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

By Mark Menlove, Executive Director

As I boarded a 5:20 a.m. flight in Boise bound for Washington, DC, it struck me, again, the direct connection and interdependence between the backcountry world, where I go to rejuvenate, and the policy world of DC, where I go to advocate. Just the day prior I’d woken up in the middle of Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness where I’d been exploring on skis with Winter Wildlands Ambassadors Kt Miller and Forrest McCarthy and here I was — less than 24 hours later, ski gear traded for a business suit — headed to meet with members of Congress, the body responsible for designating “The Frank” as Wilderness and ensuring that remarkable landscape remains as it is – pristine, physically and mentally demanding and soul-replenishing – for future generations.

The DC visit was at the invitation of our partners at The Conservation Alliance for advocacy training with their board of directors and member company ambassadors followed by a day of Capitol Hill visits with key members of Congress. Hosted at the DC offices of the Pew Environmental Group, the training day included sessions on conservation policy, working effectively in the current political landscape and specific threats/solutions to our public lands born of the Public Lands Heist movement. Indicative of the interest and engagement from the outdoor industry in protecting our public lands, this year was the largest Conservation Alliance gathering ever.

We heard from partners in the conservation world, hunting and angling groups, the Outdoor Industry Association and our own DC-based policy experts from Outdoor Alliance. More than a decade ago, Winter Wildlands Alliance got together with our counterparts from the climbing, paddling, hiking and mountain biking worlds to form Outdoor Alliance. Our investment is paying huge dividends with the collective voice of the human-powered recreation community, led by the savvy Outdoor Alliance staff, emerging as the go-to thought leader in keeping our public lands public and engaging our community to speak up in defense of our shared inheritance of public lands.

In part because of WWA’s focus on winter travel planning efforts across the Sierra, I had the privilege of joining a team of representatives from California-based companies Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot, Camelbak and Toad & Co. in meeting with Congressional offices from California.

We met with offices of newly elected California Senator Kamala Harris, Representatives Paul Cook, Salud Carbajal, Jared Huffman, and Nevada Senator Dean Heller. In each meeting we delivered a message of keeping our public lands public by opposing any efforts to sell off or transfer public lands to states; to protect the integrity of the Antiquities Act; to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund; and to support California-specific bills such as the California Central Coast Heritage Protection Act and the Northwest California Mountains and Rivers legislation.

I can tell you that the combination of world-renowned outdoor businesses with a strong stakeholder group like Winter Wildlands Alliance representing constituents from each of these Congressional Districts who vote and who care about protecting public lands creates a powerful messenger. The message was heard loud and clear.

It was also clear that we – all of us who love public lands – have our work cut out for us in protecting these magical places that belong to all of us from continuing threats. Meanwhile, I take huge comfort and find deep inspiration in the knowledge that we have found our collective voice and that that voice is powerful.

Before DC, exploring winter in Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

Caroline Gleich and Rachel Spitzer, artwork by Jeremy Collins. Photo credit: Caroline Gleich

WE GOT A TON OF POSITIVE FEEDBACK after sending out our legislative update last week so we’re back with another update today. We’re here to help the backcountry community stand up to protect our public lands and environment, so without further ado, let’s drop in!

Public Lands Heist

Across the country Americans are speaking out against the public lands heist. In Utah people packed into a town hall meeting hosted by Representative Chaffetz, challenging him on his support for overturning Bears Ears National Monument and other efforts to undermine our public lands. WWA Ambassador Caroline Gleich was in the crowd and shared her trip report on the Outdoor Alliance blog. And, we just found out last night that the Outdoor Retailer trade show is leaving Utah in response to Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s resolution urging the Trump administration to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument and Utah’s overall assault on public lands.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, skiers, hikers, hunters, and many others are gearing up for a public lands rally on March 4 to tell their elected officials to #KeepItPublic! What’s happening in your state?
Here are the bills we’re currently tracking related to the public lands heist:

    • S.J.Res.15: Last week, the House voted to pass H.J. Res. 44 and throw out BLM Planning 2.0, which provides for public input in the planning process. The bill is now in the Senate, filed as S.J.Res. 15. If passed BLM land management planning would revert to the days of limited public participation and recreation voices struggling to be heard. For more information, check out this Outdoor Alliance blog post.
      Please call your Senators today and tell them to vote “no” on S.J. Res. 15. If you don’t know your Senate office numbers directly, call (202)-224-3121 to be connected to your Senate offices (just tell them what state you’re calling from).

 

    • HR 622 proposes to eliminate the Forest Service and BLM’s law enforcement ability. This bill has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry and the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands and these committees will determine whether or not to advance the bill.

 

  • H.J.Res.46, a resolution to roll back the National Park Service’s authority to regulate private oil and gas drilling within National Parks, has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Please tell your reps that you don’t support HR 622 or H.J.Res.46 and they shouldn’t either. We need Federal and local law enforcement to work together to protect our public lands and natural resources. As for deregulating oil and gas drilling in National Parks: really? NO. These bills jeopardize our public lands and should be shot down immediately. 
It’s not all bad news though. This week Congressmen Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) and Dave Reichert (WA-08) introduced a resolution affirming that our Federal public lands are national treasures that belong to all Americans.  When you contact your representative ask them to support H.Con.Res.27 rather than voting to undermine our public lands system.

