Comment by June 19 to Oppose BLM Oil and Gas Lease Sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is among our nation’s premier winter wildlands. It is home to an an incredible array of biodiversity including 42 fish species, 37 land mammals, 8 marine mammals, and more than 200 bird species. Birds migrate from the Arctic Refuge to every state and territory in the United States, connecting people from across the country to this incredible landscape. Even if you never have a chance to visit the Refuge, there’s a good chance that one of the birds hanging out in your area in the winter has.

One portion of the Refuge — the Coastal Plain — is of particular importance and controversy. This area is essential to the ecological health and integrity of the entire Refuge. However, this area is also a target for those who want to develop any oil or gas that may lay beneath the surface. Experts agree that oil and gas development on the Coastal Plain would permanently and irreversibly disrupt the ecological integrity of the Arctic Refuge, threatening all 287+ species that inhabit the area. Despite the refuge’s irreplaceable wild character, the Interior Department is moving forward with an oil and gas lease sale for Refuge’s Coastal Plain.

The Coastal Plain is the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou Herd – one of the largest remaining caribou herds in the world and the primary source of sustenance of for the native Gwich’in people. The coastal plain also provides critical denning habitat for polar bears. Indeed the coastal plain has a higher concentration of polar bear denning habitat than other coastal area on Alaska’s North Slope. Denning habitat on the coastal plain has become even more important in recent years as climate change has weakened the historically stable sea ice in the Beaufort Sea, forcing more bears to den onshore. If oil and gas development were to occur within the Coastal Plain it would threaten the ecological health of the entire Refuge and the cultural survival of the Gwich’in people.

In late 2017 Congress and the Trump Administration passed a tax bill that, among other things, mandates that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hold oil and gas lease sales within the Refuge’s Coastal Plain. To comply with the new law (the Tax Act), the BLM must hold at least two lease sales of at least 400,000 acres each within the Coastal Plain before December 2024. To begin this process, the BLM has published a Notice of Intent, which is open for public comment until June 19.

We feel very strongly that oil and gas development is not appropriate in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and we oppose any and all oil and gas activities within the Refuge. Join us in speaking out to protect the Refuge by filling out the comment form below.

Photo by Ming Poon

TODAY — May 29, 2018 — IS THE LAST DAY TO COMMENT on the Tahoe National Forest’s Draft Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) Plan. Whether you’re a backcountry skier, splitboarder, Nordic skier, snowshoer, snowmobiler, timber sledder, snow scientist, dog musher, fat biker, e-biker, snowman builder, snowball fighter, ice climber, ice fisher, ice skater, winter through-hiker, lifelong local, weekend visitor, business owner, environmentalist, capitalist, philosopher, curmudgeon, or — like many of us — some combination of all these things, it’s important that the forest service hears from you about how winter recreation can be improved and sustained on our public lands, not just for some users but for ALL.

1) Good planning makes for a better future.

The forest service has never before been compelled to go through a comprehensive process to analyze and designate, with public input, where snowmobiles and other motorized over-snow vehicles (OSVs) are and are not allowed to travel — until now. The Tahoe is the second national forest in the nation (after the Lassen, also in California) to take a good hard look at how winter recreation might best be managed for the next 20-30 years.

Conservation is the foresighted utilization, preservation and/or renewal of forests, waters, lands and minerals for the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time.

— Gifford Pinchot, founding Chief of the United States Forest Service

We hear from some folks that things are just fine the way they are. Others feel squeezed out of some of their favorite places, or fear being squeezed out in the future.

Either way, given the complex pressures of population growth, climate change and new technologies, with ever more users getting out on public lands in different ways and in ever less predictable winters, we believe that good, balanced, forward-thinking winter management planning is essential. We believe the forest can provide quality recreation opportunities for both non-motorized and motorized winter recreation, minimizing conflict between users and impacts to wildlife and resources well into the future.

2) Separation minimizes conflict.

For a host of reasons, so-called “shared use” greatly favors the folks on machines over those traveling on foot. We believe that creating separate, discrete zones for motorized and non-motorized activities with reasonable, appropriate access for each is smart management, minimizes the potential for conflict, and makes the winter experience better for all users. Preserving and protecting a variety of recreational experiences — motorized and non-motorized — is good for stakeholders and also good for the local economy.

3) The status quo is out of balance.

