A fall scene with trees and snow-capped mountains in Alaska's Tongass National Forest

Photo Credit: Flickr

The Trump Administration proposes to allow logging on the Tongass National Forest and exempt it from the Roadless Rule, stripping protections from old growth forests that are vital to the fight against climate change.

One of the world’s largest carbon sinks is under siege by the Trump administration. On Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service proposed to allow logging on 9.3 million acres of Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, which is the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America and one of our nation’s greatest natural treasures. The move would exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule and reverse nearly two decades of conservation that protects a critical ecosystem in the fight against climate change. 

The Tongass is the country’s single most important national forest for carbon sequestration and carbon change mitigation. The U.S. Forest Service estimates the Tongass stores 10 to 12 percent of the total carbon captured by America’s national forests. Many of the trees in the Tongass are over 800 years old, standing over 200 feet tall and 12 feet in diameter. 

A recent IPCC report inventories the impacts of climate change on the planet’s last remaining winter ecosystems: glaciers are melting, coastlines are eroding, and permafrost is disappearing. Alaska is warming at roughly twice the rate compared to the rest of the country, which is causing a profound impact on communities, livelihoods, and ecosystems across the state. Protecting the Tongass is critical to fighting climate change and saving winter.

“Cutting old growth trees on the Tongass has an effect on powder skiing in the Wasatchand elsewhere in the lower 48,” says Hilary Eisen, Winter Wildlands Alliance policy director. “Our snow seasons are getting shorter. We’re getting more rain instead of snow. And not only are we failing to address climate change, but this action actually takes us backwards. It undos 18 years of pro-active conservation work that protected these critical carbon sinks.”

The U.S. Forest Service will publish a draft Environmental Impact Statement to exempt the Tongass National Forest from the Roadless Rule this week. The agency is recommending an alternative that strips longstanding protections against logging and road-building that have been in place since the Roadless Rule was enacted in 2001.

The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration wants to reverse long-standing protections against logging at the “request of Alaska’s top elected officials” who say timber production will boost the local economy. However, the timber industry provides just under one percent of southeastern Alaskan jobs, compared to seafood processing’s 8 percent and tourism’s 17 percent. Logging the Tongass will have a devastating impact to both Alaska’s salmon fishing and tourism. 

The Tongass is home to a wealth of wildlife—including whales, bald eagles, otters, beavers, wolves, and bears. There are five species of salmon in Tongass rivers. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, Alaska’s recreation industry supports more than 70,000 jobs in the state, generating more than $2 billion in wages and salaries. The Outdoor Industry also contributes $7.3 billion to Alaska’s economy. Rivers and forests on the Tongass provide ample opportunities for paddling, climbing, mountaineering, backcountry snowsports, mountain biking, and hiking.

Winter Wildlands Alliance and our partners at the Outdoor Alliance strongly oppose exemptions or exceptions to the Roadless Rule in Alaska—and elsewhere. The Roadless Rule preserves wild landscapes across our National Forest system and provides opportunities for recreation and adventure. It’s also a fundamental tool to conserve sensitive ecosystems and wildlife habitats. The public will have 60 days to provide comment on the Forest Service’s plan to rollback regulations on the Tongass. We will keep you informed as soon as the draft EIS is published and available to the public.

Maybe it’s just us, but it seems like it always snows in early fall. The first snowfall is a tease, a reminder that warm, long days are behind us and the time to prepare for winter is now. For those of us who ski or ride untracked fields of powder, the first snow is a giddy celebration of what’s to come. We’ve got the butterflies for all the ski days ahead. Don’t you? 

To celebrate the first flakes of winter, we are giving everyone who signs up to be a member for Winter Wildlands Alliance a Flylow trucker hat. We only have a few left, so sign up to be a member now. Yeah, we know a membership means a lot more than a hat. It’s joining a far-reaching movement of backcountry skiers and riders who are passionate about untouched lines of snow, who find meditative enjoyment on the skin track, whose best days last not from first to last chair but from sunup to sundown. 

