In response to the U.S. Forest Service’s proposal to exempt the Tongass from the Roadless Rule—a move that would lift protections and expose a vitally important landscape to logging and resource extraction—we support Alternative #1, No Action.

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.

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.

President Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) into law on January 1, 1970. 

With summer solstice in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start looking forward to the coming winter! Just kidding. Here at Winter Wildlands we love summer too! Earlier this month our staff gathered for a staff retreat at City of Rocks to camp, talk shop, and climb rocks. We are excitedly planning our 8th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference and Wild Weekend, all of which will be in Boise this October. Save the date for October 24-27, 2019!

This month on the policy front:

  • Washington D.C. — We’ve been keeping track of a number of good bills that are making their way through Congress. Some of the ones we’re supportive of include the Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy Act, the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019, and the Land and Water Conservation Fund Permanent Funding Act. There are many others too — we’ll continue to keep the Bill Tracker page on our website up-to-date, so check it out for the full list.
  • Forest Service planning and environmental assessment – On June 13th the Forest Service published proposed changes to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. According to the Federal Register notice, the Forest Service is proposing to change its NEPA regulations to increase efficiency in its environmental analysis. While we definitely agree that the Forest Service could be more efficient when it comes to NEPA, we’re wary of much of what they’re proposing here. Many of the proposed changes appear to be aimed at reducing public input in public lands management and expediting logging and road building. Comments on the proposed changes are due August 12. We’re still analyzing what the Forest Service has proposed, so stay tuned!
  • Winter travel planning – in late May we participated in an objection resolution meeting for the Tahoe winter travel plan. Over the weeks following that meeting, we’ve been encouraged  The Stanislaus will be hosting a similar meeting in early August. And, we’re hoping to (finally) see a final winter travel plan on the Lassen National Forest this summer! Winter travel planning on the Shoshone is on hold while they hire a new Environmental Coordinator.

That’s all for now. I hope you’re enjoying the long days of summer and finding time to get out on our public lands!

Hilary Eisen
Policy Director