One argument we hear from the motorized community is that “85% of the forest is already closed” to motorized winter travel and that skiers “already have ALL the wilderness.” In fact, nearly 3/4 of the forest is currently open to over-snow vehicle travel and only 2% is designated Wilderness:

  • Tahoe NF total area: 871,495 acres (100%)
  • Area currently open to OSV travel: 636,002 acres (73%)
  • Granite Chief Wilderness (the only designated Wilderness on the Tahoe NF): 19,048 acres (2%)

We don’t think of this as a zero-sum game. Nearly one quarter (199,565 acres, or 23%) of the forest lies below 4500 feet, where snowfall is generally inadequate for skiing or snowmobiling. Elsewhere, many of the same prime winter recreation areas are coveted by both motorized and non-motorized users. We believe compromises can and should be struck to allow both groups fair and adequate access. This process is our chance to restore balance to the landscape and to improve the winter recreation experience for everybody.

4) Public input is essential for public lands.

Whether you live in Truckee or San Francisco, Salt Lake City or Albuquerque, helping this national forest draft a quality winter travel plan is YOUR opportunity to help protect high-value winter experiences on public lands you care about across the country.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR QUICK AND EASY COMMENT TOOL.

Jeremy Jones Kicking Steps on the Tahoe National Forest
Photo by Ming Poon

 

FOR AS LONG AS I’VE BEEN BACKCOUNTRY SKIING, Memorial Day weekend has been an important part of my ski season. It’s when the Beartooth Pass just outside of Red Lodge, MT opens for the summer, providing easy access to high elevation spring snow from an 11,000 ft. starting point. From steep couloirs to crust cruising across alpine plateaus, the Pass provides everything my little skier heart desires. And, skiing there reminds me why the work we do with Winter Wildlands Alliance is so important.

Becker Lake in the Beartooth Mountains is within the High Lakes Wilderness Study Area.
BRETT FRENCH/Billings Gazette Staff

Much of the terrain that skiers access off of the Pass is within the High Lakes Wilderness Study Area in Wyoming and has been protected to preserve wilderness character for the past 33 years. WSA status has protected the area from road building and other forms of development, prohibited summer motorized use, and limited how much snowmobiling occurs. Right now, however, the future of this WSA is up for debate and non-motorized recreation and conservation interests are getting the short end of the stick. At the same time, the two national forests accessed from the Pass, the Shoshone and Custer Gallatin, are working on plans that will directly impact future backcountry skiing experiences across each forest. Winter Wildlands Alliance is involved in all of these conversations and planning efforts, advocating to protect wild and quiet snowscapes.

We’re also working hard in California, which continues to be the center of attention when it comes to winter travel planning. Last month, just as we neared the finish line on the Lassen winter travel plan, the Tahoe published a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for its winter travel plan. Overall we’re pretty happy with what the Tahoe is proposing. We’re advocating for a few targeted changes to the preferred alternative to address lingering concerns around popular backcountry and Nordic ski zones.

Our friends at Tahoe Backcountry Alliance hosted an open discussion session and comment-writing happy hour in Truckee.

Unfortunately, misinformation has been spreading like wildfire through the Tahoe snowmobile community and many are under the impression that the Forest Service (and Winter Wildlands Alliance) is out to shut down snowmobiling on the forest. They’ve rallied thousands of comments and gotten the local ultra-conservative Congressmen fired up. Skiers have been bullied and intimidated and many are shying away from commenting. Click here for coverage of the controversy and process by the Reno Gazette Journal.

We need backcountry skiers, splitboarders, Nordic skiers and snowshoers to speak up and provide substantive and thoughtful comments!

We’ve got tons of information on our website. Please, if you haven’t already, take a moment now to comment on the Tahoe travel plan and to share the comment page with all your friends and ski partners.

Finally, no policy update is complete without a nod to D.C. It seems that no major piece of legislation is complete these days without an attack on National Forest roadless areas. First we had the budget bill, where Senator Murkowski (R, AK) tried (and failed) to insert amendments that would have exempted Alaska’s national forests from the Roadless Rule. Then we had the House Farm Bill.

“While some snowmobile riders are worried about losing forest access, others who have studied the proposal say potential losses are less drastic than some perceive. ‘We are not trying to get rid of snowmobiling altogether,” said Jim Gibson, vice president and secretary of Snowlands. “We just think the current 85% motorized/15% nonmotorized split needs more balance.'” — Benjamin Spillman, Reno Gazette Journal

Because the Forest Service is within the Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bill includes provisions that affect national forest lands. The bill includes convoluted language about roadless area management that could be interpreted to eliminate current regulatory protection of Inventoried Roadless Areas. And, more blatantly, the bill exempts Alaska’s national forests from the Roadless Rule to increase logging of old growth forests. Although the Farm Bill failed to pass on May 18, House Republican leadership is planning to bring the bill up for a second vote on or before June 22nd. The Senate is also working on their version of a Farm Bill, which we could see later this month. The Farm Bill is an important and complex piece of legislation that many people’s livelihoods depend upon. There’s no need to bog it down with unpopular, unnecessary, and controversial add-ons like these attacks on the Roadless Rule. Stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Prime backcountry and Nordic ski zones are at stake in the Tahoe National Forest’s latest draft winter travel plan. Now is our chance to make sure these areas get the protections they deserve. Public comments due by MAY 29. Use our easy online form to personalize and submit your comments today.

