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

 

 

 

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.

 

Protecting the Backcounty

Together, the Inyo, Sierra, and Sequoia National Forests cover nearly 4.6 million acres of public land in the Southern Sierra, including Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States, the Kern River, the Needles climbing area, the Buttermilks, and some of the wildest, most dramatic sections of the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail. These three forests offer some of the best alpine climbing, bouldering, backcountry skiing, whitewater boating, mountain biking, trail running, and backpacking in the world, all within a short drive of the largest and fastest-growing population centers in the West.

The Forest Service is currently in the final stages of planning for how it will manage these areas and activities for the next 20-30 years. At stake are things like recreation access, infrastructure development and maintenance, trails, scenic viewsheds, permitting for guides, outfitters and educational groups, wilderness designations, and the possibility of new scenarios for stewardship and forest partnerships.

Furthermore, as “early-adopters” in this new planning process, these forests will set the tone and framework for upcoming planning on other forests in California and across the country. Winter Wildlands Alliance is working on these forest plans with local partners Friends of the Inyo, Sierra Nevada Conservancy, Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access Foundation (MLTPA), the Eastern Sierra Recreation Collaborative and others, as well as our national coalition partners at Outdoor Alliance.

The Forest Service published draft plans for the Inyo, Sierra, and Sequoia in May 2016.  We worked throughout the summer of 2016 to help skiers and other outdoor recreationists comment on the plans – providing input on how they could be improved to better address quiet recreation, protect forest resources, and ensure that these forests remain spectacular for generations to come.

 

Public Informational Meeting, Inyo National Forest, Mammoth Lakes

Draft Plan Documents

 

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.