Stanislaus National Forest photo courtesy John Buckley, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center (CSERC)

The smoky haze that has settled over the West tells us we’re nearing the end of August. It doesn’t take many days of haze for all of us at WWA to start longing for the fresh clean skies of winter!

Forest Service Planning

We started off August wrapping up the Eldorado NF winter travel plan comment period. Now, we’re ending the month with the start of another comment period related to winter travel planning in California. The Stanislaus National Forest‘s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was published on August 24, 2018, initiating a 45-day public comment period to end on October 9.

We’ve also been busy with forest planning. We just submitted comments on the Helena-Lewis & Clark (MT) forest plan revision yesterday and we’re in the midst of reviewing the Chugach (AK) draft plan and Inyo (CA) final plan. One of the fun things about working on public lands management all across the country is the opportunity we have to share good ideas from one national forest with other forests. We do that a lot in forest planning. For example, because of our advocacy, the Inyo forest plan includes winter-specific recreation zoning modeled after the approach used by Flathead National Forest (in Montana).

Legislation

Our work at the Congressional level revolves around 3 main things – keeping public lands public, defending the integrity of our environmental laws and public management of public lands, and advocating for funding and tools to manage recreation and protect public land (to see what bills we’re tracking, click here). On that note, we want to highlight the main issues and legislation that we’ve been focusing on this month.

  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund expires September 30 unless Congress acts to re-authorize it. LWCF is the most successful conservation program in American history, using funds from offshore drilling to purchase land and easements and build and maintain recreation infrastructure. It has overwhelming bipartisan support both across the country and in Congress. The only reason Congress hasn’t re-authorized it already is that they don’t think it’s a priority. If we’re going to save LWCF we need everybody contacting their Congressional delegation and raising a ruckus. Learn more about LWCF and take action here.
  • Recreation-Not-Red-Tape is a bill that we are super excited about. It aims to reduce barriers to outdoor recreation access, and improve outdoor recreation aspects of public land management. One provision directs land managers to inventory for places on our public lands that could be protected as new National Recreation Areas, which would protect places based on their outdoor recreation value. This is a critically needed tool to proactively protect areas that don’t make the cut for Wilderness but that we don’t want to risk losing to logging, mining, drilling, etc. We’re working hand in hand with our friends at Outdoor Alliance to get this bill through Congress and you can use their advocacy form to contact your representatives about it.
  • Senator Cantwell (WA) recently introduced the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2018, which would legislate the Roadless Rule. This bill directly responds to the unprecedented threats to the Roadless Rule we’ve been seeing recently, including Congressional attacks, states seeking special interest exemptions, and the Trump Administration, which all share the goal of wanting to remove protections from millions of acres of roadless national forests. Please, reach out to your Senators and ask them to co-sponsor S.3333!

Finally, we’re excited to share our recently updated human-powered snowsports trends and impacts report. You can find it on our website here!

This week the National Flagship SnowSchool site at Bogus Basin (located near Boise, Idaho) passes the proverbial snow-torch of leadership from outgoing program director Ilyse Sakamoto (above) to incoming director Eric Willadsen. Ilyse started her outdoor education career as an Americorps-funded SnowSchool leader in 2009 and returned in 2013, after receiving a Masters Degree abroad, to run the SnowSchool at Bogus Basin program. As Ilyse snowshoes off into the sunset, here at SnowSchool we have nothing but deep and heartfelt appreciation for her hard work and incredible leadership.

People rightly associate SnowSchool with fun and the joy of exploring the outdoors with kids, but the behind-the-scenes reality for staff is that it takes an enormous amount of physical, mental and emotional energy to successfully orchestrate thousands of hours of positive student learning experiences in the outdoors. The sheer volume of logistical considerations inherent in serving thousands of kids is a major challenge each and every winter! In this realm Ilyse has truly been masterful. Because of her five years of steadfast leadership over 10,000 students were introduced to the wilds of winter and the fascinating of world of snow science. Her work created thousands of smiles, genuine interest in the natural world and a newfound appreciation for public lands among our youngest generation. Thank you Ilyse!

Ilyse passes the program into the very capable hands of Eric Willadsen (also known as Eric Klemenz on Facebook, apologies for the typo in the August Stash Blast email). Eric comes to Bogus Basin SnowSchool as a former graduate student at the University of Idaho’s McCall Outdoor Science School and, most recently as the Stewardship Coordinator for the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley. Stayed tuned for more about Eric and his role at SnowSchool in the coming months!

