Never in the long history of our public lands system has there been such a broad array of serious, systemic threats—political, philosophical, economic and environmental. These are lands we all own together. Lands we all care about and depend on. How can we work together, starting at the grassroots level, to confront these threats, improve our approaches to public land management, improve access for all people, and at the same time ensure the long-term sustainability of natural landscapes and ecosystems?

We believe the first step is to host an inclusive gathering of colleagues, stakeholders and fellow activists to ask hard questions and talk solutions that will inspire and empower people to get involved in their public lands. 

Join us in Boise the last weekend of October for the Wild Weekend, a gathering that will equip you with knowledge and tools, connect you to a network of fellow outdoor enthusiasts and advocates for public lands, and fuel your excitement for the upcoming winter. Wild Weekend encompasses three keystone events: the Grassroots Advocacy Conference featuring keynote speaker James Edward Mills, Backcountry Film Festival World Premiere, and SnowSchool SnowBall. There will be speakers, ski movies, dancing, adventures, panels, and so much more. 

Here’s a rundown of everything we’ve got planned during the Wild Weekend. Choose from the Grassroots Conference, Backcountry Film Festival, SnowBall, or join us for all of it. Register now. 

The flyer for the Grassroots Conference, Wild Weekend, Backcountry Film Festival, and SnowSchool SnowBall

8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference 

October 24-27

Conference: $250

The theme of the conference is Growing Equity in Public Lands, and the goal is to empower as many people as possible to get involved in issues affecting public lands. 

Join policy makers, athletes, grassroots activists, scientists, educators, mountain guides, local elected officials and other recreation and conservation stakeholders and activists from across the country for a weekend full 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. Help us find a way forward.

Thursday night’s keynote speaker is James Edward Mills, author of The Adventure Gap. Mills is an award-winning journalist and media producer whose work revolves around outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving, and practices of sustainable living. 

On Friday and Saturday, panels will cover a spectrum of topics that dive right into the heart of the biggest issues facing public lands right now. Sessions include: Planning the Future of Public Lands; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) on Public Lands; The Pros and Cons of the Outdoor Economy; Messaging the Sacred; Collaboration Case Studies; Climate Action; E-Recreation; Recreation and Wildlife; Experiential Education; and Finding Sustainable Funding for Public Lands.

REGISTER NOW.

The Backcountry Film Festival header is displayed during a snow storm

Photo: Dev Seefeldt

15th Annual Backcountry Film Festival World Premiere

October 25, shows at 6:30pm and 9:30pm

Tickets: $20

For 15 years, Winter Wildlands Alliance has pressed play on the Backcountry Film Festival, an event that has raised more than $1.3 million for grassroots groups around the country. Join us for the world premiere, with films showcasing blissful powder turns, alpenglow across the mountains, stories about human-powered pursuits, and people who are passionate about protecting public lands. 

Stoke the vibe before the show or keep it going after a party from 7 to 9pm at The North Face store in downtown Boise, with live music, beer, and more fun. 

Film submissions are currently being accepted. If you have a short film that you’d like to submit to the Backcountry Film Festival, here are our submission guidelines. Stay tuned for the full lineup. 

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Two people in white skirts dance in ski boots during the snowball fundraiser for the snowschool

SnowSchool SnowBall 

October 26, 7-11pm

Tickets: $30

Join the Idaho backcountry community for a semi-formal evening to celebrate the upcoming season. There will be live music by the Lonesome Jetboat Ramblers, plus dancing, craft beer, drinks, raffle items, and a food truck. Proceeds go to Winter Wildlands Alliance SnowSchool, an educational program that introduces kids to human-powered winter recreation and teaches them about the snowpack. Each year, SnowSchool works with 35,000 children at 70 sites across the country. 

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Back in March we put out a Winter Recreation Survey asking you how you experience winter on public lands. The survey was produced to help Winter Wildlands Alliance and our land management partners better understand what kinds of human-powered winter recreation are happening on public lands and what the biggest threats might be to the ways we like to play. The deadline for submissions was May 31, 2018. 1376 of you responded. Kristie Van Voorst from Boulder, Colorado, was the lucky winner of an outrageous complete gear and outfit package from our friends at DPS, FlyLow and Native Eyewear! Stay tuned for the next one; it definitely pays to play!

