Policy Update – April 2024

We are sharing and celebrating conservation victories and advocacy progress on the Ambler Road, Public Lands Rule, EXPLORE Act, and more!

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash 

Policy Director Letter

(4/26/2024)

Speaking of travel management – we are expecting winter travel planning to start on the Rio Grande National Forest next month. This is the first forest in Colorado to conduct winter travel planning under the 2015 OSV Rule – more on this from Brittany in her update below!This has been an exciting month! 

Ambler Road Update

On April 19, the Biden Administration announced its intention to deny construction of the Ambler Road in Alaska, protecting the communities, wildlife, and ecosystems of the western Brooks Range, including Gates of the Arctic National Park. This is a big win – read more on our blog here!

Bureau of Land Management’s New Public Lands Rule

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is the agency that considered, and is poised to reject, the Ambler Road. The day before the Ambler Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was published, the BLM published its new Public Lands Rule. This new Rule places conservation on equal footing with other uses of BLM  lands, making this a  much-needed update for the agency, that manages 10% of all the land in the country, more than any other government agency. Read more and take action to support the Rule with our friends at Outdoor Alliance, here.

House Passes EXPLORE Act

And, if the past week could not have been any more exciting, we were also celebrating because the House passed the EXPLORE Act, a bipartisan package of outdoor recreation policy. Of the various sections in the bill, we have been most focused on Section 127(b), which specifically addresses winter travel management and provides a mechanism to get the Forest Service to comply with the 2015 Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) Rule.  

Over-Snow Vehicle-Use Maps—The Secretary concerned shall seek to have, not later than 10 years after the date of the enactment of this title, in a printed and publicly available format that is compliant with the format for geographic information systems, an over-snow vehicle-use map for each unit of Federal recreational lands and waters administered by the Chief of the Forest Service or Director of the Bureau of Land Management on which over-snow vehicle-use occurs, in accordance with existing law.

The Senate’s version of the EXPLORE Act, America’s Outdoor Recreation Act (AORA), passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee last summer, and we hope the Senate will act soon to pass the package. Outdoor Alliance has made it easy for people to thank their Representative for supporting EXPLORE and ask their Senators to do so. Click here to take action!

Project Updates
  • Grand Targhee Ski Resort Expansion – While preparing for maternity leave in December, I spent a lot of time trying to anticipate what comment periods might happen over the winter. I was certain that we would see a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Grand Targhee ski resort expansion while I was out. I guess I shouldn’t pick up a side gig as a fortune teller, because this DEIS is still pending, and I am not making any more predictions about when it might be published. 
  • Flathead National Forest – A long-awaited comment period that is happening right now is the Flathead National Forest’s draft Environmental Assenssment (EA) on forest plan suitability changes. The Flathead is implementing over-snow vehicle (OSV) and Recommended Wilderness suitability changes per the 2018 Flathead Forest Plan. Some of the areas newly recommended for Wilderness in the Forest Plan are currently open to snowmobiling and/or mountain biking, but the Forest Plan states that motorized and mechanized recreation are not suitable within Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWAs).  This EA implements the changes prescribed in the Forest Plan and is the vehicle for prohibiting these non-conforming uses in RWAs. The 2018 Forest Plan also maps new areas as suitable for over-snow vehicle use that are not currently open to OSVs. This EA is also the means through which the Forest Service will designate all or part of these areas for OSV use. We are pleased to see the Flathead moving relatively quickly to implement these important Forest Plan management changes. Even though this is a fairly limited travel plan, and we are happy about the forest’s steps to protect RWAs, we think the Flathead needs to take a closer look at what they are designating for OSV use. In particular, we are concerned about displacement of backcountry skiing on Marias Pass (just across the highway from Glacier National Park) and the impacts to wolverines, lynx, and grizzly bears. Click here to comment on the Flathead Suitability Changes!
  • Rio Grande National Forest – Speaking of travel management, we are expecting winter travel planning to start on the Rio Grande National Forest next month. This is the first forest in Colorado to conduct winter travel planning under the 2015 OSV Rule – more on this from Brittany in her update below!

On the Ground in California

An update from our California Stewardship Manager, Kelly Bessem:

Photo by Gail Ferrell from Snowlands Network 

Mt. Rose Meadows along Hwy 431 is one of the most popular winter recreation areas in the Tahoe area, but faces major issues with parking, use conflicts, public safety, dog waste, and a lack of facilities. It really exemplifies how bad things can get when a recreation area is not managed specifically for recreation.

To add to the complexity, it is right on the border of two states and two different National Forest units, the LTBMU and the Humboldt-Toiyabe. In March, the LTBMU announced that a comprehensive solution including all agencies involved (Nevada State Dept. of Outdoor Recreation, USFS, NDOT, TRPA, and Washoe County) would now be an additional part of its winter travel planning process.

Some familiar with the area are advocating for a new regional park complete with bathrooms, parking, and proper staffing that would allow for responsible management of this extremely loved area. Winter Wildlands Alliance is in agreement that this is the best possible long-term solution.

Stay tuned– agency talks are slated for summer 2024, and the resulting plan will have its own public comment period.

Please reach out to our CA Stewardship Director with any questions or other requests at kbessem@winterwildlands.org.

From the Field in Colorado

An update from our Colorado Policy Coordinator, Brittany Leffel:

On April 3, the Secretary of the Interior issued Public Land Order 7939 protecting 225,000 acres of Colorado’s Thompson Divide from future oil and gas leasing and mining for the next 20 years.

This stunning landscape spans across the White River and Gunnison National Forests, and provides a myriad of quiet recreational opportunities for those wanting to escape the busier parts of the White River National Forest.

Grassroots Group High Country Conservation Advocates has been working for decades to protect Gunnison’s watersheds and protect the region from industrial development. Permanent protections and withdrawals would be secured through the passage of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy (CORE) Act in Congress.

 
After months of waiting, the Rio Grande National Forest is set to publish its Winter Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) Maps next week. We submitted comments on the preliminary maps last fall and are hopeful they will incorporate our suggestions into the final maps. These maps will guide the over-snow vehicle planning process, which is slated to begin next month.

If you have any questions, please reach out to our CO Policy Coordinator at: bleffel@winterwildlands.org.