Our members are at the core of everything we do. They support our work in winter conservation. They promote our advocacy for human-powered recreation on public lands. They help us to introduce the next generation to winter. They show up at the Backcountry Film Festival, where we stoke out the community and raise money for grassroots causes across the country.

A hat is not the reason for joining Winter Wildlands Alliance. But it’s made by our partners at Flylow, who include “skiing” in their job description, so you know it’s a hat worth wearing all season long.

Get your hat and become a member now.


BOZEMAN, MT—Crosscut Mountain Sports Center is excited to announce the addition of a new backcountry ski access route to their trail system, starting this winter. Backcountry skiers will be able to use this un-groomed route to access the Bridger Mountain backcountry via Crosscut Mountain Sports Center.

“We’re excited to expand our offerings. Backcountry skiing is among the fastest-growing sectors of the mountain sports world and an activity that fits well with Crosscut’s mission” says Sam Atkins, Crosscut’s Interim Executive Director.

“This new route will provide backcountry skiers a more direct route to access National Forest lands and the terrain around Bradley’s Meadow and Wolverine Bowl. We’re grateful to Crosscut for recognizing and responding to the interests of the backcountry ski community” says Charles Wolf Drimal, Vice President of Montana Backcountry Alliance.

Access is included with a Nordic Season Pass purchase. Backcountry skiers can also purchase an annual uphill pass for $25 or an uphill day pass for $5. More details are here

Winter Wildlands Alliance is also partnering with Crosscut Mountain Sports Center and Montana Backcountry Alliance for a trail work day on October 12 to prepare the new trail for use. Volunteers are needed to help with cutting brush and other trail work. If you’re interested in volunteering, please RSVP by emailing info@crosscutmt.org and plan to meet in the Crosscut parking lot at 10am on the 12th.

I can’t believe we’re only a couple weeks out from the Grassroots Advocacy Conference! There’s still time left to register—don’t miss out on this amazing opportunity to learn about the latest developments in policy and planning issues, gain new advocacy tools, and network with other human-powered winter recreation advocates! 

Last month, I was in D.C. with the Access Fund and American Alpine Club for their 4th annual Climb The Hill. It was an opportunity for Winter Wildlands Alliance to join forces with the climbing community and educate representatives, policy makers, and top land management administrators on the importance of public lands, outdoor recreation, and climate change. We also joined the D.C. Youth Climate Strike activists on their march to Capitol Hill to call for an eventual end to the use of fossil fuels. It was 90 degrees during the Climate March—unseasonably warm, even for D.C.

Back in the office, David and I have been working with Snowlands Network, Friends of Plumas Wilderness, and the Pacific Crest Trail Association to review and craft objections to the (almost-final) Plumas Winter Travel Plan. The Plumas is the last of the 5 California National Forests that started winter travel planning right after the Over-Snow Vehicle Rule was finalized in 2015. We’ve seen some dramatic improvements in in Forest Service winter travel planning as we’ve been working on these plans and the Plumas definitely gets a gold star for “most improved.” Overall, we’re pretty happy with the Plumas plan, and our objections are focused on making a few targeted improvements to better protect historic backcountry ski zones.

Elsewhere in California, David has been leading the charge on Sierra and Sequoia forest planning. In conjunction with our Outdoor Alliance partners, we’re advocating for new Recommended Wilderness areas, better and more sustainable management of outdoor recreation, and protections for backcountry areas that support a wide range of outdoor recreation activities.

We’ve also been working with partners in Alaska to review the Chugach National Forest’s draft forest plan. We’re very concerned about the Forest Service’s proposals to decrease protections for the 1.9 million acre Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area in the Prince William Sound. Despite strong public support for increasing protections for this amazing place, the Forest Service has decided not to recommend key parts of the WSA for Wilderness and they’ve cut important Wilderness management language out of the plan. We’ll be filing an objection to the draft plan to fight for the Wilderness Study Area.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Friends of Plumas Wilderness

The Plumas National Forest published its Final Environmental Impact Statement and Draft Record of Decision for winter travel planning, striking a balance for backcountry skiers.

