Senators Daines (R-MT) and Gardner (R-CO) champion #bipartisan effort to reauthorize LWCF, America’s favorite conversation program.

Winter Wildlands Alliance policy staff has been in Washington D.C. this past week for our annual Outdoor Alliance policy summit, as well as to check in with Federal land management agencies and meet with members of Congress. Congress is still limping through its lame-duck session, and it’s our last chance to make a case for legislation we’d like to see included in a possible last-ditch, year-end public lands package, and to get some important bills passed into law before having to start over with the new Congress next year.

With Democrats in control of the House and its committees, we expect to see House Republicans putting more pressure on the agencies as a way of achieving their policy priorities outside of the legislative process.

As many bad bills as there are in Congress these days (and there are plenty!), there are some good ones too. One of our top priorities has been to bring back the Land and Water Conservation Fund (#SaveLWCF). Congress let this program expire in September despite the fact that it’s America’s most popular conservation program, with broad bi-partisan support, and a critical source of funding for public land acquisition and recreation infrastructure. We’re still getting mixed beta from Senate offices and members of Congress about whether it’ll get re-authorized — either permanently or temporarily — and at what level, but we’re staying optimistic in these final days of the session.

Which brings me to the primary topic of this policy update – what will the midterm election results and a new Congress in 2019 mean for backcountry skiers who love public lands?

As you will have heard by now, Democrats won enough House races to take back control of the House of Representatives next year, while Republicans maintained control of the Senate. For the past two years, all three branches of government have been controlled by one party, but starting in January we’ll return to a divided government. In the House, the Democrats will control the agenda, forcing both the White House and Republican-controlled Senate to negotiate with them. Given our partisan politics, we expect there will be a lot of vilifying going on too, with each party continuing to focus on blaming the other for the nation’s woes. So, what do we think this means for public lands?

  • Legislation: We expect the scariest legislative threats – such as large-scale public lands transfers and attempts to gut environmental laws – to fade. These attacks on public lands and the public process have been driven by House Republicans and now they don’t have the votes to move these extreme proposals. At the same time, with a hyper-partisan divided Congress, we’re not sure that Congress will get much done in the legislative arena at all.
  • Investigations: With Democrats taking control of the House, we’re expecting a lot of investigations into the conduct and decision-making of Trump Administration officials. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is likely to be on the hot seat as Legislators look into his decisions to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, among other controversial actions of the past two years.
  • Confirmations:The Republicans have strengthened their majority in the Senate, which will likely make it easier for the President to get the 60 votes needed to confirm his nominees, from the Courts to the Cabinet. Many federal appointments are currently vacant and the rumor mill is churning with word that Secretary Zinke is on his way out. Although Zinke has been a huge disappointment for public lands enthusiasts, we’re not optimistic about who his replacement might be. In fact, there are some frightening nominees waiting in the wings to take positions across the federal public lands agencies. It’s no secret that the Trump Administration and Senate Republicans are highly motivated to change the federal judiciary by confirming as many conservative judges as possible. This will have a delayed, but major, effect on environmental and administrative law, with conservative judges likely giving less deference to land management agencies in how they interpret the laws that govern public lands management.
  • Pressure on the Agencies: It’s not unusual to see members of Congress putting pressure on the Forest Service or other land management agencies. Most recently, we saw members of the Congressional Western Caucus weighing in on winter travel planning in California and asking the Forest Service to re-evaluate any potential restrictions on snowmobile use and even to reconsider the planning process itself. With Democrats in control of the House and its committees, we expect to see House Republicans putting more pressure on the agencies as a way of achieving their policy priorities outside of the legislative process.

We’ll see how these predictions play out in the coming year. For the next week or so, we’ll remain focused on the lame duck session, with fingers crossed that we can get a few things across the finish line in the next couple of weeks!

 

 

 

 

Hilary Eisen, Policy Director

October has been a busy month here at Winter Wildlands Alliance! Last week, we wrapped up a meeting in Boise with other conservation partners, representatives from snowmobiling organizations, Forest Service staff, state biologists, and Fish and Wildlife Services biologists. We came together to talk about how winter recreation impacts wolverines, and to start working toward science-based recommendations that we can all agree on for managing winter recreation in wolverine habitat. It was just the first meeting of many, but we’re optimistic and excited to engage with such a broad range of partners in a collaborative manner.

