Comments needed to establish a Winter Non-Motorized Area in the Stemilt Basin

Our grassroots group on the east side of the Cascades, El Sendero Backcountry Ski and Snowshoe Club, has been working for 5+ years to establish a winter non-motorized area (NMA) on Washington State public lands just south and east of Wenatchee.

To create the non-motorized area, El Sendero first participated in the Naneum Ridge to Columbia River Recreation and Access Plan (Naneum Plan) planning process. The Naneum Plan was signed and approved by Washington state officials in 2015. It calls for a winter NMA to be established in an area just east of Mission Ridge ski area called the Stemilt Basin. El Sendero has also been participating along with other recreation groups in a local initiative called the Stemilt Partnership. The Stemilt Partnership developed an additional recreation plan for the Stemilt Basin, including a proposal for a winter NMA.

The proposed NMA begins at Clara Lake and includes the Stemilt Basin adjacent to Mission Ridge (extending down to the Upper Reservoir Loop Road). See map. We feel this is a fair and equitable sharing of the recreation lands in the basin.  Unfortunately, a small number of motorized users are attempting to either eliminate the proposed winter NMA or change it to what amounts to an area that is unsuitable as a recreation area for human powered winter users.

It’s a critical time in the process. For the winter NMA to be approved, backcountry skiers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers must tell the county they support this non-motorized area. Please take two minutes NOW and weigh-in.

Nine Reasons The Stemilt Basin Winter NMA Should Be Established 
(you might mention one of these in your comment)

  1. The winter non-motorized area is consistent with the larger state process of the Naneum Recreation Plan (approved two years ago). The Naneum Plan clearly mandates for a winter NMA in the Stemilt Basin and in the area surrounding Clara Lake. The total acreage for the proposed NMA is less than 4,000 acres, leaving snowmobilers with 226,000 acres of terrain for their recreation in the Stemilt Basin and in the adjacent state land covered in the Naneum Recreation Plan (the winter NMA is only 1.7% of the total). Scale this to a 2,300 square foot home and the proposed winter NMA is the home’s coat closet.
  2. Non-motorized winter recreation in aggregate (snowshoers plus backcountry skiers plus cross-country skiers) is a much larger user group (over 9 million people nationally) than snowmobilers (under 1.5 million people nationally). Non-motorists deserve space and opportunities in winter.
  3. Non-motorized winter sports are still growing quickly while snowmobile sales have declined steadily for 15 years. The Stemilt Recreation Plan does a good job of looking at current and future trends when it proposes wintertime non-motorized areas.
  4. Currently there are 170 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and zero miles of winter non-motorized trails in the Naneum-Colockum area. Likewise, there are over 185 parking spaces for winter motorized users and none for non-motorized users.
  5. These are public lands so no single user group should have a stranglehold. Both the Naneum and Stemilt recreation plans vision statements call for a balance of shared recreational use.
  6. The location of the proposed winter NMA is sensible because the land is among the most easily accessed for the largest number of recreationalists who snowshoe, ski, or winter walk. Furthermore, the proposed non-motorized zone flanks the Mission Ridge Ski Area which does not allow public snowmobile use. This means the winter NMA will see far fewer violations because the ski area protects several boundaries from misuse.
  7. Snowmobilers maintain we can all share the same areas but that’s like arguing basketball players should be happy playing hoop on a football field. Or that pedestrians should have no problem sharing sidewalks with cars. Non-motorists need separation for safe, high-quality recreational experiences. Several National Forest in the Western snowbelt realize this and are seeing good results by separating users with different needs.
  8. Non-motorists like neither the noise nor fumes of snowmobiles. Non-motorists also sometimes feel unsafe around the speed of snowmobiles (especially true of parents skiing or snowshoeing with children). Snowmobiles quickly track out the untracked-snow experience backcountry skiers seek and occasionally the deep ruts left by machines are injury hazards to skiers coming downhill. Finally backcountry skiers ascending steeper slopes can be exposed to unexpected avalanche hazard if snowmobilers arrive and begin high-marking the same slopes.
  9. Snowmobilers may question the need for non-motorized areas because they don’t see snowshoers or skiers in the areas they frequent. This is not because the non-motorized crowd doesn’t exist but testimony to the fact that non-motorists avoid places with heavy snowmobile use. Establish non-motorized zones in the Stemilt Basin and people will use them.

