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An Open Letter to the Snowmobile Community

Re: Boise, Payette and Bridger-Teton National Forest litigation

Dear Fellow Winter Enthusiasts,

I understand many of you are upset with Winter Wildlands Alliance right now. I also understand the catalyst for your anger is a recent round of alerts from the Idaho State Snowmobile Association and American Council of Snowmobile Associations warning that Winter Wildlands is attacking snowmobiling on the Boise, Payette and Bridger-Teton National Forests through a frivolous lawsuit.

A few of you have reached out directly demanding explanation. Thank you. We’re glad for the opportunity for dialogue. I appreciate and respect your passion for snowmobiling and for winter outdoors. I share your passion for winter and public lands, and I think I understand your anger. I’d be mad as hell if I thought someone was trying to shut me out of my public lands or keep me from doing what I love in a responsible way. The privilege of adventuring into our wild snow-covered landscapes is one I hold dear and I’m here to tell you, despite what you’re hearing from certain leaders in the snowmobile industry, Winter Wildlands has no interest in denying that privilege to anyone.

Mark Menlove and his family using sleds to access a backcountry yurt on the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Photo by Troy Boman.

Many Winter Wildlands members enjoy riding snowmobiles, either as part of their ski day or as another way to have fun in the snow. I myself have hundreds of hours on a sled. My family had snowmobiles growing up (though those old blue SnoJets were a far cry from today’s machines) and just before coming on board with Winter Wildlands Alliance I spent three winters commuting daily by snowmobile to and from a remote cabin where my family and I lived.

I still use a snowmobile on occasion to access backcountry huts and remote trailheads, and I know from experience I can always find common ground with a fellow winter enthusiast. I also know if I make the effort I can find mutual understanding of other perspectives and mutual respect for those who share my passion for winter. Invariably I find far more that unites us in our shared love of winter than anything that might divide us. In an effort toward understanding and respect, I hope you will hear me out in response to the recent alerts.

First, in regard to the litigation we recently filed, here’s the backstory and intent:  In 2015 the Forest Service issued a regulation known as the Over-Snow Vehicle Rule directing each national forest unit that receives regular snowfall to gather public input, analyze current conditions and uses, and then based on that information determine which areas on the forest should be designated as open to snowmachines. The rule includes a passage known as the grandfathering clause that allows forests to carry prior designations into a new winter travel plan if those decisions originally included public input and also meet the rule’s criteria requiring that open areas be located in a way that minimizes impacts to natural resources, wildlife and other recreational uses.

The point of the lawsuit is to ensure that ALL stakeholders have an opportunity to provide input into how each forest manages winter use.

Three forests – the Boise, Payette and a portion of the Bridger-Teton – are interpreting the grandfathering clause to mean they can simply add a sticker to their current winter travel maps, in each case a hodgepodge of piecemeal decisions going back as far as the 1970s, and call it their new winter travel plan. No chance for public comment, no analysis of current conditions, just a rubber stamp that says they’re done. Incidentally, these three are the only forests in the nation attempting this approach. We don’t agree with their interpretation, we’ve taken our concerns directly to each forest to no avail, and now we’re asking the court to clarify the intent of the grandfathering clause.

The point of the lawsuit is to ensure that ALL stakeholders – snowmobilers, skiers and those of us who are both – have an opportunity to provide input into how each forest manages winter use. If forests just cement the status quo then we all lose the opportunity for intentional, balanced planning that will affect future recreation on public lands for years to come. We all know the backcountry is becoming more crowded each winter, with more of us using new technologies, both motorized and non-motorized, to venture out into our favorite places. Thoughtful planning with input from all of us will ensure we can all continue to enjoy our shared public lands in the future.

Winter Wildlands staff get ready for the approach to the Hellroaring Hut in Montana’s Centennial Mountains – 7 miles of snowmobiling followed by 3 miles of skiing.