Meanwhile, we’re nearing the end of the public comment period for the Chugach Forest Plan. The Chugach, America’s northernmost national forest, is soliciting public feedback on the draft EIS they have developed. The Chugach features spectacular coastal mountains with some of the best and wildest backcountry terrain in the world. In this planning process we’re advocating for Alternative D. Comment now (Public comment period ends November 1)!

Also in Alaska, we’re continuing the engage in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park backcountry management plan. Right now the Park Service is looking for comments from those who have personal connections to Wrangell-St Elias. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Wrangell-St Elias, please consider telling the Park Service about your experience. Comments are due October 31.

We directed a lot of attention to Alaska in October but Utah is on our radar as well. Alaska has been working on getting an exemption to the Roadless Rule in order to open up untouched coastal rainforests on the Tongass to commercial logging (that comment period ended October 15). Now Utah is drafting a petition, asking the Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service for an exemption to the federal Rule and permission to write a state-specific Rule, just like Alaska. We’re working with our Utah-based grassroots groups to stand up for roadless lands in Utah. Stay tuned to our channels in case the opportunity arises for people outside of Utah to weigh in!

We’re also still working to save LWCF. Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund expire on September 30. There are two bills that would permanently reauthorize and fully fund LWCF – Senate bill S. 569 and House bill H.R. 6759. Please contact your Senators and Representative and ask them to both support these bills and push for a vote before the end of the year.

And hot off the press: the Plumas National Forest just published a draft EIS for its winter travel plan. Public comments are due December 10. Stay tuned for our outreach on that!

Finally, don’t forget to vote (and vote for public lands!) on November 6!

Carston Oliver, Wasatch Mountains, UT. Photo by Adam Clark

The state of Utah is gathering public comments to inform a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to propose scaling back or entirely doing away with Roadless protections on national forests across the state. Please take action today to Keep the Wasatch Wild!

The Roadless Rule helps protect backcountry areas on our national forests — like those on the Wasatch — from unnecessary road building, logging, and development. It’s intended to “provide lasting protection in the context of multiple-use management” for the 60 million acres of roadless areas on our National Forests and Grasslands. Extensive road building in conjunction with commercial timber is prohibited on these roadless areas, but they are still open for lots of different recreational activities, including backcountry skiing (and snowmobiling, hiking, climbing, hunting, mountain biking, etc.). While these areas are protected from new development, the Roadless Rule is less restrictive than Wilderness areas in terms of what it does and does not allow.

The Roadless Rule is widely supported by the public. But as with many environmental protections in these times, it’s under attack. Earlier this year, Alaska lawmakers tried to get an exemption from the Roadless Rule included into the Congressional spending bill. But the public spoke up against this and lawmakers dropped the attack. Then Alaska decided to ask the Department of Agriculture (which oversees the Forest Service) for an exemption to the Rule and permission to write its own, Alaska-specific Rule. Permission was granted to Alaska and now Utah is clamoring to be next in line.

Lawmakers claim to be open to the idea of keeping some areas protected as they are today. But if Utah is allowed to move forward with writing its own version of the Roadless Rule, it could open up a number of prime backcountry ski zones (and other recreation areas) to unnecessary development. This rulemaking process will also swallow up a ton of the Forest Service’s time trying to unnecessarily revise a Rule that works well and is popular with the public.

Unlike the Forest Service’s existing 371,000-mile road network, which has an estimated $3.2 billion maintenance backlog, the Roadless Rule is not in need of repair. We don’t need more roads in Utah’s backcountry when we can’t even maintain the ones we already have. Help get the message across to Governor Herbert – Utah should leave the Roadless Rule alone.

Take Action to Protect Roadless Lands in Utah! 

Use the form below to send in a comment to the Governor’s Office

Photo by Luc Mehl

Public Comment Period Closes November 1, 2018!

The 5.4-million-acre Chugach National Forest in southcentral Alaska, America’s most northerly national forest, is currently revising its outdated 2002 Land Management PlanCovering an area the size of New Hampshire, stretching from the snowy peaks of Prince William Sound to the Kenai Peninsula, the Chugach features spectacular coastal mountains with some of the best and wildest backcountry terrain in the world.