Meanwhile here are some of the top results from that survey:


 


Outtakes

Here’s a list of some fun answers we couldn’t help but share:

How do you recreate in winter?

  • Walking the cat (not dog!)
  • Winter is normally the best time for non-winter sports, like climbing and biking, in Southern Utah.
  • Pond Hockey
  • SnowBall Fights
  • Scuba Diving

What are your top threats to winter recreation?

  • Damn chain rules going to the mountain
  • The Orange Man
  • Motivating our children
  • Dog Poop
  • Winter Wildlands Alliance

It Pays to Play!!

Kristie Van Voorst of Boulder, Colorado won this sweet set-up plus a pair of DPS Skis–just for filling out our survey! Don’t miss the next one!

Cross-country skiing in the Sapphire WSA, Larry Campbell photo

IN A DECISION FILED JUNE 29, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Montana upheld the 2016 Bitterroot National Forest Travel Plan against a federal lawsuit brought by a coalition of motorized and mountain bike organizations. The plaintiffs had sought to overturn the travel plan’s prohibitions on motorized and mechanized uses within Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and recommended wilderness areas (RWAs), while local and national conservation partners, including Winter Wildlands Alliance, had intervened on behalf of the Forest Service to help defend the travel plan.

The coalition challenging the plan included the Bitterroot Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club, the Ravalli County Off-Road User Association, the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, the Montana Snowmobile Association, Citizens for Balanced Use and Backcountry Sled Patriots.

“They kind of threw the kitchen sink at this to find some toehold to get it struck down,” Earthjustice attorney Josh Purtle, who represented the groups supporting the Forest Service, told The Missoulian. “It didn’t work.”

Standing with the forest service on this were Friends of the Bitterroot, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, Missoula Backcountry Horsemen, Montana Wilderness Association, Selway-Pintler Wilderness Backcountry Horsemen, WildEarth Guardians and Winter Wildlands Alliance.

Backcountry skiing on the Bitterroot National Forest, Adam Switalski photo

Back in 2016, Winter Wildlands Alliance applauded the Bitterroot National Forest for publishing a winter travel plan that protected winter wildlands on the forest from inappropriate over-snow vehicle (OSV) use in areas that the forest plan recommends for wilderness. These areas must be managed to protect their wilderness character, and the Forest Service determined that over-snow vehicle use is incompatible with such management.

The Bitterroot’s travel plan also prohibited motorized use in the two WSAs on the forest – the Sapphire and Blue Joint. Although OSVs and other forms of motorized use may be allowed within WSAs, under the Montana Wilderness Study Act, motorized uses are only allowed at the “manner and extent” that those uses existed in 1977, when they were designated by Congress.

After extensive research and analysis, the Bitterroot concluded that OSV use was hardly, if at all, present in those WSAs in 1977. Therefore, to comply with the Montana Wilderness Study Act, and to “maintain wilderness character” in the Sapphire and Blue Joint WSAs, the travel plan prohibited OSV use (and for similar reasons mechanized use as well) within these areas.

The Court last week ruled that the Forest Service’s decisions were not arbitrary and capricious as the plaintiffs had argued, but in fact well reasoned and supported by the administrative record. The ruling also affirmed that the Forest Service has the discretion to limit non-conforming uses such as snowmobiling to protect the social or ecological character of potential wilderness areas, not just their physical attributes.

This is important for us, as snowmobiling often leaves no lasting physical imprint but does drastically change the character of an area during the winter. Anybody who has been skiing in the same basin where people are snowmobiling knows that the sounds, smells, and presence of motorized recreation counters the feeling of being in a wilderness environment, even if there are no groomed trails or other infrastructure.

Pausing to take in the Bitterroots.

Recognizing the complexity of the forest’s mandate to “maintain wilderness character,” and its authority to limit uses, the judge cited analysis conducted in the Blue Joint area from 1977-2009 showing that “snowmobile use grew more than four-fold, off-highway-vehicle use grew nine-fold, and bicycle use went from non-existent to common use.”

