Jeremy Jones Kicking Steps on the Tahoe National Forest
Photo by Ming Poon

 

FOR AS LONG AS I’VE BEEN BACKCOUNTRY SKIING, Memorial Day weekend has been an important part of my ski season. It’s when the Beartooth Pass just outside of Red Lodge, MT opens for the summer, providing easy access to high elevation spring snow from an 11,000 ft. starting point. From steep couloirs to crust cruising across alpine plateaus, the Pass provides everything my little skier heart desires. And, skiing there reminds me why the work we do with Winter Wildlands Alliance is so important.

Becker Lake in the Beartooth Mountains is within the High Lakes Wilderness Study Area.
BRETT FRENCH/Billings Gazette Staff

Much of the terrain that skiers access off of the Pass is within the High Lakes Wilderness Study Area in Wyoming and has been protected to preserve wilderness character for the past 33 years. WSA status has protected the area from road building and other forms of development, prohibited summer motorized use, and limited how much snowmobiling occurs. Right now, however, the future of this WSA is up for debate and non-motorized recreation and conservation interests are getting the short end of the stick. At the same time, the two national forests accessed from the Pass, the Shoshone and Custer Gallatin, are working on plans that will directly impact future backcountry skiing experiences across each forest. Winter Wildlands Alliance is involved in all of these conversations and planning efforts, advocating to protect wild and quiet snowscapes.

We’re also working hard in California, which continues to be the center of attention when it comes to winter travel planning. Last month, just as we neared the finish line on the Lassen winter travel plan, the Tahoe published a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for its winter travel plan. Overall we’re pretty happy with what the Tahoe is proposing. We’re advocating for a few targeted changes to the preferred alternative to address lingering concerns around popular backcountry and Nordic ski zones.

Our friends at Tahoe Backcountry Alliance hosted an open discussion session and comment-writing happy hour in Truckee.

Unfortunately, misinformation has been spreading like wildfire through the Tahoe snowmobile community and many are under the impression that the Forest Service (and Winter Wildlands Alliance) is out to shut down snowmobiling on the forest. They’ve rallied thousands of comments and gotten the local ultra-conservative Congressmen fired up. Skiers have been bullied and intimidated and many are shying away from commenting. Click here for coverage of the controversy and process by the Reno Gazette Journal.

We need backcountry skiers, splitboarders, Nordic skiers and snowshoers to speak up and provide substantive and thoughtful comments!

We’ve got tons of information on our website. Please, if you haven’t already, take a moment now to comment on the Tahoe travel plan and to share the comment page with all your friends and ski partners.

Finally, no policy update is complete without a nod to D.C. It seems that no major piece of legislation is complete these days without an attack on National Forest roadless areas. First we had the budget bill, where Senator Murkowski (R, AK) tried (and failed) to insert amendments that would have exempted Alaska’s national forests from the Roadless Rule. Then we had the House Farm Bill.

“While some snowmobile riders are worried about losing forest access, others who have studied the proposal say potential losses are less drastic than some perceive. ‘We are not trying to get rid of snowmobiling altogether,” said Jim Gibson, vice president and secretary of Snowlands. “We just think the current 85% motorized/15% nonmotorized split needs more balance.'” — Benjamin Spillman, Reno Gazette Journal

Because the Forest Service is within the Department of Agriculture, the Farm Bill includes provisions that affect national forest lands. The bill includes convoluted language about roadless area management that could be interpreted to eliminate current regulatory protection of Inventoried Roadless Areas. And, more blatantly, the bill exempts Alaska’s national forests from the Roadless Rule to increase logging of old growth forests. Although the Farm Bill failed to pass on May 18, House Republican leadership is planning to bring the bill up for a second vote on or before June 22nd. The Senate is also working on their version of a Farm Bill, which we could see later this month. The Farm Bill is an important and complex piece of legislation that many people’s livelihoods depend upon. There’s no need to bog it down with unpopular, unnecessary, and controversial add-ons like these attacks on the Roadless Rule. Stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Prime backcountry and Nordic ski zones are at stake in the Tahoe National Forest’s latest draft winter travel plan. Now is our chance to make sure these areas get the protections they deserve. Public comments due by MAY 29. Use our easy online form to personalize and submit your comments today.

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.