this forest plan revision, we are advocating for new areas to be recommended for Wilderness, as well as changes in over-snow vehicle suitability to reduce conflicts with skiers in the Bozeman area, and to build a foundation for winter travel planning on the eastern half of the forest (the west half already has a winter travel plan).

Also this month, in California, WWA’s Advocacy Director participated in an informal, 11th-hour stakeholder collaborative with snowmobilers, backcountry skiers and others on the Lassen National Forest’s winter travel plan. Stay tuned on that; we hope to be able to share high-level points of consensus and some notes on the process —what worked and what could be improved — in the coming weeks.

New Backcountry Alliance!

Getting after it in the Tetons. Photo by WWA ambassador Kim Havell

This month Winter Wildlands Alliance welcomed its newest grassroots group: the Teton Backcountry Alliance. We’re stoked to have an organized voice for skiers in the Tetons, covering the region from Teton Pass to Grand Teton National Park and beyond, where there’s no shortage of issues affecting skiers. We’ll be working with this group to help them get their feet under them in the coming months.

Trails Stewardship Grant Opportunity!

Finally: we recently learned that the Forest Service has scraped up a little funding to continue their National Forest System Trails Stewardship Funding Program in 2018. Last year they awarded $250,000 to trail projects across the country. This year, there’s $400,000 available (don’t ask us how they managed to increase this part of their budget). If your organization does stewardship work, this could be a great opportunity – last year the money went towards maintaining trails, installing signs, surveying trails, and improving trailheads and campgrounds. They’ll start soliciting applications on March 1 (with application deadline April 15), so if this is something you’re interested in shoot Hilary Eisen an email for more information.

 

SnowBall Ladies and Gentlemen in ski flare costume danced the night away to the music of Woodbelly (in Boulder CO) and Curtis/Sutton and the Scavengers (Boise ID).

As part of our annual SnowSchool Support Week WWA threw two SnowBall benefit concerts in Boulder CO and Boise ID in Feburary.  These winter themed galas included bluegrass music, dancing, libations, ski-flare costumes, Arctic Theater Royale, and many awesome raffle/auction items!  Not only did these fundraisers support our work of getting thousands of underserved kids across the country outside on public lands in the winter, but they also served as a gathering place for hundreds of supporters to hear testimonials from SnowSchool participants and volunteers.  At time when the future of public lands, science, education and winter itself are threatened, it was both energizing and affirming to witness broad community support for the SnowSchool program. Our heartfelt thanks goes out to all of the attendees, sponsors, volunteers and SnowSchool supporters (including SnowBall inventor Hal Hallstein) who made these events possible, we are already looking forward to next year!

Funds raised through the 2018 SnowBall events will be used to:

  • Reach thousands of underserved students through SnowSchool.

    Snow scientists HP Marshall and Charlie Luce talk shop at the Boise SnowBall

    We believe that all kids should have the opportunity to experience our nation’s public wildlands. Working with local schools and SnowSchool sites across the country we work hard to bring this experience to the kids who need it the most.

  • Establish new SnowSchool sites: We work with non-profits, the US Forest Service and other local organizations to bring our proven program to new communities across the country. Since establishing the program in 2005 we’ve added 3-6 new SnowSchool sites every winter!
  • Enhance kids’ SnowSchool experience: We improve SnowSchool every winter by designing new learning experiences for diverse students. WWA’s new web-based Snowpack Prediction Contest connects students and teachers with local mountain weather/snowpack stations once they are back in their classroom. The result of this activity expands learning at SnowSchool from a 1-day outing into a 4-month snow and climate science exploration!

-Kerry McClay, National SnowSchool Director

To learn more about SnowSchool visit www.snowschool.org

 

House Bill 496 will allow the Director of Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to be appointed by a Governor, rather than by a diverse board. The board is selected by the Governor but because it’s a diverse group, they’ve always appointed a Parks and Rec. Director based on merit, not political affiliation. HB 496 would change this, and as an additional causality, forfeit Harriman Ranch State Park.

To understand why here’s a quick review of Idaho history:

In 1965 Idaho Governor Robert E. Smylie created the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) and its board to professionally manage the state parks. With knowledge of how drastically different natural resources were managed with each political turnover, and motivated by the Harriman brothers’ ranch donation – which was incumbent on the establishment of a professional Parks and Rec agency – Smylie decided the Parks Director should be hired by a board, based on merit alone, free from partisanship.

Currently, the Department of Parks and Recreation is governed by a board of six people, each representing a different region in Idaho. Board members are appointed by the Governor based on professional relevance. The board has the power “to appoint a director to serve at its discretion” (Title 67, Chapter 42, Idaho Code). HB 496 would remove the board’s appointment powers and hand it directly to the Governor, undoing decades of tradition of merit-based, collective hiring.

Not only that, because Harriman Ranch State Park was donated to the State of Idaho only as long as IDPR staff are not politically appointed, this bill could result in the return of the park to the Harriman family. Harriman State Park is a special place for cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and winter photographers and it’s loss would be felt acutely by the Idaho winter recreation community.

Rep. Joe Palmer (R-Meridian) introduced HB 496 to undo Governor Smylie’s legacy. It was killed by a 6-6 split. But then, a couple days later, the bill was revived and passed out of committee to the House Floor.

If you live in Idaho and appreciate and support professional management of our natural areas and want to keep this Idaho gem in public hands, please contact your State Legislators and ask them to vote no on House Bill 496. All you need to do is fill in your information below, add a personal comment and your letter will be delivered to your legislators.

Fill out the letter below to send a letter to your state legislator on the issue.

The Custer Gallatin National Forest has released a Proposed Action for its forest plan revision. This is the Forest Service’s initial proposal for how it might face the challenges of ensuring that growing populations and increasing recreation use on the forest are balanced with protecting the forest’s unique and important ecological role.

Based on the comments they receive between now and March 5 on the Proposed Action, the Forest Service will develop a range of Alternatives. The final revised forest plan will evolve out of that range of Alternatives, so your comments now have a big impact. For more details on the plan and our perspective on it, click here. Otherwise, please submit a comment today using the form below. Editable comments are provided in the message window on page 2.