What happens on the Lassen will impact winter travel planning across the country. The comment period is only open until November 20. Please use the form and template below to submit your comments.
Photo by Luc Mehl
ON JULY 10 THE PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD for Interior Secretary Zinke’s National Monument review closed. In just under two months over one million people weighed in, with the vast majority — 96%! —telling Zinke to leave our National Monuments alone. It was an unprecedented show of public lands advocacy, and we could all be forgiven for thinking our work was done for now.
Unfortunately, no such luck. Zinke followed up after this comment period with proposals to downsize Bears Ears National Monument and we expect the same for many of the other monuments. And while much of our attention has justifiably been focused on defending monuments, the Trump Administration and Congress are busy chipping away at our public lands in other, less overt, ways.
The public lands heist is a tangled web, but there are essentially four major threads: (1) new legislation, (2) changes to regulations and the agencies that enforce them, (3) reviews and rollbacks of existing protections, and (4) administrative restructuring. Together, these efforts share a common goal – to separate the public from our public lands and to allow industry, especially the energy industry, to squeeze every last penny of possible profit from our common heritage.
Legislative efforts to sell or transfer public lands are the most obvious piece of the public lands heist. However, because these efforts are so blatant, they are quickly beaten back and we’re seeing fewer and fewer attempts to float this type of legislation. Instead, Congress and state legislatures are now pushing bills to transfer management of public lands – from taking away federal agency law enforcement responsibilities to putting the states or local counties in charge of timber sales and energy development on public lands.
Congress is also busy rolling back regulatory protections put in place by a variety of previous administrations to protect our public lands, wildlife, air, water, and the public at large, so that industry can develop and profit from public resources with less cost and oversight – increasing industry profits at the direct expense of the American people.
Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is implementing an ambitious agenda to “streamline and reorganize” the Executive Branch, which includes all of the public lands agencies. Important conservation and recreation programs, as well as entire agencies, are on the chopping block. And as the Trump Administration proposes deep cuts to staff and funding for public land agencies with one hand, they’re also directing the same agencies to do more to facilitate fossil fuel development with the other.
Furthermore, while the Trump Administration and Congress are making it easier for industry to exploit our public lands, it’s becoming harder for the public to access and enjoy them. The Administration is pushing the public lands agencies to focus all of their capacity toward expediting fossil fuel development. At the same time, Congress has systematically reduced funding for these agencies, with greater reductions each year. Given less staff and fewer resources, and with clear direction from above to prioritize energy development, federal agencies have little choice but to abandon recreation and conservation programs and to increase fees wherever possible to cover budget gaps.
Meanwhile, they also have to triage their resources – maintaining only the most popular trails, putting up gates when they can no longer maintain roads or motorized routes, and closing campgrounds and picnic areas as they fall into disrepair and the funds are not available to fix them. We’ve also seen more and more instances of agencies having to farm out maintenance and other services to for-profit corporate “partners” whose mission is not the protection and stewardship of our lands for the benefit of all but rather the increased profit of a few shareholders.
As public lands become more difficult to experience and enjoy – because of new or increased fees, or because the routes we depend on for access or other types of recreational infrastructure have fallen into disrepair – the public becomes increasingly disconnected from these lands. As we lose this connection we will also lose the incentive to fight to keep public lands public. And, as the agencies are starved for resources and prevented from doing their jobs, many people begin to question why the government even owns and manages so much land. It doesn’t take long to go from devaluing the civil servants who manage public lands to losing interest in maintaining public ownership of these lands at all. This is the long game that public lands heist proponents are playing. We can’t let them win.
You can speak up for public lands today by clicking here to send a letter to your elected officials in Washington D.C. Help us keep the pressure on.
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager
P.S. Want to do more? Share this post with your ski partners and social media friends and get them to speak up too. Or get in touch and we can brainstorm other ways for you to amplify your voice.
On March 13th 2017, President Trump signed Executive Order 13781 directing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to develop a plan for reorganizing the executive branch, including recommending agencies, programs, and functions for elimination. The OMB in turn launched a 28-day comment period asking the American public to weigh in on how to reorganize, reduce, and eliminate agencies.
