“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.

Today, there’s big news that benefits everyone who loves getting outside, whether it’s to the backcountry or your local city park.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, hailed as America’s best conservation program, will be reauthorized this week after expiring at the end of September. In its 50-year history, LWCF has helped build trails, parks, trailheads, and river put-ins, and other recreational facilities in all 50 states. If you love to play outside you have probably benefited from LWCF. Since its expiration in September, the outdoor recreation community and the larger conservation community have been raising a ruckus with policymakers about reauthorizing the fund.

Winter Wildlands Alliance members from across the country called and wrote their representatives and visited DC to tell policymakers why the Land and Water Conservation Fund matters. Thanks to the outpouring from our community and others, Congress included reauthorization of the program in its omnibus bill. In an incredibly tough political environment, we can count this as a huge success.

The program was reauthorized for 3 years at $450 million. The good news is that $450 million is 50% more than the fund has gotten in the last few years.  Of course, there is (always) more work to be done.  We had hoped for permanent reauthorization at $900 million. This means that there is more to do to get the program permanently reauthorized but this is a huge first step.

Every letter, call, and office visit ensured that this program stayed on Congress’s radar, and we have you to thank for that. With so much at stake, you made sure that Congress couldn’t afford to leave LWCF on the table. Without your help educating your representatives and making your priorities known, LWCF never would have made it through the gauntlet. There were an incredible number of other issues vying for a spot in the omnibus, so it’s a huge win that LWCF made it through.

To say we are stoked is an understatement.

Winter backcountry recreation is on the rise. Advances in backcountry skiing and snowboarding equipment, improved access and the relentless search for fresh snow, solitude and adventure have driven more people into the backcountry in recent years. As is so often the case, increased use can lead to greater impacts to the landscape as well as on others seeking the same experiences. Trash, human waste issues, excessive noise and disturbances to wildlife have all been cited as issues that can be addressed successfully with relevant Leave No Trace education.

In July of 2014 the Vermont Backcountry Alliance, a Winter Wildlands Alliance grassroots group, contacted the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics (the Center) about the development of a “winter backcountry code of ethics” for use in Vermont. They chose to align their proposed code with Leave No Trace to ensure a unified, science-based set of minimum impact guidelines.  After the Vermont-specific guidelines were completed, Winter Wildlands Alliance worked with the Center to adapt the Vermont guidelines as set of Leave No Trace practices for backcountry winter snowsports that would have more national relevance.

Through this collaboration, both Winter Wildlands Alliance and the Center are able to promote relevant and area-specific Leave No Trace information to help skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, and others to enjoy the backcountry responsibly and safely. With backcountry winter use increasing, Leave No Trace information is imperative for ensuring long-term protection and stewardship of these shared lands. Because of the Center’s partnership with federal and state land managing agencies, this set of winter backcountry Leave No Trace practices is already vetted and approved for use on signs, maps, etc. and is the standard for recreating in our national parks, national forests and other public lands during winter.

The long version of the national guidelines are available for download here.  You can also download a “short” version, which is better suited for signs and other displays, here.

Theses guidelines are designed to be widely disseminated and heavily utilized by both land managers and the backcountry snowsports community. Appropriate uses of the guidelines include: signage, trailhead kiosks, backcountry access points from ski areas, websites, trail maps, guidebooks, etc.  For information on how the guidelines can be used, posted, reprinted or disseminated, please visit the Center’s website.

If you, other organizations, or your agency partners want to create signage, or other products using the guidelines, please contact Ben Lawhon at the Center for more information.

Right now, a battle is being waged over the West’s public lands, including many of the places we love to ski. Out-of-touch politicians backed by private interests like the American Lands Council want to transfer millions of acres of your land to states or private interests, a move that would almost certainly shut down your access to these beloved areas.

Public lands belong to all Americans. They are home to stunning landscapes and recreational opportunities that everyone can access. Together, Americans care for these special places, protecting them so that everyone can enjoy them, including the next generation.

Some politicians would like to sell off public lands to generate profit for individual states or private entities. Elected officials – state legislators and county commissioners – in 11 western states have written bills or passed resolutions proposing that individual states “take back” America’s parks, national forests, BLM lands, wildlife refuges, and open spaces, arguing that these lands and the profits that they generate should belong to the states. If their efforts were to be successful access to millions of acres of land would be lost, including some of the world’s most iconic backcountry ski destinations. Wyoming’s Teton Pass, Utah’s Wasatch, Turnagain Pass in Alaska, Colorado’s San Juan Mountains – these are just some of the countless peaks, passes, and ranges across the West being eyed for takeover.

If our public lands were sold to state governments, they would be the responsibility of state taxpayers to maintain and protect. State governments could privatize, sell, develop, or auction off our public lands to the highest bidder. Even if a state didn’t intend to sell off these lands it may not have a choice. A single wildfire can cost $100 million to fight. This expense would bankrupt most state budgets, forcing them to sell or auction off land to cover the costs. Imagine if the places you love to ski were suddenly privatized.

Although some state legislatures voted down land transfer bills, the idea of selling off public lands is gaining momentum. Most state legislatures have adjourned for now but in Congress, a symbolic amendment supporting the sale of public lands passed this spring. Just recently Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul stated that he supports relinquishing federal management of public lands. These actions challenge the foundation that underpins National Parks, National Forests, and public access to wild places. The Public Land Heist is the most serious threat that has faced our public lands in a generation.

If our mountains, forests, and rivers are privatized or sold off, there’s no replacing them. We need to speak now to protect the places we love to play. Winter Wildlands Alliance is working closely with our partners at Outdoor Alliance and other recreation and conservation groups to fight this legislation and ensure our public lands remain accessible to everyone.   Visit www.protectourpublicland.org to learn more and sign up for regular updates on our campaign to protect access to public lands.

The only way to keep our public lands in public hands is for the American people to speak up. If enough of us rally together, we can put an end to these terrible proposals and protect the incredible landscapes and backcountry areas we love. Please sign the petition and send a clear signal to your elected officials that America’s public lands are not for sale. By signing, you will become part of a growing movement of people who are working together to keep public lands public.

Curious which recreation areas are threatened in your state?

Alaska

Alaska

Arizona

Arizona

Colorado

Colorado

Idaho

Idaho

Montana

Montana

Nevada

Nevada

New Mexico

New Mexico

Oregon

Oregon

Utah

Utah

Washington

Washington

Wyoming

Wyoming