December 10, 2017 is the last day to submit public comment on the Shoshone National Forest’s latest winter travel plan. The final plan will have major repercussions for skiing and snowboarding on the forest, especially in frontcountry zones such as Togwotee Pass and Beartooth Pass.

The National Park Service recently announced that it is considering increasing entrance fees to $70 at 17 of its most popular parks – Acadia, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Denali, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, Mount Rainier, Rocky Mountain, Olympic, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Shenandoah, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion. This increase would double, and in some cases triple, current entrance fees. We are very concerned about how the proposed fee increase would impact the public’s ability to access and enjoy the National Parks and we oppose the fee increase in its current form. If you enjoy visiting National Parks we encourage you to comment on the proposed fee hike.

Almost all of the Parks included in the proposed fee hike are world-class destinations for skiers, many of which have a ski season that extends into the peak season when the proposed fee increase would be in place. However, our concern about this fee increase goes far beyond backcountry skiing. We strongly believe that entrance fees should never be set at levels where people are priced out of enjoying their public lands.

The Park Service is proposing this fee increase, which is projected to generate $68 million, in order to address an $11 billion maintenance backlog. We accept that fees increases are appropriate or necessary in some limited circumstances but we cannot and should not address a multi-billion-dollar maintenance backlog on the backs of Park visitors. This fee increase strikes us as unreasonably high, particularly when proposed in conjunction with overall Department of Interior budget cuts to the tune of $1.5 billion, including a $380 million cut to the Park Service budget. This backlog is the result of decades of systematic underfunding of the land management agencies, including the Park Service, by Congress. A much more appropriate course of action would be for the Administration to work with Congress to appropriate adequate funds for the Park Service each year and for Congress to pass the National Park Service Legacy Act, which would establish a dedicated park maintenance fund to invest a more substantial amount toward the Park Service repair backlog.

The Park Service is accepting comments on the proposed fee increase until December 22.

Click here to submit a comment

On October 3, 2017, the Lassen National Forest released a Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RDEIS) for its new winter travel plan. The final public comment period on the plan closes November 20. The Lassen, which straddles California’s northern Sierra and southern Cascades and surrounds Lassen Volcanic National Park, is the first forest in the country to write a comprehensive winter travel plan under the 2015 Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) Rule, so what happens here is very likely to impact winter travel planning across the country.

Forest planners want to get it right on the Lassen, and have assured us that they are eager to incorporate substantive comments into the final plan, so we hope to get as many skiers and human-powered winter enthusiasts as possible to send in comments. Read on for some quick background and our notes and concerns on this latest revised draft, or click here to send the forest service your comments using our handy template.

Quick Background

As the guinea pig (or, perhaps, avalanche poodle), the Lassen NF has been working since 2015 — with some stops, starts, and re-dos — to set a course for how to go about writing a winter travel plan and complying with the OSV Rule. As we go through the process with them, we’re also learning – how to clearly articulate our winter travel planning vision to the Forest Service, how and when to reach out to other stakeholders, and how to better engage you – our members and supporters.

The forest published an initial draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) in early 2016. The 2016 DEIS analyzed four Alternatives, or potential plans, including one based on the “Skiers Alternative” submitted by WWA and Snowlands Network. At that time, we told the Forest Service that we supported the skiers alternative, with modifications to account for impacts to wildlife, wilderness lands, and natural resources (exhibit A of us learning as we go – when we developed the skiers alternative we left too much to interpretation and the Forest Service’s interpretation wasn’t quite in line with our vision).

After considering all of the public’s comments on the DEIS the Forest Service wrote a “Selected Alternative”, or draft plan, which they put out for public review in August 2016.  This 2016 draft plan was a slight improvement over the status quo but did not meet the requirements of the OSV Rule on many fronts. For example, the plan did not propose management of snowmobiles under the new legally mandated framework of “closed unless designated open.” Instead, it proposed the opposite, identifying a few areas to close to over-snow vehicles and leaving the rest of the forest open to OSVs by default.

In September 2016 Winter Wildlands Alliance, Snowlands Network, and 6 other organizations filed objections to the Lassen’s draft winter travel plan. In response, the Forest Service went back to the drawing board to develop a new alternative and revise their draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Which brings us back to this newly-released Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RDEIS) and the current comment period.

We Support the New Alternative 5

The new draft plan contains a much more thorough environmental analysis than the 2016 version, and also includes an encouraging new alternative — Alternative 5 — developed in response to objections.

The 4 alternatives that had been in the 2016 DEIS are still included, with a few modifications to bring them (mostly) in compliance with existing laws and policy. All of the alternatives now identify specific areas where OSVs are allowed and prohibit OSV use outside of these areas. This corrected approach is a big improvement. However, the Forest Service’s “Modified Proposed Action” (Alternative 2) is otherwise almost exactly the same as what was proposed in 2015 — it does not protect important quiet recreation areas or wildlife habitat and would designate as open for OSV use low elevation areas that rarely receive snow. Likewise, Alternatives 3 and 4 are also essentially the same as in 2015.

Alternative 5: Areas and Trails to be Designated under Subpart C and Groomed for OSV Use (Click for larger version)

Alternative 5, however, addresses all of the concerns that we had with the previous draft plan, and lays out a winter travel plan that balances motorized winter recreation with quiet recreation and protection of wildlife and the environment. Alternative 5 designates OSV use areas in places where people actually go snowmobiling (preserving all of the opportunities the snowmobile community values) and doesn’t designate places that don’t make any sense (like low elevation areas that don’t get snow).

