It’s been a busy month at Winter Wildlands Alliance. David Page, our advocacy director, has been road-tripping across California, going from Stanislaus travel planning meetings to Sierra-Sequoia forest planning meetings to California outdoor recreation lobbying days in Sacramento and then more travel planning meetings. Meanwhile, I jetted across the country to Washington D.C. to tout our vision for the Custer Gallatin forest plan and talk policy with the Forest Service Washington Office. Actually, I climbed a number of hills this month: after Capitol Hill, I went to the Wind River Range for some backcountry climbing. And throughout it all, we have been planning the 8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference.

Grassroots Advocacy Conference
October 24-27
Join policy makers, athletes, grassroots activists, scientists, educators, and other recreation and conservation stakeholders and activists from across the country for two full days of engaging workshops and discussions on issues important to public lands, winter and sustainable recreation. Get the latest developments in policy and planning issues, share grassroots successes and strategies, meet with public land managers, gain new advocacy tools and spend quality time with colleagues, partners, new friends and allies. Visit the conference website find out more and to register!

NEPA
This is where you and the rest of our members and community have been instrumental. Together, we rallied 600 letters to send to the U.S. Forest Service about their proposed revisions to their NEPA regulations. The agency received more than 42,000 letters total. Forest Service officials have assured us the proposed revisions are a starting place and they will be taking public comments seriously as they develop the final rule. If you’d like to read the letter we sent the U.S. Forest Service, you can read it here. They have certainly heard an earful about the importance of scoping and concern about many of the proposed new Categorical Exclusions, so hopefully they make some serious changes!

Travel Planning
Earlier this month, the Stanislaus National Forest hosted an objection resolution meeting concerning their winter travel plan. This was the last public step in the winter travel planning process and a chance for anybody who filed an objection to the draft plan to discuss their objections and proposed resolutions. We objected to the Stanislaus amending its forest plan to permit motorized use in highly sensitive Near Natural Areas (critical habitat for the endangered Sierra Nevada Red Fox). We also objected to the Stanislaus designating a few important backcountry ski zones for snowmobile use and not properly managing motorized use adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail. The objection meeting had many participants with different opinions, and now it’s up to the Forest Service to take everything they heard and decide what, if any, changes they’ll make before finalizing the winter travel plan.

The Plumas National Forest published a draft winter travel plan and final EIS last week. We’re still reviewing it, but our partners at Friends of Plumas Wilderness are tentatively optimistic about the plan. Objections to the Plumas draft plan are due in early October.

Forest Planning
I went to Washington DC earlier this month with two colleagues from our Outdoor Alliance Montana coalition (representing Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association and the paddling community). We met with the USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment and the Forest Service staff who oversee forest planning and the dispersed recreation, Wilderness, and travel management programs. We discussed the vital importance of forest planning, specific issues facing the Custer Gallatin, and the Outdoor Alliance Montana vision for the revised forest plan.

Meanwhile, David has been working with Outdoor Alliance California to review and comment on the Sierra and Sequoia forest plans. The draft plans were published in June and the comment period wraps up on September 26. The Sierra and Sequoia face the challenge of integrating and managing for outdoor recreation, traditional timber interests, and wildland conservation. We’re working with recreation and conservation partners to create and advocate for vision for the Sierra and Sequoia that meets these challenges.

From the beginning, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has been an important tool for skiers to protect wild backcountry areas. So when the U.S. Forest Service proposed revisions to the way they implement NEPA—including rollbacks to public participation on the vast majority of projects and decision-making on public lands—they should have expected the public would have something to say about it.

Monday, August 26th was the deadline for commenting on the Forest Service’s proposed new NEPA regulations. The agency received over 42,000 comments on the proposed revisions—and over 600 of those comments came from people using the Winter Wildlands form!

Forest Service officials have assured us that the proposed revisions are a starting point. They’ve said they will be taking public comments seriously as they develop the final rule. They have certainly heard an earful about the importance of scoping and concern about many of the proposed new Categorical Exclusions—it’s our hope they take the time to think through any changes they make to their NEPA regulations and maintain integrity to the environmental law.

In addition to the form letter that 600 of you sent, we sent the U.S. Forest Service a 13-page letter outlining in detail our critique and comments about their revisions. Our most pressing concern is how far the Forest Service goes to scale back public engagement and environmental analysis. We also oppose any changes that would remove scoping—an essential and invaluable step in the NEPA process and an opportunity for the public to learn about potential projects. Finally, we are deeply concerned by the proposed categorical exclusions, which have the potential to significantly impact our outdoor recreation opportunities and conservation values.

