Stanislaus National Forest photo courtesy John Buckley, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center (CSERC)

The smoky haze that has settled over the West tells us we’re nearing the end of August. It doesn’t take many days of haze for all of us at WWA to start longing for the fresh clean skies of winter!

Forest Service Planning

We started off August wrapping up the Eldorado NF winter travel plan comment period. Now, we’re ending the month with the start of another comment period related to winter travel planning in California. The Stanislaus National Forest‘s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was published on August 24, 2018, initiating a 45-day public comment period to end on October 9.

We’ve also been busy with forest planning. We just submitted comments on the Helena-Lewis & Clark (MT) forest plan revision yesterday and we’re in the midst of reviewing the Chugach (AK) draft plan and Inyo (CA) final plan. One of the fun things about working on public lands management all across the country is the opportunity we have to share good ideas from one national forest with other forests. We do that a lot in forest planning. For example, because of our advocacy, the Inyo forest plan includes winter-specific recreation zoning modeled after the approach used by Flathead National Forest (in Montana).

Legislation

Our work at the Congressional level revolves around 3 main things – keeping public lands public, defending the integrity of our environmental laws and public management of public lands, and advocating for funding and tools to manage recreation and protect public land (to see what bills we’re tracking, click here). On that note, we want to highlight the main issues and legislation that we’ve been focusing on this month.

  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund expires September 30 unless Congress acts to re-authorize it. LWCF is the most successful conservation program in American history, using funds from offshore drilling to purchase land and easements and build and maintain recreation infrastructure. It has overwhelming bipartisan support both across the country and in Congress. The only reason Congress hasn’t re-authorized it already is that they don’t think it’s a priority. If we’re going to save LWCF we need everybody contacting their Congressional delegation and raising a ruckus. Learn more about LWCF and take action here.
  • Recreation-Not-Red-Tape is a bill that we are super excited about. It aims to reduce barriers to outdoor recreation access, and improve outdoor recreation aspects of public land management. One provision directs land managers to inventory for places on our public lands that could be protected as new National Recreation Areas, which would protect places based on their outdoor recreation value. This is a critically needed tool to proactively protect areas that don’t make the cut for Wilderness but that we don’t want to risk losing to logging, mining, drilling, etc. We’re working hand in hand with our friends at Outdoor Alliance to get this bill through Congress and you can use their advocacy form to contact your representatives about it.
  • Senator Cantwell (WA) recently introduced the Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2018, which would legislate the Roadless Rule. This bill directly responds to the unprecedented threats to the Roadless Rule we’ve been seeing recently, including Congressional attacks, states seeking special interest exemptions, and the Trump Administration, which all share the goal of wanting to remove protections from millions of acres of roadless national forests. Please, reach out to your Senators and ask them to co-sponsor S.3333!

Finally, we’re excited to share our recently updated human-powered snowsports trends and impacts report. You can find it on our website here!

Alaska’s Chugach State Park. Photo by Katie Strong

Have you heard about the 52-year-old conservation program that has strong bipartisan support and is one of the most effective tools we have to protect public lands and improve recreation access, yet somehow is teetering on the edge of a cliff?

If you’ve never heard of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) — or perhaps you have but you’re not totally sure what it is — you’re not alone. LWCF doesn’t draw a lot of headlines, except for times like now when we’re on the verge of losing it.

Congress created the LWCF in 1965, with the idea that we should use some of the revenue from offshore oil and gas drilling to protect areas from development and improve public access to public lands. Each year $900 million in off-shore drilling revenue goes into the Land and Water Conservation Fund. This money is available to federal, state, and local governments to purchase land, purchase easements across private land and water for public access, and to build and maintain recreation infrastructure.

Unfortunately, almost every year, Congress diverts much of this funding to other uses, leading to a substantial backlong in LWCF-eligible projects. Even so, LWCF has played a substantial role in protecting public lands and improving recreation opportunities across America for the past 5 decades.

Over the life of the program, LWCF has funded close-to-home recreation opportunities in all fifty states and every congressional district. From local swimming pools to state parks, river access sites and climbing crags to entirely new parcels of public land, LWCF has directed over $17 billion to public lands conservation and recreation since it was first enacted. Check out this Outdoor Alliance interactive map to learn more about the public lands and recreation opportunities LWCF has protected near you.

So what’s the problem? On September 30, LWCF will expire unless it is renewed by Congress. You can make a difference today, it’s easy! Congress is supportive of LWCF but has not prioritized voting on it yet. Take action today to tell Congress this program is a priority to you. We’ve made it super easy to send your lawmaker a message. Just use the form below!

 

Summer = skiing in shorts season

July has been full of news and policy developments and, as usual, we’ve got lots to updates to share. Winter travel planning is staying hot through the summer, Utah Senator Mike Lee has a bucket o’ bad ideas about what to do with public lands, and we’re gathering data to find out what the local economic impact of human-powered snowsports is for two national forests – the Custer Gallatin in Montana and Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison in Colorado.