QUICK TAKE: The forest’s Draft Land Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) analyzes the potential effects of four management alternatives. We prefer Alternative D.

What’s at Stake?

  1. WILDERNESS: Within the boundaries of the Chugach lies the 1.9 million acre Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area (WSA), created in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). A truly wild and roadless landscape that also includes the highest concentration of tidewater glaciers in North America, this area deserves the highest level of permanent protection in the new forest plan. Alternative D recommends full Wilderness designation for 97% of the Nellie Juan-College Fjord WSA!
  2. ROADLESS PROTECTIONS: Given that state politicians are pursuing Rulemaking to carve out an exemption to the National Roadless Rule for Alaska, the Chugach should incorporate specific protections for lands comprised of Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs).
  3. WINTER RECREATION OPPORTUNITY SPECTRUM (ROS): The draft plan does not include a winter-specific recreation opportunity spectrum. Instead, it has a broad hybrid category dubbed “semi-primitive non-motorized winter motorized allowed.” Given the differences in use, access, and setting during winter versus summer, and as winter motorized use is not appropriate everywhere on the forest, the revised plan should include separate ROS classifications for winter. This will also set the stage for winter travel planning, required under the 2015 Over-Snow Vehicle Rule, by helping the forest service better define where over-snow vehicle use is and is not suitable.
  4. SUSTAINABLE RECREATION: We appreciate that the draft plan includes plan components and language related to recreation opportunities, settings, special uses, access, and scenery. However, these must be better integrated throughout the plan. A full complement of desired conditions and guidelines, including measurable objectives that link plan components to monitoring and adaptive management, is necessary for the plan to provide a clear path for sustainable recreation management into the future.

Alternative D Best Addresses These Concerns. Voice Your Support Now!

Photo by Luc Mehl. thingstolucat.com

  1. Submit a comment today (see instructions below and feel free to borrow language above or use this sample letter as a template);
  2. Support Alternative D for the way it addresses our primary concerns;
  3. Support management and monitoring that keeps the Nellie Juan-College Fjord WSA in wilderness quality condition. The draft plan would manage this area based on its existing characteristics. In the limited areas where evidence of human use or impacts have occurred, the Forest Service should work to restore the Wilderness quality experience wherever possible.
  4. Request that the Chugach include a winter-specific Recreation Opportunity Spectrum in the final plan. 

How to Comment

A 90-day comment period began August 4, 2018 and closes on November 1. Comments may be submitted in any of the following ways:

  1. Click here to submit comments online;
  2. FAX comments to (907) 743-9476;
  3. Mail or deliver written comments to:

Chugach National Forest Supervisor’s Office
Attn: Draft Land Management Plan
161 East 1st Street, Door 8
Anchorage, AK  99501

Please be as specific as possible in your comments, identifying locations and activities of specific interest or concern to you.

Comments received regarding this Draft Land Management Plan, including commenter’s names and contact information, will become part of the public record.

Submitting comments will automatically add you to our email list.

To view comments in the reading room click here.

For more resources, visit our Chugach National Forest page.

Comment Deadline is Tuesday October 9

The Stanislaus National Forest‘s draft winter travel plan attempts to establish a balance for winter management that allows for appropriate snowmobile routes and play areas, and also provides some limited protections for important non-motorized recreation zones, wildlife, and natural resources. Click here for a link to the high-res map (pdf) of the forest’s “preferred” Alternative 5.

However, the forest’s proposal, as written, fails to minimize user conflict and impacts to sensitive wildlife (including critically endangered Sierra Nevada red fox) in the following key areas:

  • Pacific Valley and Eagle/Night Near Natural Areas
  • The Herring Creek area immediately adjacent to the Leland Snowplay Area on Highway 108
  • Osborne Hill and other Nordic touring terrain to the immediate east and west of Lake Alpine
  • Areas between Cabbage Patch and Black Springs and Mattley Ridge off Highway 4
  • Route 7N02 in the Big Meadow Area for non-motorized touring to the Stanislaus Canyon overlook

Use the easy form below to submit specific, customizable comments in support of wildlife and human-powered recreation.