The U.S. Forest Service has proposed to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule, which would open a vital carbon sink to logging and mining. The deadline for public comment is December 17.

The Tongass is the largest national forest in the United States—17 million acres of temperate rainforest that stretches down the panhandle in Southeast Alaska. Home to old growth trees and tons of wildlife, including whales, salmon, bears, and bald eagles, the Tongass also holds tremendous value for carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation. The U.S. Forest Service estimates the Tongass stores 10 to 12 percent of the total carbon captured by America’s national forests.

Right now, the U.S. Forest Service has proposed exempting the entire Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule. Why does this matter? The Roadless Rule is an important tool that protects wild landscapes on U.S. Forest Service lands. The proposal would open the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforest—a critical resource in the fight against climate change—to logging. For reasons of conservation, recreation, and climate action, we can’t let this happen.

Skier: Caroline Gleich | Photo: Adam Clark

There’s a trailhead at the end of the street that feels like a portal to another world. You step off pavement and leave a neighborhood of houses and cars. You step onto dirt and enter a natural domain. The banging and hammering of a construction project fades to the whistling of wind. Towering trees sway back and forth, silent and steadfast. Theirs is a time scale beyond anything you or I could ever fathom.

Time plays tricks on us during these late days of fall. It’s an in-between.

A snowstorm in September was much too early. A heat wave in October was much too warm. Little flurries in November have us guessing, hoping, praying, wondering: Will it snow this year? Every morning that we wake up to a blue sky with sunshine feels like a reverse groundhog day: If we see our shadow, winter’s still a ways out.

Seasonal disarray forces us to practice patience and mindfulness. We savor fleeting daylight, which casts an amber hue. Night’s abrupt arrival interrupts our afternoon forays into the mountains. And yet, the pace of the day-to-day is slower, less busy. With fewer crowds and traffic, the off-season is a chance to indulge in time off, especially for people who work winter jobs in ski towns.

At Winter Wildlands Alliance, we are counting down the days until the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year and the official start to the season. Fall is always a relentless march to winter, and this year was especially so with a conference for grassroots activists, a backcountry film festival launched, a developing partnership with NASA, an expansion of the SnowSchool curriculum to include a citizen science element. Advocacy is humming, with feet on the ground at agency meetings, open houses, and educational presentations about winter recreation, wildlife, and the environment. In the policy world, comments are being filed to defend wild places and human-powered winter recreation from California to Alaska. And our grassroots partners are tackling local issues, like ski traffic in the Wasatch and Tahoe and backcountry access in the East. Fall is the longest stretch between days on snow, the salve we need to restore our souls and remind us of our purpose.

Winter is our raison d’etre. It’s why we do what we do. And this year, the Winter Solstice is not only the beginning of a new season, it’s the brink of a new decade. It’s the start of another trip around the sun, the moment when time shifts and slowly, gradually becomes more abundant. It’s powder days and skin tracks and sledding season. It’s a reason to celebrate and shout: Let the season begin!

But we’re not there yet. Not quite.

For the next month, as time approaches the Winter Solstice, we’re making it a point to revel in the moments between seasons. It might be sunny and warm, or dark and cold, or raining or sleeting or hailing or snowing, and busy as can be with the holidays. To stay sane, we’ll be going outside, entering the portal of the natural world, walking on a dirt path underneath tall trees. In Japan, the practice of shinrin-yoku, “forest bath,” is prescribed as an antidote for illness, anxiety, and stress—something we all need this time of year. We hope you will be doing the same. Who knows, maybe tomorrow we’ll wake up to a blanket of snow.

Photo Credit: Ming Poon

Since the Forest Service published a Proposed Action in late September that outlines a preliminary winter recreation plan in the Lake Tahoe Basin, we’ve been hearing from all sides that their proposal is far from perfect.

Now, the Forest Service is asking for your input on how to make it better for everyone. Submit your comment directly to the Forest Service. The deadline for public comment on the Proposed Action for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is December 9th.

At an open house for over-snow vehicle planning in Tahoe last week, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais said this is just the start of the process. Right now, we are consulting with our local partners in Tahoe—Snowlands Network and the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance. And as we write our comments in response to the Forest Service’s proposed action, we encourage you to do the same.