As we bid adieu to Ilyse, below are some clips from the SnowSchool archives of her time at Bogus Basin.

Ilyse guiding students through the SnowSchool Snow-Water Equivalency experiment:

Ilyse climbs into a freshly minted igloo:

Ilyse with Boise State University interns and graduate students helping to develop the new (at the time) high school snow science curriculum:

Short excerpt from an interview with Ilyse in 2013:

SnowSchool introduces kids to the joy of exploring our nation’s winter wildlands. A growing national Snowschool 3education program of Winter Wildlands Alliance, SnowSchool annually engages over 33,000 participants across 65 sites (Bogus Basin is one of those sites). Each winter, in 16 states along the US snow-belt, K-12 students and teachers venture out on snowshoes as part of a fun and educational science-based field trip. Over 50% of participants are underserved and a majority are first time snowshoers! WWA works year-round with organizational partners nationwide to establish new SnowSchool sites each year and help bring this important experience to the communities and students that need it most. Please explore the menu above to find out how to get involved. Questions? Contact Kerry McClay.

By Andy Dappen for Backcountry Magazine, 2016

For many skiers, the 50-year evolution of snowmobile use on public lands has represented an on-going loss of habitat. That’s certainly been my story. Places where I once cross-country skied or ski toured for peaceful exercise, soft turns, quiet ascents, or serene meditations have been consistently plucked from my plate as snowmobiles spread onto ever steeper slopes and into ever deeper snows.

The pace of change has been slow but relentless. My earliest losses occurred in the late 1960s when forest roads and flat meadows in the Mount Hood National Forest where I Nordic skied started seeing enough motorized use that the noise, speed, commotion, trammeled snows, and fumes undermined my experience. Back then it was easy to move off the roads or into forests to escape the machines.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as the power of snowmobiles improved, some of my favorite telemark terrain near my home in Western Washington was gradually assimilated by the Borg. Again I moved – either into thicker trees or onto steeper slopes.

Stemilt Basin, Wenatchee Mountains, Washington. Photo by Mike Rolfs.

Over the last fifteen years the pace of loss accelerated as increased horsepower, improved track designs, better suspension, and new riding positions could put sleds on almost any open slope I hoped to ski. Meanwhile, snowbikes with their narrow tracks and maneuverability gave experienced dirt bikers an entirely new opportunity to ride off-trail in winter. Snowbikes can navigate forests, traverse steep slopes, or zig-zag through a jumble of snow-covered boulders with such dexterity that there were precious few places near plowed roads where I can be sure machines won’t disturb the quiet, natural experience I value.

All of this is could change soon due to new rulings supporting old laws. In 1972, The Nixon Administration issued Executive Order 11644 mandating federal agencies to create management plans for all off-highway vehicles. The executive order (EO) required federal land agencies to substantiate that, where permitted, off-highway vehicles would not negatively impact wildlife, erode other forest resources (soil, plants and water), or impact other users. In the earliest years, snow machines primarily traveled the snow-covered roads of the national forest. These were the same roads used by wheeled vehicles in summer, so the Forest Service opted to forego separate management policies for over-snow vehicles (OSVs).

In 2005 the Forest Service started a decade-long process of revamping its management policies for off-highway vehicles. Unfortunately, just as it had done earlier, the agency punted on creating wintertime management policies for OSVs. By now, however, the capability of new snow machines did not confine them to roads and, with no policy, if a machine could get there, it could go there.

The absence of winter policies was clearly inconsistent with the management of off-highway vehicles in other seasons. For years, the Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA), a Boise based non-profit promoting human-powered winter recreation, prodded the Forest Service to follow the EO and create winter policies for OSVs. The Forest Service steadfastly refused, eventually forcing WWA to sue. In January 2015 Federal Courts ruled the Forest Service was clearly out of compliance and mandated each National Forest to create policies, complete with maps, defining where OSVs could travel.

This is terrific news for we who drink from the chalice of non-motorized winter recreation. Over the next few years each national forest must define corridors and ranges allowing OSV use as well as those areas that are closed to motorized use in winter. With the welfare of wildlife, other forest resources, and other forest users acting as benchmarks to guide the process, there is every reason to be optimistic that more quiet zones, fresh air, and stashes of soft snow will be returning to our national forests.

The bad news is that the Forest Service is an overworked, underfunded agency and some branches of the agency will be truculent — they will do their best to keep kicking the can down the road. Advocacy and involvement will help the cause. In the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest surrounding the town where I live today, our local backcountry skiing and snowshoeing club, El Sendero, has begun preparing articles for the media educating our citizenry about what is required of the Forest Service. Next, the club has asked forest administrators to define a time frame for initiating and completing the process.

