By Cindy Farny, High Camp Hut, Telluride CO

For nine years, with the help of Winter Wildlands Alliance, Cindy Farny worked to protect this special backcountry skiing area for generations to come.

I have spent the last nine years working to get the area above the High Camp Hut in southwestern Colorado closed to snowmobiles after the Forest Service recommended that the area be designated as a Research Natural Area (RNA). I started writing comments and working with the Forest Service early in the process and continued until the area was finally protected.

You must have a passion for the land you want to see protected. I like to joke that we would not have National Parks if it were not for the people that fought to get them designated. Many state parks, National Monuments, and recreational sites have been protected because someone put in a lot of effort.

Just like me, they joined organizations, talked with scientists, found other like-minded people to help write letters and met with agency decision makers. I ended up giving four site tours of the area to the Forest Service during this nine year process. I made the most of these tours by providing pictures, economic information, and reasons why it would be good for them to make the decision I was advocating for.

I was lucky to become involved with Winter Wildlands Alliance early on in my efforts to protect this area. Winter Wildlands Alliance provided me with lots of good information and support. It is a lonely feeling sometimes trying to make something happen. Many of my friends lost interest in the process. They had written letters and did not feel that there was a need to continue being involved. There are too many things that eat up our time and compete for our attention, making it difficult to remain focused on a multi-year Forest Service decision-making process. It also takes a toll on your personal life!

Research Natural Areas (RNAs) are areas that the Forest Service designates for permanent protection to maintain them in a natural condition. To protect the Grizzly Peak RNA I first had to convince the Forest Service to include this designation in the new San Juan Forest Plan. Then, I had to make the Forest Service aware that designating the area as a RNA and then allowing snowmobile use within it was a contradiction. They finally agreed.

highcamphut.summer04However, in order to actually close the RNA to motorized use the Forest Service had to do an Environmental Assessment (EA), which they did not have the capacity to do. In the meantime snowmobiles could continue going into the area. Eventually I found a contractor, Mountain Studies Institute, who could do the EA and the Forest Service hired them. Finally, on January 13, 2016 the Rocky Mountain Research Station and the Regional Forester signed off on the completed EA and the Grizzly Peak RNA was officially closed to snowmobiles. It took nine long years and many ups and downs but I am proud to say that I helped protect a special backcountry skiing area for future generations.

I am glad this process is over but more than ever I am committed to winter travel planning. With the inspiration of Mark Menlove from Winter Wildlands Alliance I am trying to bring motorized and non -motorized users together to help the San Juan National Forest create a winter travel plan. I have to admit I have not had much luck so far but I will keep trying. Protecting quiet landscapes inspires me to continue this dialog amongst winter recreationists. We need to learn to work together and plan together. We cannot expect the Forest Service to make the right decisions if we — the user groups — cannot even talk to each other and figure out where we agree or disagree.

I have noticed that quiet users often do not want to get involved in these decision making processes, but we need to! We need to start early in the process and stick with it. In the end there is the reward of knowing that we protected something for future generations to enjoy. Once you get a favorable decision you are inspired to help others.

So, get involved with planning and protecting the places you love to recreate in. The world is changing and you cannot afford to be asleep at the wheel!

Montana – Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Winter Travel Planning

The Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (BDNF) is taking another look at how it manages motorized winter use under its 2009 Forest Plan and is considering amending the plan. The Forest Service’s decision will determine how the agency manages snowmobiles across the eight mountain ranges, vast backcountry, and world-class wildlife habitat within the 3.3 million-acre forest.

You can read through the supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) on Forest Service website.  If you were involved in this planning effort back in the early 2000’s the alternatives the Forest Service is comparing may look familiar.  That’s because they haven’t changed.  However, when the BDNF wrote it’s 2009 forest plan it failed to analyze how snowmobile use under each alternative would impact other resources (like wilderness lands, wildlife habitat, and backcountry skiing).  This SEIS compares the impacts from snowmobile use under the current plan versus the impacts under the other alternatives considered when the plan was written.  The agency is required to minimize these impacts and we feel that change is needed.