Today, the Outdoor Alliance, its member organizations, partners and friends (see list below) wrote to express strong support for continued and robust investment in the conservation and recreation programs of the land management agencies: the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. Together, these agencies administer on behalf of the American people 674 million acres of lands that see over half a billion visits annually.
Outdoor Alliance • American Whitewater • MTB Missoula • Granite Backcountry Alliance • El Sendero Backcountry Ski and Snowshoe Club • Western Montana Climbers Coalition • Mazamas • Protect Our Winters • Washington Trails Association • The League of Northwest Whitewater Racers • Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access Foundation (MLTPA) • Paddle Trails Canoe Club • Oregon Kayak and Canoe Club • Lower Columbia Canoe Club • Friends of the Inyo • Washington Kayak Club • Eastern Sierra Avalanche Center • Snowlands Network • Tahoe Backcountry Alliance • Montana Backcountry Alliance • Friends of Plumas Wilderness • Silent Tracks • SHARE Mountain Bike Club • San Diego Mountain Biking Association • Tahoe Backcountry Alliance • The Mountaineers • American Alpine Club • Canoe Kayak and Paddle Co. LLC • Kayak and Canoe Club of New York • Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance • Mach One Slalom Team • Boy Scout Troop 32 • Mono Lake Committee • Zoar Valley Paddling Club • High County River Rafters • Crested Butte Nordic • Access Fund • Teton Valley Trails And Pathways • Concerned Off-Road Bicyclists Association • Western Montana Climbers Coalition • Boulder Climbing Community • Northwest Trail Alliance • Sierra Eastside Mountain Bike Association (SEMBA) • Wasatch Backcountry Alliance • Colorado Mountain Club • Salida Mountain Trails • Oregon Youth Mountain Biking • Nordic and Backcountry Skiers Alliance of Idaho • Idaho Conservation League • Southern Off Road Bicycle Association • Silent Tracks • Triangle Off-Road Cyclists • SORBA Huntsville • Florida Mudcutters • Cape Fear SORBA • Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association • Piedmont Fat Tire Society • Ellijay Mountain Bike Association • West Alabama Mountain Bike Association • Atlanta Chapter of the Southern Off Road Bicycle Association • Southeastern Alabama Mountainbikers (SAM/SORBA) • rvaMORE • Moab Mountain Bike Association • Chile Pepper Bike Shop • Wyoming Wilderness Association • Albuquerque Mountain Bike Association • Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiast (MORE) • Tri-County Mountain Bike Association • Woody’s Mountain Bikes • Gwinnett Area trail Riders • Rim Country Mountain Biking Association • Spokane Mountaineers • Chama Valley Outdoor Club • Tarheel Trailblazers • Mountain Goat Adventures • Alaska Quiet Rights Coalition • SORBA Mid TN • SORBA West Georgia • Anthracite Mountain Pedalers • Fats in the Cats • Desert Foothills Mountain Bike Association • Northwest North Carolina Mountain Bike Alliance • Northeastern Utah Mountain Bikers • Flagler Area Biking SORBA • Midlands SORBA • North Mississippi Trail Alliance • Blue Mountain Singletrack Trails Club • Nantahala Area Southern Off-Road Bicycling Association • Tallahassee Mountain Bike Association • CVA SORBA • NYCMTB • Team Dirt • Togwotee Backcountry Alliance • Berbur, LLC • Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association • Colorado Mountain Bike Association • Bitteroot Backcountry Cyclists • Mountains to Sound Greenway • Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance • Roaring Fork Mountain Bike Association • Overland Mountain Bike Club • Boulder Mountainbike Alliance • Erie Singletrack Advocates • The Golden Giddyup • Advance Colorado Fund • Cyclists 4 Community • Colorado High School Cycling League • Beartooth Recreational Trails Association • Ocala Mountain Bike Association (OMBA) • Boulder Area Trails Coalition • Wood River Bicycle Coalition • Southern Nevada Mountain Bike Association (SNMBA) • Cycle-CNY • Dixie Mountain Bike Trails Association • SORBA Woodstock • Prescott Mountain Bike Alliance • Santa Fe Fat Tire Society • Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship • Bark • Mammoth Lakes Recreation • Colorado High School Cycling League • Pedal United • Southeastern Pennsylvania