We don’t take litigation lightly. We do understand it’s sometimes necessary as a last resort—when the feds aren’t listening. In the 17 years since Winter Wildlands Alliance was formed this is the fourth lawsuit we’ve filed against the Forest Service. Official snowmobile organizations have a similar track record as evidenced by the Idaho State Snowmobile Association’s recent lawsuit against the Clearwater National Forest and its lawsuit against the Kootenai/Idaho-Panhandle National Forest.

I don’t fault snowmobile organizations for turning to litigation when they disagree with actions taken by federal agencies. Petitioning the courts for clarification over government action is a right as fundamental to a working democracy as the right to free speech or the right to vote. I for one am deeply grateful we all have the opportunity to exercise that right. And for better or worse, in our great democracy, this is sometimes the only way to be sure things are done properly.

As to the broader claims that Winter Wildlands Alliance is out to eliminate snowmobiling or that we think we should have our kind of recreation but you shouldn’t have yours, let me be crystal clear: that is not true. Yes, we do advocate for balanced planning and management of our public lands to provide for some protected and accessible areas for quiet winter recreation – as just one component of public lands use in a range of other opportunities. That’s our mission. But that doesn’t mean we advocate against snowmobiles. We don’t.

It might be helpful to put those accusations in context: The alert from the Idaho State Snowmobile Association that ignited this round of anger toward Winter Wildlands is a fundraising appeal. I understand the need for fundraising in any organization but it’s disappointing to see some leaders in the snowmobile industry stoop to fear-based and intentionally misleading statements intended to pit snowmobilers against skiers, and to incite anger and distrust as a way of raising money. That approach sells everybody short, disrespects both the motorized and human-powered communities and divides us where we should be unified in our support and defense of public lands and our ability to use them responsibly.

I know there’s a better way to move this conversation forward, and I remain committed to open and respectful dialogue with all those who want to enjoy our public lands in winter. Winter travel planning, the very public process we’re trying to open up for all of us who use and care about the Boise, Payette, Bridger-Teton and other forests across the country, is one of the best ways I know to facilitate that open respectful dialogue. I hope you’ll meet us at the table to advocate for your preferences as snowmobilers and fellow public land owners.

Sincerely,

Mark Menlove
Executive Director
Winter Wildlands Alliance

The latest from the WWA Policy Desk

By mid-September many a skier’s thoughts turn to snowy days ahead, but this year we’re not the only ones praying for snow. With fires raging across much of the West and snow the only hope for truly extinguishing them, Ullr is getting a lot of requests these days.

Between fires and hurricanes it seems the environment is front page news every day. There’s a lot going on that doesn’t make headlines though – Secretarial Orders and legislation that may adversely impact our environment and the way we experience it for generations to come. Right before Labor Day weekend Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued Secretarial Order 3355, which mandates that Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) must be completed within 15 months and not exceed 150 pages. The intent of this order is to streamline National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews and more quickly approve infrastructure projects, which sounds okay at first—we’re all for streamlining bureaucracy as appropriate and had already seen the encouraging beginnings of a shift within the agency toward streamlining special use permitting—but if you look closer is pretty worrisome.

Agencies write an EIS when they need to examine how a proposed project will affect the environment or people. The EIS doesn’t determine the outcome of a decision-making process but it generates the information needed for an agency to make an informed decision, and gives the public a very important window to comment on and engage in the planning process. By setting an arbitrary timeframe and page limit, SO 3355 limits opportunities for public comment during the EIS process, curtails information-gathering (including scientific data collection – it often takes more than a year to gather necessary baseline information), and undermines environmental protections for our public lands. This is just the latest example of the Trump Administration’s continuing assault on public lands.

Meanwhile, things aren’t looking any brighter over in Congress. Last week the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on a trio of scary bills – The Federal Land Freedom Act (H.R. 3565), Planning for American Energy Act of 2017 (H.R. 2907), and State Mineral Revenue Protection Act (H.R. 2661). These bills all have two things in common – they all would undermine public ownership of public lands and advance privatization of oil and gas reserves on public lands.