“The wilderness-quality lands the Travel Plan protects are important to people from all walks of life in the Bitterroot valley, including hunters, fishermen, horsepackers, hikers, and skiers,” said Purtle. “The court’s decision ensures that these special places will continue to support elk and other wildlife and provide Montanans with outstanding opportunities for solitude and quiet recreation for years to come.”

Mountain Bikes in WSAs up for more Public Comment

The Court did order the Forest Service to conduct an additional round of public comment concerning the trails closed to mountain bikes in the Blue Joint and Sapphire WSAs.  However, the Court did not order the Forest Service to conduct an additional analysis or modify the travel plan in response to the public comment period.

Many skiers, all of the WWA staff included, ride mountain bikes when the snow melts. We know that defending the Bitterroot travel plan has raised a few eyebrows and cost us a few friends. However, the Wilderness Act prohibits mountain biking as well as snowmobiling, and it would be disingenuous to argue that one non-conforming use is incompatible with wilderness character while turning a blind eye to another just because the other is human-powered. In the hierarchy of Forest Service planning, travel plans tier to forest plans and the forest plan is the document that lays out the areas that will be managed to protect wilderness character and the areas where other uses, like mountain biking and snowmobiling, may be appropriate.

The Bitterroot Forest Plan is 30 years old and conditions have changed over the past 3 decades. It may be time to re-assess which areas of the forest should be recommended for wilderness and managed to protect wilderness character. However, forest plan revision, not travel planning, is the time to make those decisions. We look forward to working with all of our partners during the forest plan revision, which will hopefully start soon.

Likewise, we believe it’s time for a state-wide conversation about the future of Montana’s WSA’s. There’s no doubt that some of the areas within WSAs in Montana should be designated as Wilderness, and there’s no doubt that other areas within these WSAs should be released and open to activities like mountain biking and snowmobiling. However, until those conversations happen and Congress takes action on the WSAs, the Forest Service must follow existing law and their forest plan. That’s what the Bitterroot has done and we applaud them for it.

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

This guest post comes courtesy of our Red Lodge, MT based grassroots group, Beartooth Recreational Trails Association. 

The Beartooth Recreational Trails Association was the first Montana-based grassroots member of Winter Wildlands Alliance. They promote summer and winter trails in and around Red Lodge, MT, which includes operation of Red Lodge Nordic Center and grooming the West Fork (Forest Service) Road.

The West Fork, just 6 miles from town, offers something for everybody: walking, dog sledding, dog joring, snowshoeing, XC skiing (including track), skate skiing, and fat tire biking. Snowmobiling is also allowed, as there are privately owned cabins about 6 miles down the road. People also use snowmobiles on the road to access private cabins and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness trailhead at the end of the road to ski and ice climb.

BRTA has had a permit to groom the West Fork road for several years, which benefits all users and keeps snow packed and fairly smooth into the spring. Their volunteer grooms 3-4 times a month; and this season they will have available for the first time a 4 stroke snowmobile pulling a modern Ginzu groomer for grooming fresh or old snow!

The Custer National Forest (now one half of the Custer-Gallatin) has not undertaken winter travel planning. This lack of planning means that the Forest Service does not have a definition nor any rules about tracked vehicles or what types of uses are allowed on the West Fork. This is problematic for BRTA’s grooming efforts and can cause conflicts. When tracked vehicles drive around the gate they can interfere with quiet recreation and destroy the grooming efforts. BRTA also encounters problems with horses on the snow pulling sleighs on runners, which also destroys the grooming efforts.

For many years BRTA has worked with the Forest Service to address the lack of signage, which is needed to govern all the users and reduce conflicts. They are also dealing with increased warm spells which deteriorate the snow. Other issues include a lack of parking; and this year, lack of a contractor to plow the 4 mile access road. Now they are working with private land owners, the Forest Service, and winter recreationists to raise money and come up with a plan to keep this access road plowed. The Custer Gallatin National Forest does not plow any Forest Service roads, but will plow parking lots.

To learn more about BRTA visit www.beartoothtrails.org