From the beginning, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has been an important tool for skiers to protect wild backcountry areas. So when the U.S. Forest Service proposed revisions to the way they implement NEPA—including rollbacks to public participation on the vast majority of projects and decision-making on public lands—they should have expected the public would have something to say about it.

Monday, August 26th was the deadline for commenting on the Forest Service’s proposed new NEPA regulations. The agency received over 42,000 comments on the proposed revisions—and over 600 of those comments came from people using the Winter Wildlands form!

Forest Service officials have assured us that the proposed revisions are a starting point. They’ve said they will be taking public comments seriously as they develop the final rule. They have certainly heard an earful about the importance of scoping and concern about many of the proposed new Categorical Exclusions—it’s our hope they take the time to think through any changes they make to their NEPA regulations and maintain integrity to the environmental law.

In addition to the form letter that 600 of you sent, we sent the U.S. Forest Service a 13-page letter outlining in detail our critique and comments about their revisions. Our most pressing concern is how far the Forest Service goes to scale back public engagement and environmental analysis. We also oppose any changes that would remove scoping—an essential and invaluable step in the NEPA process and an opportunity for the public to learn about potential projects. Finally, we are deeply concerned by the proposed categorical exclusions, which have the potential to significantly impact our outdoor recreation opportunities and conservation values.

WWA NEPA comments (1)

Watching the Amazon go up in flames is devastating. It’s hard to even describe our grief because the loss is so profound. The National Institute for Space Research used satellite imagery to detect a 77 percent increase in wildfires compared to last year. To make the gut-punch even worse, these fires were intentional. They were set by people attempting to clear the land, to rid the earth of one of its most vital and important resources.

We, and the rest of the world, are outraged. But we still feel helpless. Besides eating less Brazilian beef and donating to environmental NGOs that protect the Amazon, there’s really not much we can do.

But there is something we can do to save the world’s largest temperate rain forest: Alaska’s 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest, which is also facing imminent threats of destruction.

The Tongass is one of the world’s largest carbon sinks. Because it’s a cold, wet forest, it is especially good at capturing and dissolving carbon. A soil scientist with the U.S. Forest Service estimates the Tongass stores 10 to 12 percent of the total carbon captured by America’s national forests.

And yet, the state of Alaska is seeking exemption from the federal Roadless Rule, which would open up vast swaths of the Tongass to intensive logging. Not only would logging spell the end for the old growth forests, it would be a climate disaster. An exemption from the Roadless Rule would also fragment wildlife, endanger salmon streams, and make the Tongass more vulnerable to invasive species.

A bill is currently in Congress that would make the Roadless Rule law, permanently protecting the Tongass and millions of acres of roadless national forest in our country.

The Tongass is home to a wealth of wildlife: whales and bald eagles, otters, beavers, wolves, bears. There are five species of salmon in Tongass rivers. Alaskan First Nations, including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, have continuously lived in the Tongass for thousands of years.

Our representatives can’t do much to protect the Amazon. But they can take action to protect the Tongass. Contact your Congressperson and ask them to co-sponsor the Roadless Area Conservation Act.

Introducing the keynote speaker for the 8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference and Wild Weekend: James Edward Mills

James Edward Mills, the keynote speaker for the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, holds skis and walks over snow

Photo Credit: Courtesy James Edward Mills

A freelance journalist, James Edward Mills tells stories that often fall at the intersection of “outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living.” The author of The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors, Mills is a strong voice in our community and he’s written often about diversity, equity, and inclusion in the outdoor industry. 

“When I started my career, the industry’s images, ads, stories, and videos were almost completely devoid of people who looked like me, and diversity was rarely, if ever, discussed,” wrote Mills in an article published on SNEWS in June. “Today the issue is recognized as one of the highest priorities we face as an industry and has not one but two acronyms (DEI for diversity, equity, and inclusion and JEDI for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion). Corporate leaders uniformly agree: The business of outdoor recreation must adapt to the country’s changing demographics and culture.”

We want to continue the conversation at this year’s Grassroots Advocacy Conference with the theme: “Growing Equity in the Outdoors.” Following Mills’ keynote speech on Thursday evening, panels on Friday and Saturday will press into questions we need to address together. How do we make room for everyone in the outdoors? How do we empower grassroots people to make the changes they want to see in public lands? What can we all do about overtourism, the impacts of recreation on wildlands, and climate change? 

You don’t want to miss this conversation. James Edward Mills is the keynote speaker for the Grassroots Advocacy Conference and Wild Weekend. Buy tickets to see his talk on Thursday, October 24, at the Basque Center in Boise, Idaho. Register for the Grassroots Advocacy Conference now. 

Before we gather in Boise at the end of October, here’s some advanced reading. This is an excerpt from Mills’ blog, the Joy Trip Project, about the questions we can ask right now to make the outdoors more inclusive. 

James Edward Mills, keynote speaker of the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, wears a fur-lined snow jacket for protection from the cold

Photo Credit: Courtesy of James Edward Mills

This excerpt from Mills’ blog has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How do YOU make the outdoors more inclusive? 

By James Edward Mills

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For more than 50 years, with periodic amendments and additions of protected classes, discrimination in the workplace on the basis race, gender, age, sexual orientation, military service or disability has been probibited in both private and public institutions. For the lifetimes of most working adults, just about every job or profession has enjoyed the legal protection of being “an equal opportunity employer.”

And yet, a generation after this landmark initiative was signed into law, there are still wide disparities in the makeup of the U.S. workforce. In many professional environments—including banking, engineering, architecture and computer science—there remains a dearth of people of color, women, the disabled, and those who identify as LGBTQ as rank-in-file employees, middle managers, or senior executives. Though many sectors of our economy are making positive strides toward improving the diversity of job candidates, interns, trainees and permanent staff members, at least one major employer lags woefully behind.

The Outdoor Recreation Industry still has a lot of ground to make up in its ability to engage, recruit, and retain a workforce that reflects the demographic reality of the American public. 

Recognized as an annual contributor to the Gross Domestic Product in excess of 2 percent, the Outdoor Industry remains reliant upon both customers and employees that skew toward a constituency that is mostly male, white, college-educated, socially mobile, and middle to upper class. These companies and organizations are dedicated to providing goods and services to those who play outside, and yet they are failing to connect with an emerging population that is increasingly more brown, gender neutral or non-conforming, time-constrained, lower-income, and urban.

If the Outdoor Industry is going to survive this cultural shift of the American economy, most institutions will have to change their way of doing business. Though few, if any, have deliberately discriminated against under-represented members of the communities they serve, the time has come to actively reach out and embrace these minorities groups. Because in the foreseeable future, they will become the majority.

Many in the Outdoor Industry are now aware that they have a diversity problem. Retailers, manufacturers, outfitters, environmental nonprofits, and land management agencies have an interest in finding solutions that are substantive and sustainable. However, most are struggling to find best practices that are authentic and genuinely reflect their sincere desire to be equitable and inclusive of all people. Though some are doing a better job than others, there should be a few abiding principles upon which everyone can agree to begin and continue this very important work.

How do you make the outdoors more inclusive? What are we doing to make DEI in the outdoors a reality? I’m interested in hearing your stories. Share with me your struggles and challenges, your failures. What are your hopes and ambitions? How are you achieving them? What are your best practices? What does your success look like? 

James Edward Mills, keynote speaker for the grassroots advocacy conference, hikes across snow on backcountry skis

Photo Credit: James Edward Mills

Here are a series of questions to individuals and executives across the outdoor industry. I want to know what is actually happening beyond the desire to change the face of the outdoors. I hope this can be a framework for broader discussion from which we can create real solutions. Let’s just have a conversation.

Start with a declaration of intent:

  • Why is DEI important to the long-term success of your business or organization?
  • What are your goals and aspirations? Not vague notions of an equitable work environment, but what your real quantifiable objectives?
  • How will you monitor and affirm your progress?

How do you reach and engage with your customers, members, or audience?

  • Where do you advertise? Who are your ambassadors?
  • Does your outward appearance reflect your intentions as an institution that values DEI?
  • Are you sensitive to the interests and values of all the people you aim to reach?

How do you recruit new hires and develop a workforce?

  • Where are you looking for new customers and new employees?
  • Are you presenting your organization with language and culturally relevant messaging that your target audience understands and embraces?
  • Does your internal culture reflect your intention to create a professional environment where everyone is welcome and encouraged to participate?

How do you retain employees?

  • What are you doing to keep the new customers and employees you have engaged?
  • Is your internal culture supportive of an individual’s ability to thrive and grow?
  • Do your customers and employees imagine a future with your organization? How are you helping them to secure that future?

How do you help employees and community grow?

  • Do you encourage mentoring?
  • Is there a clear path of matriculation from one rung of the career ladder to the next?

To read more of James Edward Mills’ work, check out his blog, The Joy Trip Project. And don’t forget to register for his keynote event at the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, part of our Wild Weekend, on Thursday, October 24, in Boise, Idaho. 

 

From the beginning, the National Environmental Policy Act has been an important tool for skiers seeking to protect wild backcountry areas. 

Photo: Mineral King Valley/Creative Commons

Right now, the Forest Service is considering some broad, potentially devastating changes to how it implements NEPA that could scale back your ability to have a voice over your public lands. Their proposed changes would roll back the public process from about 93% of all Forest Service projects, and in some cases, eliminate public notice altogether.

Industry groups and extractive companies who know their actions have a big effect on the environment would like to see NEPA rolled back to make it easier and faster for them to develop public lands. The Forest Service also has not been very efficient in how they’ve done environmental analysis in the past, and there are legitimate reasons for them to pursue some modest reforms. It’s essential that they proceed cautiously, though, because changes to NEPA could come at a big cost for the environment and for your ability to participate in decisions around public lands and waters.

The Forest Service is accepting public comments on these proposed revisions until August 26. We’ve made it easy to share your thoughts directly with the Forest Service through the link below.

Click Here To Comment Now

 

Photo Credit: USC Libraries/Mineral King Development Records

Mineral King is a sub-alpine glacial valley in the southern Sierra Nevada that was annexed into Sequoia National Park in 1978. It once was a place used by Native American tribes, including the Wikchúmni Yokut and the Tübatulabal. Today, it’s a scene that rivals Tuolumne Meadows or other High Sierra valleys, with a few remote campsites and a handful of summer cabins that were built in the 1940s. The area is remote; trails connect it to the rest of the national park. From the west, a narrow, winding road grants access from late spring to early fall. As soon as snow falls, the road shuts down and allows Mineral King to rest in solitude, save for the few backcountry skiers who are up for a long approach.

But it almost wasn’t that way. 

Had President Nixon not signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on January 1, 1970, Mineral King may very well have become a huge, bustling ski resort with 22 lifts, a gondola, a five-story hotel with more than a thousand rooms, a movie theater, general store, pools, ice rinks, tennis courts, and a golf course. 

In February 1965, the Forest Service invited proposals for a ski resort in Mineral King and they accepted the bid from the Walt Disney Company, which envisioned a ski resort sprawling across the valley with 3,700 vertical feet and four-mile-long ski runs. To build the ski resort, they would have had to build a highway through the National Park. Clearly, it would have been a huge construction project on the edge of Sequoia National Park with a massive impact on the forest area and local wildlife, despite Mineral King receiving a designation by Congress in 1926 as a national game refuge. The New York Times summed up the “Battle of Mineral King” in a story published in 1969, pitting nature-lovers fearing a ‘winter Disneyland’ against the federal government and major commercial interests. 

In 1969, the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against Sequoia National Park, Sequoia National Forest, and the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture. A trial judge issued a preliminary injunction, which halted the project until the case reached the Supreme Court. The Sierra Club argued that the ski resort development would “adversely change the area’s aesthetics and ecology.” But the lawsuit was struck down in 4-3 vote by the Supreme Court on April 19, 1972.

Enter NEPA.

It’s hard to imagine now, but before NEPA, one of the only tools to fight for the environment was litigation. NEPA passed Congress by a large, bipartisan majority in 1969, including a unanimous vote in the Senate. When Nixon signed it into law, NEPA triggered “a revolutionary change in governmental decision-making that is important to this day,” according to the Environmental Law Institute. In a statement given just before NEPA’s passage to law, Senator Henry M. Jackson said, “The basic principle of this policy is that we must strive in all that we do to achieve a standard of excellence in man’s relationships to his physical surroundings.”

In the case of Mineral King, NEPA required the Forest Service and Walt Disney Company to engage in a public process that would study and analyze the impacts of their proposal on the environment and public health before construction began. As the Sierra Club amended its lawsuit, Disney was required to complete an Environmental Impact Statement, which included a period of review for public comment. The final 600-page statement was released in February 1976. By then, Disney realized the scope of their project’s environmental impact and they walked away. In 1978, President Carter authorized Mineral King’s annexation to Sequoia National Park. 