This week, the same committee held a hearing on the SHARE Act (H.R. 3668) which, among other things, would allow road construction and motor vehicles (including snowmobiles) within designated Wilderness areas. The committee voted to advance this bill to the full House, moving it one step closer to becoming law. And, of course, all of the other bills we’ve discussed over the past 9 months are still kicking too. The good news is that none of these has become law, yet. Help us make sure they never do by taking action today.Let your elected representatives know that these bills are bad news.

At the end of this month we’re heading to D.C. with our Outdoor Alliance colleagues to meet with agency leaders and elected officials. We’ll be advocating for public lands, the public process, and better and more sustainable funding for land management agencies so that they have the resources they need to steward the places we love.

Protecting public lands is multifaceted and complex. In addition to ensuring that these lands continue to be owned and managed by the public, and that we continue to have regulations in place to protect the environment and balance multiple uses, we also have to make sure the land management agencies are following these regulations. To that end, last week, Winter Wildlands Alliance made the difficult decision to file a lawsuit against the Payette, Boise, and Bridger-Teton National Forests. We’re suing over a somewhat wonky issue, but it’s really important for winter travel planning and for the balanced zoning of winter recreation as population and use pressure continue to increase.

Basically, these 3 forests published over-snow vehicle use maps (OSVUMs) based on outdated decisions that don’t comply with the OSV Rule (the winter travel planning regulations we fought hard for). If these maps go unchallenged, they set a dangerous precedent for winter travel planning – allowing forests to essentially cement the status quo and complete the final step in winter travel planning (publishing an OSVUM) without actually doing anything. This is a tempting option for resource-strapped forests but makes all of our past effort to establish a protocol, process and requirements for winter travel planning moot. Winter travel planning is a major campaign for WWA, and central to this campaign is the proper implementation of the OSV Rule. For better or worse, a legal challenge is necessary at this point to keep OSV Rule implementation on track.

By the way, Our upcoming Grassroots Advocacy Conference is an excellent opportunity to catch up on issues important to winter recreation and public lands. From the latest in policy and planning issues to learning new advocacy tools and spending quality lodge time with likeminded folk, it’s going to be a good time. Don’t miss it! Register by September 22 for Early Bird pricing!

Economic Impact of Human-powered SnowSports

[Image source: Outdoor Industry Association]

With well over 10 million participants each season and more than $4.8 billion in direct consumer spending, human-powered snowsports — including backcountry skiing, alpine touring, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing — constitute the fastest growing segment of winter recreation in the United States. Check out our latest economic impact report, including 2017 numbers from the Outdoor Industry Association.

Need a compelling economic reason to protect opportunities for quality, human-powered winter recreation? Look no further!

Economic Impact 2016

 

But First the Good News (April Public Lands Update)

Over the past couple of weeks there hasn’t been much movement on public lands-focused legislation in DC. A couple of good bills had committee hearings and moved forward in the Senate but otherwise it seems that Congress has been pre-occupied with other matters. Public lands have been more in the spotlight at the state level – from Nevadans clamoring for their legislature to designate a Public Lands Day to a Montana lawmaker doing to her best to derail support for public lands. All the same, it’s good to keep track of what’s happening in DC, so here’s a brief update on bills we’re tracking.

Let’s start with the good news…

Although we tend to hear a lot of scary stuff coming out of DC these days, there are a growing number of really good bills that backcountry skiers can definitely get behind. Here are some we’re stoked on:

  • H.R. 502 permanently re-authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), America’s most popular and successful conservation program. This bill continues to gain co-sponsors, so your calls and emails are working!
  • H.J.Res. 195 is a resolution recognizing the importance of environmental stewardship and the urgency of the fight against climate change. This resolution was introduced by a handful of House Republicans and it’s really encouraging to see some bi-partisan support for fighting climate change.
  • S.483 / H.R. 1285, the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, would designate more than 126,500 acres of the Olympic National Forest as Wilderness and designate 19 rivers and their major tributaries as Wild & Scenic.
  • S.507, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act of 2017, would add 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas in Montana, designate new recreation areas for snowmobiling and mountain biking, and ensures the continuation of sustainable timber harvests outside of the protected areas.
  • S.713/H.R. 1791, the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Act, would designate 1.5 million acres of public and private land from Seattle to Central Washington as a National Heritage Area. This designation would improve management of the area and promote economic growth and tourism in the region. It passed through committee in late March and is awaiting a full vote in the Senate.
  • S.566, the Methow Headwaters Protection Act, would protect approximately 340,000 acres of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, including tons of great backcountry ski terrain, from new industrial-scale mine development. It passed through committee in late March and is awaiting a full vote in the Senate.