The Environment

Meanwhile, as if undermining our public lands system weren’t enough, some members of Congress have their sights set on gutting our bedrock environmental laws and the agencies that enforce them. The Environmental Protection Agency—now headed by Scott Pruitt, one of the agency’s staunchest opponents—is at the center of this fight and we’re watching a number of bills on this front:

    • H.R.637 – Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017. This bill would repeal federal climate change regulations and prohibit agencies from regulating greenhouse gases in any way. Regulating greenhouse gases is the key to slowing or reversing climate change and that’s a pretty big deal. As skiers, we’d like the next generation to be able to experience the joys of winter. We don’t need Congress undermining efforts to address climate change.

 

    • H.R.861 – To Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency.  The title spells it out pretty clearly – this bill would terminate the EPA on December 31, 2018.  The EPA is the agency that’s tasked with protecting human health and the environment. It’s kind of a big deal and anybody who enjoys breathing clean air, drinking clean water, or living and recreating in a healthy environment should be a fan of the EPA.  Seriously, they do a LOT of important things!

 

  • H.R.958 – To eliminate certain programs of the Environmental Protection Agency, and for other purposes.  The text of this bill isn’t posted online yet, but the title has us pretty concerned.

Action: Tell your reps to vote NO on these bills. The EPA and our environmental laws were enacted in response to burning rivers and silent springs and we don’t need to go back to those days. 

Meanwhile, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo), opened hearings Wednesday to “modernize the Endangered Species Act,” which sounds a lot like yet another attempt to gut important regulation. We and our partners will be keeping a close eye on that one as well!

The most effective way to speak out in defense of public lands is to call your representatives in Congress and urge them to vote against bills that threaten our public lands or undermine our bedrock environmental laws. You can call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to get connected to your political reps. If you prefer email, however, we’ve created a web portal that allows you to easily email your senators and representatives. Whether you call or email, it’s important to let them know what you value as a constituent and what your thoughts are on the bills they are considering.

Thanks,

Hilary Eisen
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager

Winter Wildlands Alliance Ambassador Caroline Gleich at a public meeting on Bears Ears National Monument during the summer of 2016 (@carolinegleich): “Showed up at 9 am, waited in 95 degree heat for two hours to get a spot in this room. I’m not going to lie and say that attending these meetings is the most glamorous part of activism. It’s not. It’s uncomfortable. It’s slow- it can take all day- The crowds can be intimidating and at times it feels like a battleground. Preparing a thoughtful statement requires research and preparation and practice. No matter how many times I practice, my voice quivers when I start to speak. My hands shake. It’s a huge adrenaline rush. But I’m stoked to be here and make my voice heard. #protectbearsears “

 

Town Hall 101

 

For more great tips and further reading check out Caroline’s Where Do We Go From Here: How To Become a Citizen Activist.

Black Diamond co-founder Peter Metcalf speaks on behalf of leading outdoor companies urgingPresident Barack Obama to permanently protect the Bears Ears region in southeastern Utah. Deseret News.

Silverton Heli-Ski Expansion

The BLM is considering permitting expanded heli-ski terrain in the Silverton, CO backcountry.  The problem?  The areas in question include easily-accessed frontcountry terrain (including groomed trails!) and popular backcountry ski areas.  Local skiers are worried about being displaced from their favorite spots and are asking the BLM to think about ways to better balance heli-skiing with other backcountry uses.  The BLM has released a preliminary environmental assessment and is accepting public comments on the proposal until December 12.

While we aren’t opposed to heli-skiing, and we’d like to see Silverton Mountain and Silverton Guides continue to thrive, we have serious concerns about this proposal. If the BLM allows Silverton Guides to expand their heli operation into the areas they’ve requested they will be heli-skiing in places that are already heavily used by backcountry skiers, Nordic skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers.  This is certain to cause conflict and displace existing uses – after all, would you want a helicopter landing on top of you in avalanche terrain? We would like Silverton Guides to consider different, more remote, areas to expand into.

 

Comments are due December 10.  Your comments should outline what your concerns are but also offer recommendations on how to improve or alter this proposal.  This could include simply sticking with the status quo (the “no action” alternative).  Don’t forget to include your: name, address, and familiarity with areas in question.  The subject of your email to the BLM should read “Silverton Guides EA”

Talking points you may want to include in your comments:
  • Areas proposed for heli-ski expansion overlap with popular backcountry skiing areas posing safety risks and user conflicts.  Areas close to town and easily accessible by human-powered recreationists should be avoided.  There is plenty of other terrain easily accessible by helicopter that is too remote to access by foot and would therefore not create conflict between users.  Recommend that BLM not permit heli-skiing in areas close to town that are used by human-powered skiers.
  • Areas proposed for heli-ski expansion pose avalanche hazard directly over open county roads (CR110 and CR 2).  Recommend that BLM not permit heli-skiing above open or groomed roads.
  • Noise impacts from helicopter use and avalanche bombing in downtown Silverton.  Recommend that BLM not permit heli-skiing in areas close to town.
  • Minimal analysis of impact to Lynx and wintering Elk.  Recommend input from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
  • Proposal does not add users days to Silverton Guides permits therefore economic benefits from additional tourism are overstated.  Rather, negative impacts to backcountry skiing and snowmobiling may reduce tourism for these types of recreation.  Ask that the BLM more fully analyze economic impacts.
  • Recommend winter study to assess user impacts and avalanche hazards
  • Recommend that Silverton Guides be required to post daily flight plan so backcountry skiers can avoid helicopter use
  • Recommend that Silverton Guides be restricted from flying in popular backcountry areas on weekends
  • Recommend that Silverton Guides be required to attach Recco reflectors to all bombs before dropping them so that unexploded ordinance can be quickly recovered
  • Recommend a requirement that Silverton Guides staff be AMGA or otherwise certified
Don’t forget, the subject of your email should read “Silverton Guides EA”