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Outdoor Rec Groups and Businesses Advocate For Greater Investment in Public Lands Agencies

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 Media

Outdoor Alliance comment on EO 13781

What a Week

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.

On Instagram, under pressure from constituents, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz withdraws his bill to “dispose of” public lands.

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.

Action: Check out this Outdoor Alliance blog post and take action.

Let’s not let this Congress roll back the public process and undercut the importance of outdoor recreation by throwing out a crucial regulation that modernizes how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducts planning on our public lands.

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.

Thanks,

Hilary Eisen
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager

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Silverton Heli-Ski Expansion

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”

Talking points you may want to include in your comments:
  • 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
Don’t forget, the subject of your email should read “Silverton Guides EA”

Shoshone winter travel planning

Winter Travel Planning on the Shoshone National Forest

Beau Fredlund enjoying some of Montana's classic summer skiing off the Beartooth Highway.
The Shoshone National Forest is currently reviewing public comments on their proposed winter travel management plan (Proposed Action) that they published in the spring of 2016.  The Forest Service is also working on developing additional Alternatives to analyze alongside the Proposed Action.

This winter travel plan will have major repercussions for skiing and snowboarding on the Shoshone National Forest.  The Shoshone bills itself as a wild backcountry forest and indeed, there are some amazing adventures to be had deep in the Wind River, Absaroka, and Beartooth mountains.  What’s at stake in this travel plan, however, and where most skiers go, is the Shoshone’s relatively accessible world-class front-country terrain.  Specifically Togwotee Pass and the Beartooth Pass.

The Proposed Action was developed based on suggestions the Forest Service received from the public as well as from groups like Winter Wildlands Alliance, Togwotee Backcountry Alliance, and the Wyoming Wilderness Association.  You can review the plan, and look at maps of what the Forest Service is proposing, online here.

For the first time ever the Shoshone is considering a set season for winter motorized use: November 15 – April 30 for high elevation areas like Togwotee and the Beartooths and December 1 – April 1 for lower elevation areas.  Implementing these season dates would reduce conflicts between over-snow vehicles and wildlife and is a balanced way for skiers and snowmobilers to share the Beartooth Pass while recognizing that the two user groups have traditionally used this area during different and distinct seasons.  These season dates also bring the Shoshone in line with how it’s neighbor, the Bridger-Teton, manages winter use on Togwotee Pass.

We are also pleased to see that the Shoshone is proposing to formally close the cross-country ski trails on Togwotee Pass to motorized use (excepting grooming).  The local trails group in Dubois – DART – spends a lot of resources grooming these trails for skiing and their efforts can be completely undermined by just one or two irresponsible OSV users.  By closing, and signing, these areas cross-country skiers on Togwotee Pass will finally have non-motorized trails to enjoy.

We are also advocating that the Forest Service consider implementing a minimum snow depth restriction of 18 inches to ensure that over-snow vehicle use is only occurring when there’s enough snow to protect the underlying vegetation and that they consider protecting additional wildlife habitat in the Dubois area.

The Shoshone National Forest will hold public meetings the week of March 20th to discuss the status of the travel management planning process.  During these meetings, the Forest Service will update the public as to why there has been a pause in the process, explain the next steps in developing a minimum road system, and present an updated timeline for the process.

Meetings will be held at the following times and locations:

  • March 21, Lander Community Center, 950 Buena Vista Drive, Lander, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
  • March 22, Headwaters Art and Convention Center, 20 Stalnaker St., Dubois, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
  • March 23, Grizzly Hall, Park County Library, 1500 Heart Mountain Street, Cody, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.

For information and updates on the Shoshone National Forest’s travel management process, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/shoshone/home/?cid=stelprd3846526

 

 

 

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Bitterroot Travel Plan Protects Wild Winter Landscapes

Today the Bitterroot National Forest took an important step in protecting wild and quiet winter landscapes.  In the newly published Bitterroot Travel Plan the Forest Service brings travel management on the Bitterroot up to speed with the management direction in the existing forest plan and in line with regulations set forth in the 2015 Over-Snow Vehicle Rule to minimize snowmobile impacts on the forest and other users.

In writing this travel plan the Bitterroot National Forest did something we rarely see – Forest Supervisor Julie King acknowledged that motorized recreation has a disproportionate impact on non-motorized recreationists.  Rather than considering motor vehicle designations in a vacuum, the Bitterroot National Forest recognized the interplay between motorized and non-motorized recreation and wrote a travel plan that minimizes the impact of motorized recreation on quiet users and on forest resources. While this may seem obvious, many forests choose to undertake motorized travel planning in isolation, leading to plans that don’t account for how motorized and non-motorized recreation experiences are intertwined. By recognizing these impacts and designating motorized routes and areas appropriately, the travel plan proactively works to minimize conflicts between uses and aims to improve the quality of all types of recreational experiences. This benefits everybody who visits the forest.

The new travel plan protects important wildlife habitat and restores opportunities for quiet winter travel within Wilderness Study Areas and areas that have been recommended for Wilderness on the Bitterroot National Forest.  It also protects skier experiences at the Lost Trail Powder Mountain ski area by making permanent a motorized closure that was previously based on temporary forest orders.

While the new plan isn’t perfect – after all, its starting point is a 29 year old forest plan – it is a great step toward bringing balance to our winter backcountry.  We recognize the plan creates heartburn for our mountain biking partners by closing some trails in Wilderness Study Areas and Recommended Wilderness to bikes. However, Winter Wildlands Alliance supports the Bitterroot in its management approach to recommended wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas. We also support addressing mountain biking concerns in the upcoming forest plan, a big-picture document that guides everything from travel management to timber sales. This forest plan revision, which the Bitterroot is set to begin soon, is an opportunity to re-assess which areas of the forest should be managed to protect Wilderness values and where other uses, like mountain biking, should be allowed.

We want to give the Forest Service a big high-five for their work on this travel plan. You can help us out by taking a moment to email Forest Supervisor Julie King (jkking@fs.fed.us) and let her know that the Bitterroot Travel Plan is a great step toward balance in the backcountry.