Winter Travel Planning –  news from California and Montana

Skiing the steeps on the Eldorado. Photo by Erik Bennett.

It’s summer time and winter travel planning is HOT. The Eldorado National Forest, located to the south and west of Lake Tahoe, issued a Draft EIS for its winter travel plan in early June. Comments are due August 6, so we’ve been busy analyzing the plan and working on our comments this month. The Eldorado’s DEIS is pretty disappointing and we’ve got plenty to comment on. The forest’s Proposed Action (Alternative 2) reverses historic protections and opens many important and longstanding non-motorized areas to snowmobiles. The “motorized emphasis alternative” (Alternative 4) is even worse, proposing to open even more non-motorized areas to OSVs, including amending the Forest Plan to allow OSVs in recommended wilderness, semi-primitive non-motorized, and Biological/Geological Special Interest areas. Additionally, the DEIS has a very narrow range of Alternatives (3 out of 4 are essentially the same), and misses the mark in a number of ways when it comes to complying with the OSV Rule. To learn more about the Eldorado’s plan, and submit a comment, visit our website and comment using the online form we’ve provided.

Winter travel planning is happening outside of California too. In 2016 the Bitterroot National Forest, in Montana, finalized a travel plan they’d been working on for almost a decade. Their plan addresses year-round travel management (all uses) and although it was started long before the OSV Rule was in place, it was finalized under the Rule. We are very supportive of the Bitterroot’s winter travel plan and, when a coalition of groups that oppose the plan sued the Forest Service, we joined our conservation partners in defending the plan. On June 29 the Judge issued a decision on the case and upheld the travel plan. The ruling affirmed that the Bitterroot’s decisions were 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 was an important win for protecting quiet winter wildlands.

Public Lands Heist

Have you heard about Senator Mike Lee’s latest idea for selling off public lands?  Senator Mike Lee (R, UT) is proposing three bills to get the West to be “more like Missouri or Illinois” (that’s a direct quote). He’s introduced one, which would abolish the Antiquities Act (Utah’s favorite target). The two in the works are even worse. One would allow anyone to take over public lands for private profit, and another seeks to transfer all our national public lands to states to control or develop. Our friends over at the Outdoor Alliance are collecting signatures on a petition opposing these bills, which they’ll be hand delivering to Senator Lee’s office in D.C. Add your name here!

Economic Impact Surveys

In addition to winter travel planning we’re also working on a variety of forest plans. Two of these are of particular importance for backcountry skiers – the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests in Colorado (think Crested Butte and Telluride), and the Custer Gallatin National Forest in Montana (Bozeman, Big Sky, Red Lodge, West Yellowstone…). We’re working with our Outdoor Alliance partners on both of these forest plan revisions and now through August 16, we’re running a couple of surveys that we need your help with. The data we get from these surveys will help us piece together the economic impact of human-powered snowsports, climbing, mountain biking, paddling, and hiking are on these forests. In turn, that sort of economic data will help us advocate to protect non-motorized outdoor recreation opportunities during forest planning. If you’ve skied (or otherwise recreated) on the GMUG or the Custer Gallatin, you can help by taking the appropriate surveys. The Colorado surveys are online here and the Montana surveys are online here.

Each survey only takes about 15 minutes, and for each survey you take you’ll be entered to win sweet gear for your next outdoor adventure.

Winter Wildlands Alliance HQ, Boise, Idaho

Winter Wildlands Alliance staff and Board of Directors convened at headquarters in Boise early in June for our annual summer board meeting, highway cleanup and whitewater session. We’re dialing in a new strategic plan and it’s always inspiring to gather together and talk about WWA’s future and the opportunities and challenges ahead.

And speaking of the future, we’re excited to welcome our new Backcountry Film Festival Manager, Melinda Quick! She’ll be starting July 16. Stay tuned for more on Melinda and her plans for the upcoming festival season.

Farm Bill and the Roadless Rule

On June 21, the House passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill contains two attacks on the Roadless Rule: 1) a loophole that would allow logging and roadbuilding in about 10 million acres of roadless areas; and 2) an exemption from the Rule for Alaska’s national forests.

In addition to targeting the Roadless Rule, it also contains several attacks on bedrock environmental laws including the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the National Forest Management Act. Taken together, the provisions in the House bill would essentially exempt everything the Forest Service does in the forest management space from environmental review to public input.

Meanwhile, the Senate will likely vote on its version of a farm bill this week. Right now the Senate version doesn’t include the scary forestry provisions that the House version contains, and we are cautiously optimistic that the Senate will keep those provisions out of its bill.

Early next week, please contact your Senators to support the Senate’s effort to produce a bipartisan farm bill by including a federal forestry title focused on conservation, collaboration, and other bipartisan policies. There will likely be a Conference Committee the following week to reconcile the two versions of the bill and get it signed into law in August.