WWA NEPA comments (1)

Watching the Amazon go up in flames is devastating. It’s hard to even describe our grief because the loss is so profound. The National Institute for Space Research used satellite imagery to detect a 77 percent increase in wildfires compared to last year. To make the gut-punch even worse, these fires were intentional. They were set by people attempting to clear the land, to rid the earth of one of its most vital and important resources.

We, and the rest of the world, are outraged. But we still feel helpless. Besides eating less Brazilian beef and donating to environmental NGOs that protect the Amazon, there’s really not much we can do.

But there is something we can do to save the world’s largest temperate rain forest: Alaska’s 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, which is also facing imminent threats of destruction.

The Tongass is one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. Because it’s a cold, wet forest, it is especially good at capturing and dissolving carbon. A soil scientist with the U.S. Forest Service estimates the Tongass stores 10 to 12 percent of the total carbon captured by America’s national forests.

And yet, the state of Alaska is seeking exemption from the federal Roadless Rule, which would open up vast swaths of the Tongass to intensive logging. Not only would logging spell the end for the old growth forests, it would be a climate disaster. An exemption from the Roadless Rule would also fragment wildlife, endanger salmon streams, and make the Tongass more vulnerable to invasive species.

A bill is currently in Congress that would make the Roadless Rule law, permanently protecting the Tongass and millions of acres of roadless national forest in our country.

The Tongass is home to a wealth of wildlife: whales and bald eagles, otters, beavers, wolves, bears. There are five species of salmon in Tongass rivers. Alaskan First Nations, including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, have continuously lived in the Tongass for thousands of years.

Our representatives can’t do much to protect the Amazon. But they can take action to protect the Tongass. Contact your Congressperson and ask them to co-sponsor the Roadless Area Conservation Act.

 

The bell is ringing for the new school year. And we’re gearing up for another season of SnowSchool, our program that takes the classroom outside in the middle of winter to teach kids about snow with a science-based, experiential curriculum. 

We have big things in store for this year’s program—including a partnership with NASA to turn our students into citizen scientists! (Stay tuned for more information on that big news.)

To get our brains back in shape, here’s a bit of snow trivia that may come in handy at some point on a long, flat stretch of skin track this winter. 

 

How many sides does a snow crystal have? 

Six! Snow crystals have six sides because of how the water molecules stack up to form an ice lattice. You’ll never find one with four, five, or eight sides. On a rare occasion, you might find a three- or 12-sided snow crystal—although, no one really knows what weather conditions are best for making these anomalies.

 

Shine Power

Snow-covered sea ice reflects as much as 90 percent of incoming solar radiation. This is much higher than other surfaces on earth. The ocean, by comparison, reflects about six percent of incoming solar radiation. Sea ice, on its own, has a lot of reflection power, but it’s even stronger with a layer of snow on top. 

 

Not too hot, not too cold, just right

The largest and most photogenic snow crystals, called stellar dendrites, are also the most finicky. They only grow in a narrow temperature range that hovers between 0 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit.  

 

A graph showing the different types of snowflakes and the temperatures that create them.

 

Drinking water

As seasons change, so does our snowpack. It melts into streams, rivers, and lakes. Our snowpack accounts for about 75 percent of water in the American West. However, the snowpack is becoming less reliable as a source of drinking water because of climate change. 

 

A dust problem

Dust trapped in the snow may be a bigger problem than you think. Scientists are finding that dust causes snow to get darker, which means it absorbs more sunlight and melts faster than it would otherwise. If there’s a lot of dust, the sun’s radiation will make our snowpacks melt a lot faster, which has big implications for things like erosion, wildfires, and drinking water. 

Introducing the keynote speaker for the 8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference and Wild Weekend: James Edward Mills

James Edward Mills, the keynote speaker for the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, holds skis and walks over snow

Photo Credit: Courtesy James Edward Mills

A freelance journalist, James Edward Mills tells stories that often fall at the intersection of “outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living.” The author of The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors, Mills is a strong voice in our community and he’s written often about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoor industry. 

“When I started my career, the industry’s images, ads, stories, and videos were almost completely devoid of people who looked like me, and diversity was rarely, if ever, discussed,” wrote Mills in an article published on SNEWS in June. “Today the issue is recognized as one of the highest priorities we face as an industry and has not one but two acronyms (DEI for diversity, equity, and inclusion and JEDI for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion). Corporate leaders uniformly agree: The business of outdoor recreation must adapt to the country’s changing demographics and culture.”

We want to continue the conversation at this year’s Grassroots Advocacy Conference with the theme: “Growing Equity in the Outdoors.” Following Mills’ keynote speech on Thursday evening, panels on Friday and Saturday will press into questions we need to address together. How do we make room for everyone in the outdoors? How do we empower grassroots people to make the changes they want to see in public lands? What can we all do about overtourism, the impacts of recreation on wildlands, and climate change? 