We are asking the BDNF to amend the Forest Plan to no longer allow snowmobiling on the eastern side of Mt Jefferson.  For over 6 years we have worked with the Forest Service to monitor snowmobile use in this area and this monitoring has clearly shown that the current motorized/non-motorized boundary is ineffective.  Snowmobiles frequently travel throughout the non-motorized area in the upper Hellroaring basin and into the adjacent BLM Wilderness Study Area.  Moving the boundary to the Continental Divide will better protect wild lands and restore opportunities for  backcountry skiing that many feel have been lost on Mt Jefferson in recent years.

We would also like to see the BDNF take the common-sense approach of closing low-elevation or low-snow areas where snowmobiling rarely occurs.  This pre-emptive action would protect big game winter range and allow the Forest Service to better utilize it’s limited resources.

Please take a moment to write to the Forest Service and request that the agency do more to protect Mt. Jefferson and other important winter wild lands on the BDNF.  Comments should be sent to Jan Bowey at jbowey@fs.fed.us.

Comments are due by March 3, 2016.

California – Lassen National Forest Winter Travel Planning

The Lassen National Forest recently published a draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) as part of their winter travel management planning process. This document compares different alternatives for how the Forest Service will manage snowmobiles and other “over-snow vehicles” (OSVs) on the Lassen moving forward. The Lassen is the first forest to do winter travel management under the new OSV Rule and things are not off to a good start. The DEIS compares four alternatives yet only one of these alternatives protects opportunities for human-powered winter recreation and none of the Alternatives comply with the OSV Rule.

The four alternatives are as follows: Alternative 1 (the status quo), Alternative 2 (the Proposed Action), Alternative 3 (based off of the “Skiers Alternative” submitted by WWA and Snowlands Network), and Alternative 4 (the “motorized emphasis” alternative).

Alternative 3 is the only alternative that the Forest Service has analyzed that brings some level of balance to the Lassen National Forest. This alternative would protect a handful of areas for human-powered recreation, including the McGowan and Lake Almanor Nordic trails, the Colby area, and the area surrounding the Bizz Johnson trail. Alternative 3 also includes a non-motorized area north of Lassen National Park to better protect the Park and the Caribou Wilderness from the impacts of motorized recreation. Even with these protections, however, Alternative 3 does not close a single currently designated OSV route and would still leave 76% of the forest open to cross-country OSV travel. Because Alternative 3 protects important non-motorized recreation areas while also continuing to provide ample opportunities for motorized recreation we ask that you tell the Forest Service to adopt it as the preferred alternative.

However, despite the balance of recreational opportunities we see in Alternative 3, even it fails to meet the requirements of the OSV Rule. In the Environmental Impact Statement the Forest Service is required to show how each specific route and area has been located to minimize damage to natural resources, minimize conflicts with other uses (including non-motorized recreation), and minimize impacts to wildlife and wildlife habitat. This DEIS doesn’t show how the open areas, or designated routes, in each Alternative are located in a manner that minimizes the impacts listed above. Winter travel planning is important and the Forest Service needs to get it right. In addition to telling the Forest Service to adopt Alternative 3 as the Lassen’s preferred alternative, please tell them that they must modify this Alternative so that designated OSV routes and the boundaries of OSV open areas are located to minimize the impacts of motorized recreation.

The Forest Service needs to hear from skiers and snowshoers who recreate on the Lassen. Please click here to comment on the DEIS and help shape the Lassen winter travel plan. Comments are due by March 15.