Alternative 5 also does a much better job of protecting wildlife habitat – not designating any critical deer winter range as open for OSVs – and doesn’t designate OSV use within any of the quiet recreation areas that we identified. In addition, Alternative 5 protects the quiet, non-motorized character of the Pacific Crest Trail by prohibiting OSV use within at least 500 feet on either side of the trail, except at a few designated crossing points. Finally, alternative 5 would designate a 12-inch minimum snow depth standard across the forest – meaning that OSV use would not be allowed on any trails or in any areas until those trails/areas have a minimum of 12 inches of snow. This snow depth standard protects underlying resources including soils, vegetation, and subnivian habitat, and also complies with State of California OSV grooming standards.

Your Comments Really Matter!

The Forest Service has assured us that they do not have a preferred alternative at this time. All options, including everything in Alternative 5, are on the table. For this reason, it’s incredibly important that people participate in this public comment period. Whether you’re a local who can speak to particular areas on the forest, or somebody who’s never set foot in northeastern California but cares deeply about winter travel management on National Forest lands, this comment period matters. Alternative 5 sets a really good course for the Forest Service as it embarks on winter travel planning, and provides a good example for other forests to follow. We appreciate the effort that the agency has put into developing this alternative and we’d love to see the final plan closely resemble it.

We urge you to comment in support of Alternative 5 before the comment period closes on November 20, and we’ve developed a nifty online commenting portal to help you do so.

Click here to comment now.

What happens on the Lassen will impact winter travel planning across the country. The comment period is only open until November 20. Please use the form and template below to submit your comments.

Photo by Luc Mehl

ON JULY 10 THE PUBLIC COMMENT PERIOD for Interior Secretary Zinke’s National Monument review closed. In just under two months over one million people weighed in, with the vast majority — 96%! —telling Zinke to leave our National Monuments alone. It was an unprecedented show of public lands advocacy, and we could all be forgiven for thinking our work was done for now.

Unfortunately, no such luck. Zinke followed up after this comment period with proposals to downsize Bears Ears National Monument and we expect the same for many of the other monuments. And while much of our attention has justifiably been focused on defending monuments, the Trump Administration and Congress are busy chipping away at our public lands in other, less overt, ways.

The public lands heist is a tangled web, but there are essentially four major threads: (1) new legislation, (2) changes to regulations and the agencies that enforce them, (3) reviews and rollbacks of existing protections, and (4) administrative restructuring. Together, these efforts share a common goal – to separate the public from our public lands and to allow industry, especially the energy industry, to squeeze every last penny of possible profit from our common heritage.

Legislative efforts to sell or transfer public lands are the most obvious piece of the public lands heist. However, because these efforts are so blatant, they are quickly beaten back and we’re seeing fewer and fewer attempts to float this type of legislation. Instead, Congress and state legislatures are now pushing bills to transfer management of public lands – from taking away federal agency law enforcement responsibilities to putting the states or local counties in charge of timber sales and energy development on public lands.

Congress is also busy rolling back regulatory protections put in place by a variety of previous administrations to protect our public lands, wildlife, air, water, and the public at large, so that industry can develop and profit from public resources with less cost and oversight – increasing industry profits at the direct expense of the American people.

Meanwhile, the Trump Administration is implementing an ambitious agenda to “streamline and reorganize” the Executive Branch, which includes all of the public lands agencies. Important conservation and recreation programs, as well as entire agencies, are on the chopping block. And as the Trump Administration proposes deep cuts to staff and funding for public land agencies with one hand, they’re also directing the same agencies to do more to facilitate fossil fuel development with the other.

Furthermore, while the Trump Administration and Congress are making it easier for industry to exploit our public lands, it’s becoming harder for the public to access and enjoy them. The Administration is pushing the public lands agencies to focus all of their capacity toward expediting fossil fuel development. At the same time, Congress has systematically reduced funding for these agencies, with greater reductions each year. Given less staff and fewer resources, and with clear direction from above to prioritize energy development, federal agencies have little choice but to abandon recreation and conservation programs and to increase fees wherever possible to cover budget gaps.

Meanwhile, they also have to triage their resources – maintaining only the most popular trails, putting up gates when they can no longer maintain roads or motorized routes, and closing campgrounds and picnic areas as they fall into disrepair and the funds are not available to fix them. We’ve also seen more and more instances of agencies having to farm out maintenance and other services to for-profit corporate “partners” whose mission is not the protection and stewardship of our lands for the benefit of all but rather the increased profit of a few shareholders.

As public lands become more difficult to experience and enjoy – because of new or increased fees, or because the routes we depend on for access or other types of recreational infrastructure have fallen into disrepair – the public becomes increasingly disconnected from these lands. As we lose this connection we will also lose the incentive to fight to keep public lands public. And, as the agencies are starved for resources and prevented from doing their jobs, many people begin to question why the government even owns and manages so much land. It doesn’t take long to go from devaluing the civil servants who manage public lands to losing interest in maintaining public ownership of these lands at all. This is the long game that public lands heist proponents are playing. We can’t let them win.

You can speak up for public lands today by clicking here to send a letter to your elected officials in Washington D.C. Help us keep the pressure on.


Hilary Eisen

Recreation Planning and Policy Manager

P.S. Want to do more? Share this post with your ski partners and social media friends and get them to speak up too. Or get in touch and we can brainstorm other ways for you to amplify your voice.