El Sendero is also scheduling meetings with local snowmobile clubs to discuss designated zones where non-motorized recreationalists and motorized recreationalists can each pursue their passion without impinging upon the other group. These two groups will certainly have areas of disagreement, but by initiating respectful dialog and finding consensus on low- hanging fruit, we hope to avoid snow wars and to help the Forest Service fulfill its obligations.

Pressuring, haggling, deal-making … these are not tasks elevating the pulse of skiers and snowshoers. And yet this is a process non-motorized winter recreationalists should embrace. We have the law behind us, a court decision upholding the law, and guidelines defining the goals of winter policies. This gives us a long lever, a place to stand, and a generational opportunity to reclaim lost ground.

Touring on the Helena-Lewis & Clark NF, photo by H. Eisen

The Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest covers a vast portion of central Montana, encompassing island mountain ranges like the Belts and the Crazies, as well as much of the famed Rocky Mountain Front. The forest is home to funky little ski areas and beloved cross-country ski trails, as well as excellent opportunities for backcountry skiers looking to get away from the crowds.

The Forest Service is working on a new forest plan for the Helena-Lewis & Clark and they’re accepting public comment on the draft plan through September 6. The draft includes a broad range of alternatives and covers issues as diverse as grazing, timber production, and recreation. We’re focused on the parts of the plan that impact winter recreation and wildlands.

The Helena-Lewis & Clark is one of just a handful of forests in the country that already completed winter travel planning and we’d like to see the forest plan uphold the good winter travel management decisions already in place. However, we also think there are things the forest could do in the future to improve opportunities and experiences for skiers. For example, there’s a defunct ski area on the forest that we think has the potential to be managed as an unofficial backcountry ski area with just a bit of glading work. Likewise, although this forest covers 2.8 million acres of snowy mountain terrain, there is no avalanche forecaster on the forest or in all of central Montana. We’d like the forest to consider hiring an avalanche forecaster so that winter recreationists have a resource for understanding avalanche conditions across the forest.

In addition to suggesting some new ideas in our comments, we’re supporting proposals from across a variety of the Alternatives in the draft plan. For example, the vast majority of designated Wilderness on the Helena-Lewis & Clark is along the Rocky Mountain Front but there’s a whole lot of wild country in the island ranges on the forest too. We’d like to see some of these places recommended for wilderness and managed in a way to protects their wilderness character. Not all of these places are rad backcountry ski destinations but they’re important for other reasons – from wildlife habitat to providing clean drinking water and containing important pieces of history in the archeological record.

We think a mixture of the wilderness recommendations in Alternatives B and D, and prohibiting snowmobiles in areas that are recommended for wilderness, is the best path forward for protecting the wildlands of central Montana. Recommended wilderness is the strongest protection available in forest planning, and although sometimes is leads to tough trade-offs, sustainable recreation means finding a way to sustain and support the whole range of activities across the entire forest without adversely impacting the places we play or each other. Sometimes that means limiting the types of activities allowed in certain areas.

You can read our comment letter here. If you’d like to send in your own letter to the Forest Service (comments are due September 6) click below to be re-directed to the Helena-Lewis & Clark forest plan revision and commenting page.

Artwork by Tony Deboom

Another year, another Backcountry Film Festival! Get wildly ready for our fourteenth year of snowy cinema, raffle prizes, good times and high fives.

And who would we be without a killer Festival poster set to inspire you, just like our film line-up, to strap your camera to your helmet and get after that backcountry powder!? Tony Deboom of Endurance Conspiracy has been the artistic genius behind many of our Festival posters and we’re stoked to have yet another to tour around the mountains this season!

But wait, there’s more. This year, we’re adventuring through a whole new Festival premiere weekend by joining forces with our best friend, SnowSchool, and throwing the annual SnowBall fundraiser that weekend, too! Get ready for: WILD WEEKEND! More details to come for all you local yocals and anyone wanting to come to our hometown of Boise, Idaho, to celebrate with us.

We’ll be sharing more information on all things WILD WEEKEND and Festival tour locations in the next few weeks. For now, live vicariously through our trusty 2018-19 poster and get ready for the backcountry season of a lifetime!

Make sure you’re subscribed to The Stash and following us on Facebook and Instagram for all the info to come straight to you in the most timely of fashions.

(Psst! Want to see more of Tony’s cool doodles and projects? Check ’em out here.)