And the bad bills?

Like facets buried deep in the snowpack, these bills are lurking in Congress and with the right combination of factors they could prove to be disastrous. So far none of these have had a hearing, much less made it through committee or faced a vote, but we’re keeping an eye on them. By letting your representatives in Congress know that you don’t support these bills you can help to keep them from moving forward.

  • H.R.637 and  H.R.958 both seek to undermine efforts to address climate change, by repealing federal climate change regulations and prohibiting the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses.  H.R.861 would eliminate the EPA entirely. Of course, with this guy in charge of the EPA Congress may be the least of our worries.
  • H.J.Res.46 would take away the Park Service’s authority to regulate oil and gas drilling within National Parks.
  • H.R.622 eliminates Forest Service and BLM law enforcement capabilities and puts local sheriff departments in charge of patrolling federal lands and enforcing land management regulations instead, even though local agencies generally lack the skills or resources to deal with issues that arise on public lands. This would leave millions of acres of public land vulnerable to abuse and severely compromise the safety of the recreating public.
  • S.33, S.132 and H.R. 1489 would curtail the historic power of the Antiquities Act by requiring approval from Congress and the relevant state legislature in order for the President to designate a new National Monument. Presidents of both parties dating back to Teddy Roosevelt have used the Antiquities Act to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features across the country. When Congress is seized by partisan gridlock it is sometimes the only tool available to protect these places.
  • H.R. 1349 would amend the Wilderness Act to allow wheeled and mechanized uses within designated Wilderness areas. With approximately 97% of public lands currently available for wheeled and mechanized uses we believe we should all working together to improve recreational access for human-powered users on non-Wilderness lands rather than taking aim at our nation’s strongest conservation law, damaging valuable partnerships, and undermining protections currently in place for what would be a small potential recreational gain.
  • H.R. 232 would authorize state legislatures to purchase up to 2 million acres of land from the Forest Service for the purpose of timber production. Not only does this take public land out of public ownership, it would shift the management of these lands from multiple use (including recreation) to industrial forestry.

How to speak up

A couple of weeks ago we attended a town hall hosted by Montana Senator Jon Tester and somebody asked the Senator for his advice on how best to be heard in DC. His response? Phone calls and emails are the way to go. Congressional staffers listen to your voicemails and they read your emails. Handwritten letters, while nice, take forever to make their way to DC and through security screenings, so they aren’t the best way to communicate with elected officials. Our friends at the Outdoor Alliance posted a really informative blog about how to call your elected officials. Or, you can use the easy-to-customize online tool we’ve developed for you to email your Senators and Representative.

It’s more important than ever for backcountry skiers and others who love our public lands to know about the threats these lands face, and to show support for protecting places where we all play. Help us spread the word by forwarding this email to your backcountry partners and encouraging them to join Winter Wildlands Alliance today.

Thanks for all you do,

 


Hilary Eisen
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager

Watch out for the Whoop-dees!

A couple of nights ago I met up with some friends for a beer and eventually our conversation turned from skiing to protecting the public lands where we ski. Perhaps feeling inspired by memories of the past weekend, my friend Chris came up with the perfect metaphor. “It’s like you’re getting towed behind a snowmobile going 70 miles per hour. It’s not fun. You’re going to hit some whoop-dees with your knees locked.  You might crash and get dragged for a while. But you can’t give up and let go because if you do you’re lost.” This pretty much sums up public lands advocacy in 2017.  It’s hard, we’ll get beat down from time to time, and we’ve got to be persistent if we want to succeed.