Comments needed to establish a Winter Non-Motorized Area in the Stemilt Basin

Our grassroots group on the east side of the Cascades, El Sendero Backcountry Ski and Snowshoe Club, has been working for 5+ years to establish a winter non-motorized area (NMA) on Washington State public lands just south and east of Wenatchee.

To create the non-motorized area, El Sendero first participated in the Naneum Ridge to Columbia River Recreation and Access Plan (Naneum Plan) planning process. The Naneum Plan was signed and approved by Washington state officials in 2015. It calls for a winter NMA to be established in an area just east of Mission Ridge ski area called the Stemilt Basin. El Sendero has also been participating along with other recreation groups in a local initiative called the Stemilt Partnership. The Stemilt Partnership developed an additional recreation plan for the Stemilt Basin, including a proposal for a winter NMA.

The proposed NMA begins at Clara Lake and includes the Stemilt Basin adjacent to Mission Ridge (extending down to the Upper Reservoir Loop Road). See map. We feel this is a fair and equitable sharing of the recreation lands in the basin.  Unfortunately, a small number of motorized users are attempting to either eliminate the proposed winter NMA or change it to what amounts to an area that is unsuitable as a recreation area for human powered winter users.

It’s a critical time in the process. For the winter NMA to be approved, backcountry skiers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers must tell the county they support this non-motorized area. Please take two minutes NOW and weigh-in.

Nine Reasons The Stemilt Basin Winter NMA Should Be Established 
(you might mention one of these in your comment)

  1. The winter non-motorized area is consistent with the larger state process of the Naneum Recreation Plan (approved two years ago). The Naneum Plan clearly mandates for a winter NMA in the Stemilt Basin and in the area surrounding Clara Lake. The total acreage for the proposed NMA is less than 4,000 acres, leaving snowmobilers with 226,000 acres of terrain for their recreation in the Stemilt Basin and in the adjacent state land covered in the Naneum Recreation Plan (the winter NMA is only 1.7% of the total). Scale this to a 2,300 square foot home and the proposed winter NMA is the home’s coat closet.
  2. Non-motorized winter recreation in aggregate (snowshoers plus backcountry skiers plus cross-country skiers) is a much larger user group (over 9 million people nationally) than snowmobilers (under 1.5 million people nationally). Non-motorists deserve space and opportunities in winter.
  3. Non-motorized winter sports are still growing quickly while snowmobile sales have declined steadily for 15 years. The Stemilt Recreation Plan does a good job of looking at current and future trends when it proposes wintertime non-motorized areas.
  4. Currently there are 170 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and zero miles of winter non-motorized trails in the Naneum-Colockum area. Likewise, there are over 185 parking spaces for winter motorized users and none for non-motorized users.
  5. These are public lands so no single user group should have a stranglehold. Both the Naneum and Stemilt recreation plans vision statements call for a balance of shared recreational use.
  6. The location of the proposed winter NMA is sensible because the land is among the most easily accessed for the largest number of recreationalists who snowshoe, ski, or winter walk. Furthermore, the proposed non-motorized zone flanks the Mission Ridge Ski Area which does not allow public snowmobile use. This means the winter NMA will see far fewer violations because the ski area protects several boundaries from misuse.
  7. Snowmobilers maintain we can all share the same areas but that’s like arguing basketball players should be happy playing hoop on a football field. Or that pedestrians should have no problem sharing sidewalks with cars. Non-motorists need separation for safe, high-quality recreational experiences. Several National Forest in the Western snowbelt realize this and are seeing good results by separating users with different needs.
  8. Non-motorists like neither the noise nor fumes of snowmobiles. Non-motorists also sometimes feel unsafe around the speed of snowmobiles (especially true of parents skiing or snowshoeing with children). Snowmobiles quickly track out the untracked-snow experience backcountry skiers seek and occasionally the deep ruts left by machines are injury hazards to skiers coming downhill. Finally backcountry skiers ascending steeper slopes can be exposed to unexpected avalanche hazard if snowmobilers arrive and begin high-marking the same slopes.
  9. Snowmobilers may question the need for non-motorized areas because they don’t see snowshoers or skiers in the areas they frequent. This is not because the non-motorized crowd doesn’t exist but testimony to the fact that non-motorists avoid places with heavy snowmobile use. Establish non-motorized zones in the Stemilt Basin and people will use them.

Click here to see documents and maps of the proposed Stemilt Recreation Plan.