Human-powered snowsports are an important part of the $887 BILLION outdoor recreation economy and the fastest growing segment of the winter outdoor recreation industry. With 16 MILLION annual participants, booming equipment expenditures and related tourism revenues, human-powered winter backcountry activities create jobs and bring income into rural economies while contributing to community development, quality of life, health, and public land conservation.

See below for the full report, compiled and written by Natalie Knowles. Or click here to download the pdf.

2018 Trends and Impact Report

Comments due Aug 6 on Eldorado NF winter travel plan. Please support Alternative 3!

The Eldorado National Forest has failed to seriously consider and analyze any significant further restrictions on OSV use and is actually proposing to open many popular and historic cross-country and backcountry ski zones to motorized use, over the concerns of skiers who value solitude and quiet winter wildlands.

The forest’s Proposed Action (Alternative 2) fails in a number of ways to comply with NEPA and the 2015 OSV Rule. It also reverses historic protections and opens many important and longstanding non-motorized areas to snowmobiles, including Anderson Ridge, numerous traditionally non-motorized areas accessed from the Carson Pass corridor, the historic Van Vleck closure, and the area around the Ludlow Hut. Alternative 4 is even worse, proposing to allow snowmobiles in the Loon Lake winter recreation area, in the Caples Creek recommended wilderness area, in several semi-primitive non-motorized areas, and in the Round Top Biological/Geological Special Interest Area!

Only Alternative 3 presents a clear-eyed vision for winter travel management that recognizes historically non-motorized areas, focuses OSV designations in zones where OSV use actually occurs, minimizes user conflict and acknowledges that not all parts of the forest receive sufficient snow for OSV recreation. Click here for our full summary and analysis, maps and organizational comment letter.

Summer = skiing in shorts season

July has been full of news and policy developments and, as usual, we’ve got lots to updates to share. Winter travel planning is staying hot through the summer, Utah Senator Mike Lee has a bucket o’ bad ideas about what to do with public lands, and we’re gathering data to find out what the local economic impact of human-powered snowsports is for two national forests – the Custer Gallatin in Montana and Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison in Colorado.

Winter Travel Planning –  news from California and Montana

Skiing the steeps on the Eldorado. Photo by Erik Bennett.

It’s summer time and winter travel planning is HOT. The Eldorado National Forest, located to the south and west of Lake Tahoe, issued a Draft EIS for its winter travel plan in early June. Comments are due August 6, so we’ve been busy analyzing the plan and working on our comments this month. The Eldorado’s DEIS is pretty disappointing and we’ve got plenty to comment on. The forest’s Proposed Action (Alternative 2) reverses historic protections and opens many important and longstanding non-motorized areas to snowmobiles. The “motorized emphasis alternative” (Alternative 4) is even worse, proposing to open even more non-motorized areas to OSVs, including amending the Forest Plan to allow OSVs in recommended wilderness, semi-primitive non-motorized, and Biological/Geological Special Interest areas. Additionally, the DEIS has a very narrow range of Alternatives (3 out of 4 are essentially the same), and misses the mark in a number of ways when it comes to complying with the OSV Rule. To learn more about the Eldorado’s plan, and submit a comment, visit our website and comment using the online form we’ve provided.

Winter travel planning is happening outside of California too. In 2016 the Bitterroot National Forest, in Montana, finalized a travel plan they’d been working on for almost a decade. Their plan addresses year-round travel management (all uses) and although it was started long before the OSV Rule was in place, it was finalized under the Rule. We are very supportive of the Bitterroot’s winter travel plan and, when a coalition of groups that oppose the plan sued the Forest Service, we joined our conservation partners in defending the plan. On June 29 the Judge issued a decision on the case and upheld the travel plan. The ruling affirmed that the Bitterroot’s decisions were well reasoned and supported by the administrative record. The ruling also affirmed that the Forest Service has the discretion to limit non-conforming uses such as snowmobiling to protect the social or ecological character of potential wilderness areas, not just their physical attributes. This was an important win for protecting quiet winter wildlands.

Public Lands Heist

Have you heard about Senator Mike Lee’s latest idea for selling off public lands?  Senator Mike Lee (R, UT) is proposing three bills to get the West to be “more like Missouri or Illinois” (that’s a direct quote). He’s introduced one, which would abolish the Antiquities Act (Utah’s favorite target). The two in the works are even worse. One would allow anyone to take over public lands for private profit, and another seeks to transfer all our national public lands to states to control or develop. Our friends over at the Outdoor Alliance are collecting signatures on a petition opposing these bills, which they’ll be hand delivering to Senator Lee’s office in D.C. Add your name here!

Economic Impact Surveys

In addition to winter travel planning we’re also working on a variety of forest plans. Two of these are of particular importance for backcountry skiers – the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests in Colorado (think Crested Butte and Telluride), and the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana (Bozeman, Big Sky, Red Lodge, West Yellowstone…). We’re working with our Outdoor Alliance partners on both of these forest plan revisions and now through August 16, we’re running a couple of surveys that we need your help with. The data we get from these surveys will help us piece together the economic impact of human-powered snowsports, climbing, mountain biking, paddling, and hiking are on these forests. In turn, that sort of economic data will help us advocate to protect non-motorized outdoor recreation opportunities during forest planning. If you’ve skied (or otherwise recreated) on the GMUG or the Custer Gallatin, you can help by taking the appropriate surveys. The Colorado surveys are online here and the Montana surveys are online here.

Each survey only takes about 15 minutes, and for each survey you take you’ll be entered to win sweet gear for your next outdoor adventure.

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.