Comment Deadline is Tuesday October 9

The Stanislaus National Forest‘s draft winter travel plan attempts to establish a balance for winter management that allows for appropriate snowmobile routes and play areas, and also provides some limited protections for important non-motorized recreation zones, wildlife, and natural resources. Click here for a link to the high-res map (pdf) of the forest’s “preferred” Alternative 5.

However, the forest’s proposal, as written, fails to minimize user conflict and impacts to sensitive wildlife (including critically endangered Sierra Nevada red fox) in the following key areas:

  • Pacific Valley and Eagle/Night Near Natural Areas
  • The Herring Creek area immediately adjacent to the Leland Snowplay Area on Highway 108
  • Osborne Hill and other Nordic touring terrain to the immediate east and west of Lake Alpine
  • Areas between Cabbage Patch and Black Springs and Mattley Ridge off Highway 4
  • Route 7N02 in the Big Meadow Area for non-motorized touring to the Stanislaus Canyon overlook

Use the easy form below to submit specific, customizable comments in support of wildlife and human-powered recreation.

Touring on the Helena-Lewis & Clark NF, photo by H. Eisen

The Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest covers a vast portion of central Montana, encompassing island mountain ranges like the Belts and the Crazies, as well as much of the famed Rocky Mountain Front. The forest is home to funky little ski areas and beloved cross-country ski trails, as well as excellent opportunities for backcountry skiers looking to get away from the crowds.

The Forest Service is working on a new forest plan for the Helena-Lewis & Clark and they’re accepting public comment on the draft plan through September 6. The draft includes a broad range of alternatives and covers issues as diverse as grazing, timber production, and recreation. We’re focused on the parts of the plan that impact winter recreation and wildlands.

The Helena-Lewis & Clark is one of just a handful of forests in the country that already completed winter travel planning and we’d like to see the forest plan uphold the good winter travel management decisions already in place. However, we also think there are things the forest could do in the future to improve opportunities and experiences for skiers. For example, there’s a defunct ski area on the forest that we think has the potential to be managed as an unofficial backcountry ski area with just a bit of glading work. Likewise, although this forest covers 2.8 million acres of snowy mountain terrain, there is no avalanche forecaster on the forest or in all of central Montana. We’d like the forest to consider hiring an avalanche forecaster so that winter recreationists have a resource for understanding avalanche conditions across the forest.

In addition to suggesting some new ideas in our comments, we’re supporting proposals from across a variety of the Alternatives in the draft plan. For example, the vast majority of designated Wilderness on the Helena-Lewis & Clark is along the Rocky Mountain Front but there’s a whole lot of wild country in the island ranges on the forest too. We’d like to see some of these places recommended for wilderness and managed in a way to protects their wilderness character. Not all of these places are rad backcountry ski destinations but they’re important for other reasons – from wildlife habitat to providing clean drinking water and containing important pieces of history in the archeological record.

We think a mixture of the wilderness recommendations in Alternatives B and D, and prohibiting snowmobiles in areas that are recommended for wilderness, is the best path forward for protecting the wildlands of central Montana. Recommended wilderness is the strongest protection available in forest planning, and although sometimes is leads to tough trade-offs, sustainable recreation means finding a way to sustain and support the whole range of activities across the entire forest without adversely impacting the places we play or each other. Sometimes that means limiting the types of activities allowed in certain areas.

You can read our comment letter here. If you’d like to send in your own letter to the Forest Service (comments are due September 6) click below to be re-directed to the Helena-Lewis & Clark forest plan revision and commenting page.

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 are now closed on the Eldorado NF winter travel plan.

The Eldorado National Forest failed to seriously consider and analyze any significant further restrictions on OSV use and actually proposed 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) failed in a number of ways to comply with NEPA and the 2015 OSV Rule. It also proposed reversing 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 was 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!

We suggested that the forest go back to the drawing board, as the Lassen had to do, to come up with a revised or supplemental DEIS with a broader range of alternatives. Short of that, we advocated for Alternative 3 as the only alternative that presented 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.