Winter Travel Planning

It wouldn’t be a Winter Wildlands Alliance policy update without talking about winter travel planning. We submitted comments on the Tahoe draft EIS on May 25th (you can read our comments here). WWA worked closely with our two local grassroots groups – Snowlands Network and Tahoe Backcountry Alliance – to draft these comments, which generally support the Forest Service’s proposed action with a few key modifications to protect super-important backcountry ski zones for non-motorized recreation.

Human-powered on the Eldorado NF. Photo by Erik Bennett

Now, our attention has turned to the Eldorado winter travel plan.

The Eldorado National Forest, just south of the Tahoe NF, published its draft EIS on June 22. Comments are due August 6. We’re just starting to dig into the draft plan, but so far it’s not looking good. Unlike the Tahoe, which analyzed a wide range of alternatives and had a pretty decent DEIS overall, 3 out of 4 of the Eldorado’s alternatives are basically the status quo with minor differences.

The one exception is the alternative that we developed (Alternative 3), which focuses OSV use in areas that receive consistent snowfall, where there is existing OSV infrastructure (trails and staging areas), and where it doesn’t conflict with non-motorized recreation.

Once we finish reviewing the Eldorado DEIS we’ll post information on how to comment as well as our analysis and suggested talking points on our website here.

Human-powered on the Tahoe National Forest
Photo by Ming Poon

 

1. Winter Travel Plans Moving Forward

April brought the long-anticipated release of the Lassen National Forest’s final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD) for its winter travel plan, and also the publication of the Tahoe National Forest’s draft plan. The Lassen was the first national forest in the country to start winter travel planning under the 2015 OSV Rule. It’s been a long, bumpy road, but now the end is in sight.

The plan is far from perfect, but we’re generally ready to live with it. There are a few things we’d still like to achieve, and we’re working with Snowlands Network to file some specific objections. Our biggest points of contention are: (1) that the Forest chose to designate a couple of high-value quiet recreation areas for OSV use without very convincing rationale; and (2) we don’t agree with how they’re proposing to allow OSV use in areas near the Pacific Crest Trail. That said, we’re glad to see that the plan sets a minimum snow depth, protects important wildlife habitat and many of the non-motorized recreation areas we’ve advocated for, and generally focuses OSV use in places that actually get snow and provide winter recreation opportunities. Click here for a more detailed summary.

The Tahoe’s draft EIS is now out for public comment. We’ve posted some preliminary information, links to documents and a mapping tool on our website, and are working with our partners and grassroots groups to finalize our organizational comments. We hope to publish our online comment tool next week. In contrast to the Lassen plan, we’re very pleased with the level of analysis on this one. It’s clear that the line officers and planners on the Tahoe have a much better understanding of the landscape and of human-powered winter recreation.

Also in California, we’re expecting to see a draft EIS for the Eldorado National Forest winter travel plan any day. All updates regarding winter travel planning in the Sierra will be posted here. Elsewhere, we’re also expecting a draft EIS from the 10 Lakes region of the Kootenai (in Montana) this spring, and a draft EIS from the Shoshone in September. And scoping for winter travel planning is supposed to start soon on the north zone of the Idaho-Panhandle. Stay tuned!

2. Rallying for Skiers and Snowshoers in the Eastern Cascades

Our grassroots group in Wenatchee, WA — El Sendero Ski and Snowshoe Club — has been working for years to establish a non-motorized winter recreation area on state lands. They’ve worked through a state-level public process and a local collaborative planning process to develop the non-motorized area proposal. Through all of this, El Sendero has worked with the local snowmobile club to get their support, but now the whole effort is threatened to be derailed by a small number of snowmobilers who are opposed to any sort of non-motorized designation. El Sendero has put out the call for help to rally support for this non-motorized area. We’ve created a super simple comment form, so if you could take two minutes to send in a letter to Chelan County that would be awesome. Thanks!!!

3. …And some rare good news from D.C.:

Late last year the Interior Department floated a proposal to drastically raise entrance fees at a number of popular National Parks. Interior’s proposal would have more than doubled the fee to visit 117 Parks, to $70 for some! This proposal generated massive public backlash (WWA’s alert had a higher response rate than any alert we’ve ever sent out). Over 90% of those who commented were opposed to a fee increase and many called out Secretary Zinke for slashing the Park Service budget at the same time he was calling for raising fees to address the Park Service maintenance backlog.

We’re happy to report that Interior seems to have listened to the thousands of people who commented on the fee hike proposal and announced that they are going with a very modest fee increase of $5. Outdoor Alliance put out a good blog post on this, and I encourage you to check it out. You can also click here to see what it will cost to visit your favorite parks this summer.

Oh and last but not least, one of the bills we’re big supporters of, Recreation Not Red Tape, passed out of its House committee, narrowly escaping being gutted by a last-minute amendment from Representative Cheney (WY). The outdoor recreation community came out in force to keep the bill intact, and our voices made a difference.