You don’t need chairlifts to have a strong ski community and heritage. The skiers who take to the hills in the Plumas National Forest know this as well as anyone.

Skiing has a long history in the Plumas National Forest. Winters in the mid 1800s, during California’s gold rush, saw miners speeding down treed slopes on handcrafted, wooden longboards. A century later, the Plumas Ski Club ran a rope tow on a hill where generations of families learned to carve turns on the winter snowpack. Like a lot of mom-and-pop ski areas, the Plumas-Eureka Ski Bowl was a community hub. Volunteers would log hours in exchange for free ski time, and kids were raised on the slopes.

The Ski Bowl shuttered its operations in 2002, but the skiing spirit continues. Every third Sunday in January, February, and March, dope—secret concoctions for ski wax—reigns at the Historic Longboard Revival Race Series. Most other days, backcountry skiers will find that the woods and mountains of the Plumas lives up to its moniker, the Lost Sierra.

“You can truly get lost and get away,” says Darrel Jury, president of the Friends of Plumas Wilderness. “We don’t have the big dramatic peaks, but you can find your little oasis and have it all to yourself. That’s what’s different about here.”

Alongside its ski history, the Plumas also has a longtime boom-and-bust relationship with resource extraction, starting with gold and then timber. In that context, the Friends of Plumas Wilderness is a small, hardworking group devoted to conserving sanctuaries for human-powered recreation in the forest, in both summer and winter. As a grassroots partner, we aim to join their cause and amplify their vision to protect places so quiet they will always feel worthy of the Lost Sierra.

Last month, the U.S. Forest Service published their draft Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement for Over-Snow Vehicle use in the Plumas National Forest. To carry on the long legacy of human-powered and community-centric skiing, the plan in the Plumas OSV plan is a good one, in large part because prior to this process the Plumas had so few protections for non-motorized areas in the winter so there was lots of room for improvement.

The 1.1 million-acre Plumas National Forest has only one Wilderness area: Bucks Lake, which conserves almost 24,000 acres from the lower elevations along the Feather River to 7,017-foot Spanish Peak. The Plumas-Eureka State Park and the Pacific Crest Trail are also motor-free zones. As Jury will tell you, the forest is largely accessed by snowmobiles. But if you know where to go, there are a few remaining places where backcountry skiers can still cut a skin track through undisturbed snow.

Following the lead of the Friends of Plumas Wilderness, we believe the new OSV plan strikes a balance between motorized and human-powered access. It enhances opportunities for backcountry skiing in the places that matter: adjacent to Bucks Lake Wilderness and Plumas-Eureka State Park, on Thompson Peak near Susanville, and along the Triple Crown ski route and the Lost Sierra Traverse. The latter is a multi-day trek along the northern Sierra crest that connects two historic mining towns.

The plan also sets a 12-inch minimum snow depth for snowmobiles, which minimizes the impact motors have on soils, endangered frogs, plants and other cultural and natural resources. It also keeps snowmobile use concentrated in high-elevation areas, which is an important step toward protecting the places below the snowline, where snowfall is rare and infrequent.

For several years, we have been working alongside the Friends of Plumas Wilderness as advocates for human-powered recreation with Plumas Forest Supervisor Chris Carlton and his staff. We submitted scoping comments in November 2015 and last January, we also submitted comments on the draft EIS. Because the plan strikes a balance between motorized and human-powered access, we are overall impressed with the work the Plumas National Forest has done to protect wild places and snow sanctuaries and manage the forest for everyone in the backcountry snowsports community.

However, the process is not over yet and there are still places on the Plumas that we have advocated for and still hope will become backcountry ski sanctuaries. To reduce places of conflict between snowmobile and human-powered recreation and to protect high-value roadless areas in the Plumas, we have several objections to the Plumas OSV plan’s latest documents that we are filing with the U.S. Forest Service. The deadline to submit any objection to the Forest Service’s OSV plan in the Plumas is October 4th. You can read more about our comments and objections here.