Click here to see documents and maps of the proposed Stemilt Recreation Plan.

Help Winter Wildlands Alliance and our land management partners better understand what kinds of human-powered recreation are happening on public lands in winter. Three quick questions! Win a sweet gear package!

UPDATE: THIS CONSIDERATION IS OFF THE TABLE FOR NOW, THANKS IN PART TO YOUR COMMENTS! For details click here.

Congress is considering the first ever legislative attempt to allow road construction and logging in roadless national forest lands, undermining a key 2001 conservation rule. The Roadless Rule prohibits road construction, timber harvesting and other development in some parts of the National Forest System—so-called “inventoried roadless areas.” These roadless areas include many of our most accessible winter backcountry areas, cherished by skiers and snowboarders for the recreation opportunities they provide. Check out this map (made by our friends at the Outdoor Alliance) and click on “Roadless Areas” to see all the places currently protected by this rule.

Here’s how it’s happening: Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R, AK) has added obscure “riders” to the 2018 Senate Interior Appropriations bill to exempt Alaska’s two national forests, the Tongass and Chugach, from the Roadless Rule.  Murkowski’s riders would remove protections from about 15 million acres, encompassing nearly one-quarter of all forest-based inventoried roadless areas in the U.S. If allowed to pass, this will set precedent for forest-by-forest or state-by-state exemptions to to this important conservation rule, jeopardizing the roadless areas where you ski and snowboard. Not only that, Murkowski’s amendments directly threaten some of the best, most accessible human-powered skiing in Alaska. Turnagain Pass is one of the roadless areas that would be opened to road building and other forms of development if Murkowski’s riders stand.

Roadless areas (red) across the U.S.

The Senate Interior Appropriations Committee will decide this week whether to let Murkowski’s riders stand. We need you to contact your Senator TODAY and tell them to insist that Senator Murkowski drop her riders and leave our roadless areas alone.

House Bill 496 will allow the Director of Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to be appointed by a Governor, rather than by a diverse board. The board is selected by the Governor but because it’s a diverse group, they’ve always appointed a Parks and Rec. Director based on merit, not political affiliation. HB 496 would change this, and as an additional causality, forfeit Harriman Ranch State Park.

To understand why here’s a quick review of Idaho history:

In 1965 Idaho Governor Robert E. Smylie created the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR) and its board to professionally manage the state parks. With knowledge of how drastically different natural resources were managed with each political turnover, and motivated by the Harriman brothers’ ranch donation – which was incumbent on the establishment of a professional Parks and Rec agency – Smylie decided the Parks Director should be hired by a board, based on merit alone, free from partisanship.

Currently, the Department of Parks and Recreation is governed by a board of six people, each representing a different region in Idaho. Board members are appointed by the Governor based on professional relevance. The board has the power “to appoint a director to serve at its discretion” (Title 67, Chapter 42, Idaho Code). HB 496 would remove the board’s appointment powers and hand it directly to the Governor, undoing decades of tradition of merit-based, collective hiring.

Not only that, because Harriman Ranch State Park was donated to the State of Idaho only as long as IDPR staff are not politically appointed, this bill could result in the return of the park to the Harriman family. Harriman State Park is a special place for cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and winter photographers and it’s loss would be felt acutely by the Idaho winter recreation community.

Rep. Joe Palmer (R-Meridian) introduced HB 496 to undo Governor Smylie’s legacy. It was killed by a 6-6 split. But then, a couple days later, the bill was revived and passed out of committee to the House Floor.

If you live in Idaho and appreciate and support professional management of our natural areas and want to keep this Idaho gem in public hands, please contact your State Legislators and ask them to vote no on House Bill 496. All you need to do is fill in your information below, add a personal comment and your letter will be delivered to your legislators.

Fill out the letter below to send a letter to your state legislator on the issue.

The Custer Gallatin National Forest has released a Proposed Action for its forest plan revision. This is the Forest Service’s initial proposal for how it might face the challenges of ensuring that growing populations and increasing recreation use on the forest are balanced with protecting the forest’s unique and important ecological role.

Based on the comments they receive between now and March 5 on the Proposed Action, the Forest Service will develop a range of Alternatives. The final revised forest plan will evolve out of that range of Alternatives, so your comments now have a big impact. For more details on the plan and our perspective on it, click here. Otherwise, please submit a comment today using the form below. Editable comments are provided in the message window on page 2.