You don’t want to miss this conversation. James Edward Mills is the keynote speaker for the Grassroots Advocacy Conference and Wild Weekend. Buy tickets to see his talk on Thursday, October 24, at the Basque Center in Boise, Idaho. Register for the Grassroots Advocacy Conference now. 

Before we gather in Boise at the end of October, here’s some advanced reading. This is an excerpt from Mills’ blog, the Joy Trip Project, about the questions we can ask right now to make the outdoors more inclusive. 

James Edward Mills, keynote speaker of the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, wears a fur-lined snow jacket for protection from the cold

Photo Credit: Courtesy of James Edward Mills

This excerpt from Mills’ blog has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How do YOU make the outdoors more inclusive? 

By James Edward Mills

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For more than 50 years, with periodic amendments and additions of protected classes, discrimination in the workplace on the basis race, gender, age, sexual orientation, military service or disability has been probibited in both private and public institutions. For the lifetimes of most working adults, just about every job or profession has enjoyed the legal protection of being “an equal opportunity employer.”

And yet, a generation after this landmark initiative was signed into law, there are still wide disparities in the makeup of the U.S. workforce. In many professional environments—including banking, engineering, architecture and computer science—there remains a dearth of people of color, women, the disabled, and those who identify as LGBTQ as rank-in-file employees, middle managers, or senior executives. Though many sectors of our economy are making positive strides toward improving the diversity of job candidates, interns, trainees and permanent staff members, at least one major employer lags woefully behind.

The Outdoor Recreation Industry still has a lot of ground to make up in its ability to engage, recruit, and retain a workforce that reflects the demographic reality of the American public. 

Recognized as an annual contributor to the Gross Domestic Product in excess of 2 percent, the Outdoor Industry remains reliant upon both customers and employees that skew toward a constituency that is mostly male, white, college-educated, socially mobile, and middle to upper class. These companies and organizations are dedicated to providing goods and services to those who play outside, and yet they are failing to connect with an emerging population that is increasingly more brown, gender neutral or non-conforming, time-constrained, lower-income, and urban.

If the Outdoor Industry is going to survive this cultural shift of the American economy, most institutions will have to change their way of doing business. Though few, if any, have deliberately discriminated against under-represented members of the communities they serve, the time has come to actively reach out and embrace these minorities groups. Because in the foreseeable future, they will become the majority.

Many in the Outdoor Industry are now aware that they have a diversity problem. Retailers, manufacturers, outfitters, environmental nonprofits, and land management agencies have an interest in finding solutions that are substantive and sustainable. However, most are struggling to find best practices that are authentic and genuinely reflect their sincere desire to be equitable and inclusive of all people. Though some are doing a better job than others, there should be a few abiding principles upon which everyone can agree to begin and continue this very important work.

How do you make the outdoors more inclusive? What are we doing to make DEI in the outdoors a reality? I’m interested in hearing your stories. Share with me your struggles and challenges, your failures. What are your hopes and ambitions? How are you achieving them? What are your best practices? What does your success look like? 

James Edward Mills, keynote speaker for the grassroots advocacy conference, hikes across snow on backcountry skis

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

Here are a series of questions to individuals and executives across the outdoor industry. I want to know what is actually happening beyond the desire to change the face of the outdoors. I hope this can be a framework for broader discussion from which we can create real solutions. Let’s just have a conversation.

Start with a declaration of intent:

  • Why is DEI important to the long-term success of your business or organization?
  • What are your goals and aspirations? Not vague notions of an equitable work environment, but what your real quantifiable objectives?
  • How will you monitor and affirm your progress?

How do you reach and engage with your customers, members, or audience?

  • Where do you advertise? Who are your ambassadors?
  • Does your outward appearance reflect your intentions as an institution that values DEI?
  • Are you sensitive to the interests and values of all the people you aim to reach?

How do you recruit new hires and develop a workforce?

  • Where are you looking for new customers and new employees?
  • Are you presenting your organization with language and culturally relevant messaging that your target audience understands and embraces?
  • Does your internal culture reflect your intention to create a professional environment where everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate?

How do you retain employees?

  • What are you doing to keep the new customers and employees you have engaged?
  • Is your internal culture supportive of an individual’s ability to thrive and grow?
  • Do your customers and employees imagine a future with your organization? How are you helping them to secure that future?

How do you help employees and community grow?

  • Do you encourage mentoring?
  • Is there a clear path of matriculation from one rung of the career ladder to the next?

To read more of James Edward Mills’ work, check out his blog, The Joy Trip Project. And don’t forget to register for his keynote event at the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, part of our Wild Weekend, on Thursday, October 24, in Boise, Idaho.