On Thursday the Trump Administration released its budget blueprint and it’s a nightmare for public lands, the climate and our environment. This proposed budget cuts spending across most federal programs, including federal land conservation and environmental protection. Under this proposed budget, Forest Service conservation efforts are a low priority and funding for the Department of Agriculture overall would be cut by 21%. The budget also reduces Department of Interior funding by 12%, with land acquisition being particularly hard hit. Under the President’s budget, funds for federal land acquisition would be cut by at least 75%.

This disproportionate cut is despite the fact that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the main vehicle for federal land acquisition, enjoys strong bi-partisan support across the country. The President’s budget disregards other aspects of our environment too – the Environmental Protection Agency faces among the biggest cuts of any agency – 31% – and funding for climate change research and mitigation efforts are slashed across all agencies. Thankfully, Presidential budgets are more political statement than reality. At the end of the day, it’s Congress who sets the federal budget and this fight is far from over.  We need you to contact your representatives in Congress and tell them the President’s budget is unacceptable. Let them know that you support increased funding for public land agencies, including for land conservation, and that we must do more to protect our environment.

And, speaking of Congress, Winter Wildlands Alliance is continuing to track bills in the House and Senate. There hasn’t been much movement lately, but that could change at any time.  Here’s a quick overview of the ones that have caught our attention:

Public Lands

  • H.R. 622 proposes to eliminate the Forest Service and BLM’s law enforcement ability and provide grants to local law enforcement agencies to patrol on federal lands instead. This takes away the Forest Service and BLM’s ability to steward our public lands and protect the safety of the recreating public and puts these responsibilities in the hands of local agencies who may not have the resources or skills to enforce federal regulations or choose to do so.
  • S.33 and  S.132 would curtail the Antiquities Act by requiring congressional approval as well as approval from the relevant state legislature in order for the President to designate a new National Monument. H.R. 243/S. 22 is similar but the would only apply to the state of Nevada.
  • H.R. 1349 would undermine the Wilderness Act by allowing wheeled and mechanized uses within designated Wilderness areas.
  • H.R. 232 would authorize state legislatures to purchase up to 2 million acres of land from the Forest Service for the purpose of timber production. Not only does this take public land out of public ownership, it would shift the management of these lands from multiple use to industrial forestry.

Climate Change and the Environment

  • H.J.Res.46 would roll back the National Park Service’s authority to regulate private oil and gas drilling within National Parks.
  • H.R.637 and  H.R.958 both seek to undermine efforts to address climate change, by repealing federal climate change regulations and prohibiting the EPA from regulating greenhouse gasses.  H.R.861 would eliminate the EPA entirely.

Those bills are scary…are there any positive bills I could be rooting for?
There are! There are a couple of really good public lands bills in Congress that we’d love to see pass this session. Please ask your representatives to support these bills:

  • H.R. 502 would permanently re-authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund
  • S. 483 / H.R. 1285, the Wild Olympics Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, would designate more than 126,500 acres of the Olympic National Forest as Wilderness and would designate 19 rivers and their major tributaries as Wild & Scenic. To learn more about the Wild Olympics check out this blog by the Mountaineers.
  • S. 566, the Methow Headwaters Protection Act, would protect approximately 340,000 acres of  the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, including tons of great backcountry ski terrain, from new industrial-scale mine development.  For more information visit www.methowheadwaters.org.
  • S. 507, the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act of 2017, would add 80,000 acres to the Bob Marshall, Scapegoat, and Mission Mountains Wilderness Areas in Montana, designate new recreation areas for snowmobiling and mountain biking, and ensures the continuation of sustainable timber harvests outside of the protected areas. For more information visit www.blackfootclearwater.org.

What can I do? 
Our public lands need your voice. Please, call (202-224-3121) or write your representatives in DC on a regular basis to tell them what you think about the bills they’re considering. We’re here to help, by letting you know what Congress is up to and providing an easy way for you to email your Senators and Representative. Remember, advocacy work is a marathon, not a sprint. We don’t want you to burn out in the first few months, so pace yourself because there’s a long road ahead.

Thanks for all you do,

Hilary Eisen
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager