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.

It’s been a busy month at Winter Wildlands Alliance. David Page, our advocacy director, has been road-tripping across California, going from Stanislaus travel planning meetings to Sierra-Sequoia forest planning meetings to California outdoor recreation lobbying days in Sacramento and then more travel planning meetings. Meanwhile, I jetted across the country to Washington D.C. to tout our vision for the Custer Gallatin forest plan and talk policy with the Forest Service Washington Office. Actually, I climbed a number of hills this month: after Capitol Hill, I went to the Wind River Range for some backcountry climbing. And throughout it all, we have been planning the 8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference.

Grassroots Advocacy Conference
October 24-27
Join policy makers, athletes, grassroots activists, scientists, educators, and other recreation and conservation stakeholders and activists from across the country for two full days of engaging workshops and discussions on issues important to public lands, winter and sustainable recreation. Get the latest developments in policy and planning issues, share grassroots successes and strategies, meet with public land managers, gain new advocacy tools and spend quality time with colleagues, partners, new friends and allies. Visit the conference website find out more and to register!

NEPA
This is where you and the rest of our members and community have been instrumental. Together, we rallied 600 letters to send to the U.S. Forest Service about their proposed revisions to their NEPA regulations. The agency received more than 42,000 letters total. Forest Service officials have assured us the proposed revisions are a starting place and they will be taking public comments seriously as they develop the final rule. If you’d like to read the letter we sent the U.S. Forest Service, you can read it here. They have certainly heard an earful about the importance of scoping and concern about many of the proposed new Categorical Exclusions, so hopefully they make some serious changes!

Travel Planning
Earlier this month, the Stanislaus National Forest hosted an objection resolution meeting concerning their winter travel plan. This was the last public step in the winter travel planning process and a chance for anybody who filed an objection to the draft plan to discuss their objections and proposed resolutions. We objected to the Stanislaus amending its forest plan to permit motorized use in highly sensitive Near Natural Areas (critical habitat for the endangered Sierra Nevada Red Fox). We also objected to the Stanislaus designating a few important backcountry ski zones for snowmobile use and not properly managing motorized use adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail. The objection meeting had many participants with different opinions, and now it’s up to the Forest Service to take everything they heard and decide what, if any, changes they’ll make before finalizing the winter travel plan.

The Plumas National Forest published a draft winter travel plan and final EIS last week. We’re still reviewing it, but our partners at Friends of Plumas Wilderness are tentatively optimistic about the plan. Objections to the Plumas draft plan are due in early October.

Forest Planning
I went to Washington DC earlier this month with two colleagues from our Outdoor Alliance Montana coalition (representing Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association and the paddling community). We met with the USDA Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment and the Forest Service staff who oversee forest planning and the dispersed recreation, Wilderness, and travel management programs. We discussed the vital importance of forest planning, specific issues facing the Custer Gallatin, and the Outdoor Alliance Montana vision for the revised forest plan.

Meanwhile, David has been working with Outdoor Alliance California to review and comment on the Sierra and Sequoia forest plans. The draft plans were published in June and the comment period wraps up on September 26. The Sierra and Sequoia face the challenge of integrating and managing for outdoor recreation, traditional timber interests, and wildland conservation. We’re working with recreation and conservation partners to create and advocate for vision for the Sierra and Sequoia that meets these challenges.

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.