To help you navigate through the document, here’s an outline of the elements we support in the Proposed Action and what we’re concerned about.

What We Support

  • Designation of a minimum snow depth of at least 12 inches in areas open to OSV use — as “a way for the Forest Service to help the public decide when it is appropriate to use an OSV and when they will not cause damage,” to “help reduce uncertainty,” and to provide “a certain level of protection for all resources without being overly restrictive or overly prescriptive for individual resources or different geographic areas”;
  • Designation of a season of use for motorized over-snow recreation — although given historic snowfall/snowpack patterns we feel that a more appropriate and reasonable open season would run from December 15 – April 30 rather than the suggested November 1 – April 15.
  • Application of 5 “minimization criteria” as a basis for decision making and designation, including:
    • To minimize damage to soil, watershed, vegetation, and other forest resources;
    • To minimize harassment of wildlife and significant disruption of wildlife habitats;
    • To minimize conflicts between motor vehicle use and existing or proposed recreational uses of NFS lands or neighboring Federal lands;
    • To minimize conflicts among different classes of motor vehicle uses on NFS lands or neighboring Federal lands;
    • To consider compatibility of motor vehicle use with existing conditions in populated areas.
  • Recognition of the lack of winter parking and staging areas in the Basin, the “need to analyze additional winter parking opportunities and allow snow plowing of existing paved surfaces outside of sensitive habitats,” and to “[c]onstruct additional winter parking capacity” and “[d]esignate locations suitable for snow play areas” — HOWEVER, we do not feel that the current proposal goes nearly far enough to address these issues;
  • Proposed closure to OSV use for “the area between Mt. Rose Wilderness and the City of Incline Village”;
  • Proposed closure of an “area near the Granite Chief Wilderness and within 500 feet of the Pacific Crest Trail”;
  • Desire to engage a stakeholder collaborative effort to help find workable compromise and reasonable solutions to on-the-ground issues.

What We’re Concerned About

  • North Quadrant/Mt. Rose Highway: This is currently ground zero for every type of winter recreation, and one of the biggest hotspots in the basin for conflict between different uses. Cars are frequently parked on both sides of the two-lane highway, families are sledding and playing in the snow near the road, snowshoers are walking out amongst the trees to hear the chickadees and squirrels, backcountry skiers are heading off on skin tracks to ski powder-filled bowls, and snowmobilers are firing up and unloading sleds for a run up to Relay Ridge. The Forest Service’s proposal is to alternate motorized use on an every-other-day basis. We think this is a surface-level solution, at best. At worst, it will increase rather than minimize conflict.
  • Lack of coordination between the LTBMU and the neighboring Humboldt-Toiyabe and Tahoe National Forests.
  • Lack of protected public-access family snowplay areas.
  • Proposed opening of OSV terrain at the lowest elevations and near neighborhoods with significant pedestrian and dog-walking activity.
  • Proposed opening to OSV use of popular and accessible non-motorized Gardner Mountain area east of Fallen Leaf Lake.
  • Lack of actual solutions to significant parking/staging issues for both motorized and nonmotorized recreation.

For more context, materials, and information, check out the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit landing page for all things over-snow vehicle planning. We will be updating this page as the process moves forward.

 

 

Check out this beautiful film by one of our grassroots groups, Friends of Plumas Wilderness. “Visions of the Lost Sierra” is about the Wild & Scenic Middle Fork Feather River. The Middle Fork was one of the first eight rivers in the country protected by Congress through the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1968.

Without the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, the Middle Fork would’ve been dammed long ago—but the Act only protects a half-mile wide corridor along the river. That means adjacent wild lands and rivers in the Lost Sierra remain threatened by illegal roads, dumping, marijuana grows, and dredging, all of which could pollute the primary water source for 27 million Californians. Also, there’s an increased pressure to build more dams in California, jeopardizing our region’s untamed, free-flowing rivers. 

The documentary is an interesting look at the original work done by local wild river advocates in the 60s and addresses why we need to continue to push for more protections.

It’s a short film but if you don’t have 14 minutes to watch it, please take a minute to fill out the petition to expand wilderness designations in our region to permanently protect our public lands and free-flowing rivers. 

Sign the petition here.

For more about the Plumas National Forest, read up on the latest developments with Winter Travel Planning.