For more information on the DEIS and the Lassen winter travel planning process please go to http://data.ecosystem-management.org/nepaweb/fs-usda-pop.php?project=45832

“Studying mountain snowpack is vital to our quality of life” read a recent headline in the Idaho Statesman. The article explored research conducted by geoscientists at Boise State University and how snow provides 80% of the water across the western US.   But if its that important shouldn’t all of us, young and old, be educated on the issue? The answer is yes, and to help make it happen Winter Wildlands Alliance, the US Forest Service and Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area have further expanded on an already decade long SnowSchool collaboration.   This fall a team of experts installed an innovative new snowpack monitoring weather station on-site at the Bogus Basin SnowSchool program. The station boasts snowpack depth, water equivalent and other sensors with the data available online. And accompanying curriculum designed by WWA aims to greatly enhance the learning experience of some 2,000 K-12 students who will participate in the program this winter.  In the long run WWA aims to use this project as a national model and bring similar weather stations online across the national network of 55 SnowSchool sites.

US Forest Service Collaborates with SnowSchool

Working off of a grant made possible by the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, hydrologists Charlie Luce and Tom Black provided expertise and equipment to get the station installed during the summer and fall of 2015. Along with an array of instruments (click here to see the data online) the station utilizes a new gamma radiation SWE sensor. This technology is as fresh as the fallen snow and has emerged as the snow science field pushes to better understand and measure the water content of snow. Citing his 2014 research documenting the decline of mountain snow and water in the western US, Luce hopes this SnowSchool project will help educated more people about the issues surrounding snow and climate change.

Enhancing Kids’ Learning

SnowSchool has always been about harnessing the power of snow to connect kids with nature. In making this dream a reality the program has engaged over 170,000 participants nationally since 2005.   However, one potential problem with a school field trip program like SnowSchool is that while the outdoor experience inherently generates enthusiasm, all too often there is little or no connection back to the classroom. The result can be a weak “one-and-done” experiential program that misses an enormous opportunity to spark further exploration and learning. The new weather station and WWA’s accompanying science curriculum helps solve this problem by providing teachers with a powerful and easy to use classroom resource. And extending students’ learning experience and connecting it back to the classroom ensures that SnowSchool makes good on its aspiration to foster ecological literacy among our youngest generation. The hoped-for result is a 4-month learning experience and science project that kids will love!

We are excited to begin our second season of working with volunteer backcountry scientists on the Helena National Forest. Winter Wildlands Alliance is coordinating with Wild Things Unlimited (WTU) and the Montana Wilderness Association, with support from the Helena National Forest, and Defenders of Wildlife, to get citizen scientists into the backcountry to monitor forest carnivore presence and activity along the Continental Divide in Montana. We will be using a combination of snow tracking and camera traps to document forest carnivores – which species and where they are – on the Helena National Forest.

The goal for project is to find out more about how forest carnivores, including lynx and wolverine, are using Forest Service lands along the Continental Divide. The area where we will be working, the Little Prickly Pear Creek drainage, is just over the Divide from where WTU has previously documented wolverine and lynx but little is known about how forest carnivores use the area on the east side of the Divide. The Helena National Forest is revising their long-term land management plan and the information collected during this project will help the Forest Service better understand the wildlife resources on the forest and guide management decisions that can help to protect wildlife and the wild lands they depend upon.

Last year backcountry scientist volunteers, along with WTU staff, conducted 53 snow-tracking surveys covering almost 200 miles. They documented lynx, wolverine, wolves, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, martens, weasels and more throughout the project area.  Volunteers were critical to the success of the project last year, allowing us to more than double the number of surveys conducted over the winter.

During our training workshop for new volunteers this past weekend we documented bobcat, coyote, both short and long-tailed weasels, snowshoe hare, and a variety of ungulate species. Snow tracking is a great way to read the landscape and understand how other species travel and live in wild places in the winter. For example, one group of volunteers came across a bloody cottontail rabbit buried in the snow. After studying tracks they were able to deduce that an epic battle had occurred, starting with a sneak attack by a weasel and ending in the rabbit’s demise (and the weasel’s dinner). We’re looking forward to reading more stories in the snow and gathering important information to inform the forest planning this winter.