Trail Riders • Friends Of Joshua Tree • Winter Wildlands Alliance • Montana Alpine Adventures • Native Eyewear • Tahoe Mountain Sports • Outdoor Research • Montana Alpine Guides • Beartooth Powder Guides • Outdoor Research • DPS Skis • Beartooth Mountain Guides • Timber Trails • Green Peak Promotions • Teton Backcountry Guides • Outdoor Project • 40 Tribes Backcountry Adventures • Onion River Sports • The Mountaineer • Ice Axe Expeditions • Ibex Outdoor Clothing • Backcountry Pursuit • Sawtooth Mountain Guides • Gravity Sports • Packer Expeditions • Superfeet Worldwide • 22 Designs • Sierra Business Council • Greenwood’s Ski Haus • Mountain Rider’s Alliance • Roscoe Outdoor • High Camp • STOKE Certified • Alpenglow Sports • Alpenglow Mountain Racing • KEEN Footwear • Freeheel and Wheel • Far and Away• Kelty • Idaho Mountain Touring • The Elephant’s Perch • Ascending Path • Chillaz North America • Pine Mountain Sports • Trailspace.com • Backcountry Babes • Clif Bar & Company • Business for Montana’s Outdoors • Revolution House Media • Shasta Mountain Guides • Yeti Cycles • SRAM • Backbone MediaOutdoor Alliance comment on EO 13781
Photo by Thom Bridge, Independent Record (via Billings Gazette)
WHEW. THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS HAVE BEEN a whirlwind of activity on the national policy front and we decided it would be helpful to take a moment and fill you in on how Winter Wildlands Alliance is working to fulfill our mission and share some important ways for you to get involved and help us defend our public lands and winter backcountry.
Last week we joined over a thousand people – including tons of skiers – to rally for public lands in Montana. And, like many of you we’ve been on the phone with various Congressional offices almost every day. Not only that, we’ve been continuing to meet with Forest Service decision makers, grassroots activists, and other winter recreation stakeholders to talk about specific projects and planning efforts.
We know that our members and supporters are eager to speak out in defense of public lands so we’ve created a Public Lands Defense Web Portal that allows you to easily email your senators and representatives. This way you can let them know what you value as a constituent and what your thoughts are on the bills they are considering. You can also call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to get connected to your political reps.
With so much at stake, we’re going to start sending out a regular synthesis of the various bills being considered by Congress that would impact public lands and backcountry recreation. So, without further ado, here’s the past week in review:
Public Lands Heist Bills:
On their first day of work this year, our representatives in Congress passed a rules package intended to pave the way for transferring or selling public lands by making these transactions budget neutral. Then, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz introduced two bills intended to further chip away at our public land system. The first, HR 621, would have “disposed of” 3.3 million acres of public land. However, after thousands of people called and emailed their representatives, attended rallies, and otherwise pushed back, Congressman Chaffetz withdrew HR 621. This was a huge win for public lands advocates and this success shows that your voice can make a difference. But there is more work to do.
Chaffetz’s second bill, HR 622, proposes to eliminate the Forest Service and BLM’s law enforcement ability and instead put local sheriffs in charge of protecting public lands. Local sheriff’s departments are already maxed out and there’s no guarantee that they will be familiar with, or choose to enforce, the rules and regulations that have been put in place to protect our public lands. Without the ability to enforce their own rules the Forest Service and BLM will have to stand by and watch as illegal roads proliferate, priceless artifacts are looted, and the safety of everybody seeking to enjoy our public lands is compromised. Winter Wildlands Alliance focuses a lot of attention on winter travel planning but these plans are meaningless if the Forest Service can’t enforce them.
Action: Tell your reps that HR 622 would jeopardize the places and experiences you care about.