Photo Credit: USC Libraries/Mineral King Development Records

 

For more stories about how NEPA has saved our environment and the places we love to recreate, head over to ProtectNEPA.org.

 

 

 

Shana Maziarz crosses the Hulahula River to start a long day of earning turns in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Brennan Lagasse

IT’S BEEN A COUPLE OF MONTHS since the last Winter Wildlands Alliance policy update, not because there’s nothing to talk about, but because I ducked out of the office this spring to track wolverines in Mongolia. While in Mongolia, I ran into some unexpected challenges that illustrated how climate change is impacting wild snowscapes across the globe. It reminded me that, as backcountry skiers, our adventures take us to the world’s wildest places and we’re often among the first to see them change. As credible witnesses to the impacts of a changing climate on our mountains and snowscapes, backcountry skiers are in a unique position to speak up.

This is why, earlier this month, with our Outdoor Alliance partners, we submitted a range of testimony to the House Subcommittee on National Forests, Parks, and Public Lands for a hearing on the impacts of climate change on public lands recreation (scroll down to see the letter we submitted). Testimony included front-lines accounts from Winter Wildlands Alliance ambassadors Caroline Gleich (writing from Mount Everest), Luc Mehl (from Alaska), Brennan Lagasse (recently returned to Lake Tahoe from the Arctic) and Clare Gallagher (from Colorado), as well as our friend Ben Hatchett, a climate researcher in Northern California/Nevada.

You can share your own experiences with lawmakers and urge them into action by joining the Adventurers for Climate Action campaign today!

Meanwhile, we’ve been staying busy this spring with ongoing winter travel planning and OSV use designation in California, among other things. Over the past couple of months, we filed an objection to the Stanislaus winter travel plan and participated in objection resolution meetings related to the Eldorado and Tahoe winter travel plans. Each of these plans has many positive elements, but through the objection process we hope to improve a few key shortcomings and help the Forest Service develop solid winter travel plans for the central and northern Sierra. We had similar objections to all three draft plans: we’re concerned about the designation of some high-value backcountry ski zones (and designated near-natural areas) for open snowmobile use, the failure to protect the non-motorized character and experience of the Pacific Crest Trail, and the failure to adequately address the Forest Service’s legal obligation to minimize over-snow vehicle impacts on natural resources and wildlife and on non-motorized activities.

Meanwhile, in Montana, forest planning on the Custer Gallatin is in full-swing. The Forest Service released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the revised forest plan in early March. The comment period ends June 6. There are few places in the country where world-class outdoor recreation opportunities overlap with a landscape as wild, and intact, as the Custer Gallatin. Through work in a variety of coalitions, we’re advocating for a vision for the forest that balances conservation, recreation, and wildlife values. Find out more and submit a comment online here.

In other policy news, the state of Utah has petitioned the US Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service to exempt Utah from the Roadless Rule, which rule happens to protect the majority of backcountry ski terrain in Utah. We’re working with Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, Outdoor Alliance, and our partners in Utah’s conservation community to push back against this attack on the Roadless Rule. You can help out by sending a letter to USDA Secretary Perdue and Under Secretary Hubbard using Outdoor Alliance’s online form. Perdue and Hubbard have been feeling the heat and haven’t responded to Utah’s petition, yet. Help us keep the pressure on.

Finally, I want to bring your attention to Minnesota, where the Trump Administration recently renewed federal leases for a sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Boundary Waters are an amazing place to visit in winter, providing endless opportunities to cross-country ski, showshoe, and winter camp in one of the quietest places in the country. This week, Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum introduced legislation compelling the U.S. Forest Service to complete a study on toxic mining near the Boundary Waters and halt mineral leasing in the watershed of the Boundary Waters until the study is complete. Our partners at Save the Boundary Waters are leading the charge to protect this special place, and you can get involved here.

We’ve updated the Bill Tracker page on our website if you’re interested in seeing what other legislation we’re supporting, and tracking, on the Hill this year. There are a number of good bills, including bipartisan legislation to establish full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Act, a House bill to protect the Arctic Refuge, and legislation to codify the Roadless Rule and put an end to state-by-state exemptions from the Rule.

That’s all for now!

Hilary Eisen, Policy Director


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