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.

This month we were in D.C. with our Outdoor Alliance colleagues (including policy staff from all of the OA member groups) to assess our work thus far into the current administration, to talk strategy for the coming year, and to meet with Congressional offices on the Hill.

It was a productive whirlwind. It’s always fun to hang out with our OA colleagues and brainstorm how we can work together to protect public lands and human-powered recreation experiences. And by teaming up with the climbers, paddlers, and mountain bikers, we’re able to get our issues in front of way more offices. And when we speak as a united team on behalf of the entire human-powered outdoor recreation community we have a lot more political power.

On the Hill, we advocated for the bi-partisan Recreation Not Red Tape bill, which OA helped to draft, plus a fire funding fix, the permanent re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and to defend the original Nation Monument designations for Bears Ears and the Antiquities Act. These are all things that affect all forms of outdoor recreation on public lands, including snowsports.

Forest and Winter Recreation Planning

While we were in D.C., we also met with the Forest Service’s Washington Office staff who oversee the travel management program. Keeping things pretty high level, we updated them on how winter travel planning is playing out here in the West, and shared our thoughts on what we thought was working and what wasn’t.

We’re trying to find ways to make winter travel planning less intimidating, so that forests start to prioritize getting it done and doing it right. The D.C. staff seemed keen to talk about opportunities to front-load the process with collaborative efforts, and we are hopeful that they might provide some guidance to forests to encourage this approach. Until Congress appropriates more money to the Forest Service (and fixes the fire borrowing issue) they have to keep trying to figure out how to do more with less, and winter travel planning won’t happen the way it should unless we can convince each Forest that it’s a priority and worth the effort. Well-grounded, facilitated collaboratives can help make travel planning easier, which helps in convincing Forest Supervisors and District Rangers that it’s something they want to prioritize.

Another major focus this month has been Custer Gallatin forest planning. The Custer Gallatin National Forest is home to Montana’s highest and snowiest peaks, some of the best ice climbing in the country, and tons of great skiing. The comment period for the Proposed Action ends on March 5 and WWA’s Policy Director has been busy participating in two collaborative groups (love those collaboratives!) and writing comments on behalf of both Winter Wildlands Alliance and Outdoor Alliance Montana. In this forest plan revision, we are advocating for new areas to be recommended for Wilderness, as well as changes in over-snow vehicle suitability to reduce conflicts with skiers in the Bozeman area, and to build a foundation for winter travel planning on the eastern half of the forest (the west half already has a winter travel plan).

Also this month, in California, WWA’s Advocacy Director participated in an informal, 11th-hour stakeholder collaborative with snowmobilers, backcountry skiers and others on the Lassen National Forest’s winter travel plan. Stay tuned on that; we hope to be able to share high-level points of consensus and some notes on the process —what worked and what could be improved — in the coming weeks.

New Backcountry Alliance!

Getting after it in the Tetons. Photo by WWA ambassador Kim Havell

This month Winter Wildlands Alliance welcomed its newest grassroots group: the Teton Backcountry Alliance. We’re stoked to have an organized voice for skiers in the Tetons, covering the region from Teton Pass to Grand Teton National Park and beyond, where there’s no shortage of issues affecting skiers. We’ll be working with this group to help them get their feet under them in the coming months.

Trails Stewardship Grant Opportunity!

Finally: we recently learned that the Forest Service has scraped up a little funding to continue their National Forest System Trails Stewardship Funding Program in 2018. Last year they awarded $250,000 to trail projects across the country. This year, there’s $400,000 available (don’t ask us how they managed to increase this part of their budget). If your organization does stewardship work, this could be a great opportunity – last year the money went towards maintaining trails, installing signs, surveying trails, and improving trailheads and campgrounds. They’ll start soliciting applications on March 1 (with application deadline April 15), so if this is something you’re interested in shoot Hilary Eisen an email for more information.

 

The Custer Gallatin National Forest has released a Proposed Action for its forest plan revision. This is the Forest Service’s initial proposal for how it might face the challenges of ensuring that growing populations and increasing recreation use on the forest are balanced with protecting the forest’s unique and important ecological role.

Based on the comments they receive between now and March 5 on the Proposed Action, the Forest Service will develop a range of Alternatives. The final revised forest plan will evolve out of that range of Alternatives, so your comments now have a big impact. For more details on the plan and our perspective on it, click here. Otherwise, please submit a comment today using the form below. Editable comments are provided in the message window on page 2.

COMMENTS DUE FRIDAY FEBRUARY 2!

EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE something pretty rare comes along and you can’t help but take notice. For instance, early this morning we witnessed a super blue blood moon eclipse. That happens even less than once in a blue moon! Along the same lines, of things that happen “once in a blue moon” (or less), the Forest Service is taking a new look at what they do to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and they’re accepting preliminary comments through the end of this week.

The NEPA process is the environmental review the Forest Service does whenever they make a major decision. It helps ensure that public lands and waters remain healthy, resilient, and attractive outdoor recreation destinations and it’s the primary avenue that we, the public, have to participate in decisions about the way Forest Service lands and waters are managed. The vast majority of comments submitted thus far in the process are from the extractive industry – it’s time for the outdoor recreation community to speak up.

Click here to submit a comment on regulations.gov

Because of the way the Forest Service is collecting comments we’re unable to provide a one-click comment template for you to use. You’ll have to write your own letter. But feel free to use the following talking points:

  • I strongly support the principles of NEPA and believe that environmental review and public comment are a vital components of the land management decision-making process, since it helps to ensure that public lands and waters remain healthy and resilient.
  • I urge the USFS to approach any changes to the NEPA regulations carefully so that the agency has the tools needed to ensure that the lands they manage remain attractive recreation destinations for a wide range of users.
  • I believe NEPA and environmental review are important to preserve opportunities for the recreating public to participate in decisions about the way the agency’s lands and waters are managed.
  • The Forest Service should continue to invest in more up-front public process, including collaboration, to help improve and expedite project planning and implementation.
  • One way the Forest Service could streamline its approach to NEPA is to better utilize programmatic, landscape-scale analysis and decision-making, with tiered project-level analysis and appropriate use of categorical exclusions.
  • The Forest Service should not consider expanding upon existing categorical exclusions to enable larger-scale salvage logging.

Comments are due Friday. Act now!

Over 90% of winter recreation takes place on public lands.