Expansion of Oil and Gas Drilling in National Parks:
Last week Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar introduced a resolution (H.J.Res.46) to roll back the National Park Service’s authority to regulate private oil and gas drilling within National Parks. The Park Service predicts that if this bill were to become law new oil and gas operations could occur in up to 30 Park units, including Grand Teton.
Action: Let your reps know that oil and gas drilling has no place in our National Parks and that they should work to strengthen, not weaken, protections for parks.
Planning Rule for BLM Lands:
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages a lot of land in the West, including some really great ski terrain near Silverton, CO as well as a ton of land in Alaska. Under the Obama administration the BLM updated how they write their long term management plans. This “Planning 2.0” rule modernized BLM planning and does a much better job of recognizing the value of recreation. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are proposing to overturn the Planning 2.0 rule using the Congressional Review Act, taking us backward instead of forward. This sounds wonky—and that’s partially what makes it vulnerable in these times—but it will have real impacts on public lands and recreation.
At Winter Wildlands Alliance we work to protect public lands, wild winter landscapes, and opportunities for human powered winter recreation. These are non-partisan issues and we work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and, through our partners at Outdoor Alliance, the broader outdoor recreation community. Your personal outreach to your political representatives is super important and has already made a difference for public lands this year. Keep it up and we will continue to advocate for the backcountry public lands experience we all love.
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager
Silverton Heli-Ski Expansion
The BLM is considering permitting expanded heli-ski terrain in the Silverton, CO backcountry. The problem? The areas in question include easily-accessed frontcountry terrain (including groomed trails!) and popular backcountry ski areas. Local skiers are worried about being displaced from their favorite spots and are asking the BLM to think about ways to better balance heli-skiing with other backcountry uses. The BLM has released a preliminary environmental assessment and is accepting public comments on the proposal until December 12.
While we aren’t opposed to heli-skiing, and we’d like to see Silverton Mountain and Silverton Guides continue to thrive, we have serious concerns about this proposal. If the BLM allows Silverton Guides to expand their heli operation into the areas they’ve requested they will be heli-skiing in places that are already heavily used by backcountry skiers, Nordic skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. This is certain to cause conflict and displace existing uses – after all, would you want a helicopter landing on top of you in avalanche terrain? We would like Silverton Guides to consider different, more remote, areas to expand into.
Comments are due December 10. Your comments should outline what your concerns are but also offer recommendations on how to improve or alter this proposal. This could include simply sticking with the status quo (the “no action” alternative). Don’t forget to include your: name, address, and familiarity with areas in question. The subject of your email to the BLM should read “Silverton Guides EA”
- Areas proposed for heli-ski expansion overlap with popular backcountry skiing areas posing safety risks and user conflicts. Areas close to town and easily accessible by human-powered recreationists should be avoided. There is plenty of other terrain easily accessible by helicopter that is too remote to access by foot and would therefore not create conflict between users. Recommend that BLM not permit heli-skiing in areas close to town that are used by human-powered skiers.
- Areas proposed for heli-ski expansion pose avalanche hazard directly over open county roads (CR110 and CR 2). Recommend that BLM not permit heli-skiing above open or groomed roads.
- Noise impacts from helicopter use and avalanche bombing in downtown Silverton. Recommend that BLM not permit heli-skiing in areas close to town.
- Minimal analysis of impact to Lynx and wintering Elk. Recommend input from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
- Proposal does not add users days to Silverton Guides permits therefore economic benefits from additional tourism are overstated. Rather, negative impacts to backcountry skiing and snowmobiling may reduce tourism for these types of recreation. Ask that the BLM more fully analyze economic impacts.
- Recommend winter study to assess user impacts and avalanche hazards
- Recommend that Silverton Guides be required to post daily flight plan so backcountry skiers can avoid helicopter use
- Recommend that Silverton Guides be restricted from flying in popular backcountry areas on weekends
- Recommend that Silverton Guides be required to attach Recco reflectors to all bombs before dropping them so that unexploded ordinance can be quickly recovered
- Recommend a requirement that Silverton Guides staff be AMGA or otherwise certified
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