Shana Maziarz crosses the Hulahula River to start a long day of earning turns in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Brennan Lagasse

IT’S BEEN A COUPLE OF MONTHS since the last Winter Wildlands Alliance policy update, not because there’s nothing to talk about, but because I ducked out of the office this spring to track wolverines in Mongolia. While in Mongolia, I ran into some unexpected challenges that illustrated how climate change is impacting wild snowscapes across the globe. It reminded me that, as backcountry skiers, our adventures take us to the world’s wildest places and we’re often among the first to see them change. As credible witnesses to the impacts of a changing climate on our mountains and snowscapes, backcountry skiers are in a unique position to speak up.

This is why, earlier this month, with our Outdoor Alliance partners, we submitted a range of testimony to the House Subcommittee on National Forests, Parks, and Public Lands for a hearing on the impacts of climate change on public lands recreation (scroll down to see the letter we submitted). Testimony included front-lines accounts from Winter Wildlands Alliance ambassadors Caroline Gleich (writing from Mount Everest), Luc Mehl (from Alaska), Brennan Lagasse (recently returned to Lake Tahoe from the Arctic) and Clare Gallagher (from Colorado), as well as our friend Ben Hatchett, a climate researcher in Northern California/Nevada.

You can share your own experiences with lawmakers and urge them into action by joining the Adventurers for Climate Action campaign today!

Meanwhile, we’ve been staying busy this spring with ongoing winter travel planning and OSV use designation in California, among other things. Over the past couple of months, we filed an objection to the Stanislaus winter travel plan and participated in objection resolution meetings related to the Eldorado and Tahoe winter travel plans. Each of these plans has many positive elements, but through the objection process we hope to improve a few key shortcomings and help the Forest Service develop solid winter travel plans for the central and northern Sierra. We had similar objections to all three draft plans: we’re concerned about the designation of some high-value backcountry ski zones (and designated near-natural areas) for open snowmobile use, the failure to protect the non-motorized character and experience of the Pacific Crest Trail, and the failure to adequately address the Forest Service’s legal obligation to minimize over-snow vehicle impacts on natural resources and wildlife and on non-motorized activities.

Meanwhile, in Montana, forest planning on the Custer Gallatin is in full-swing. The Forest Service released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the revised forest plan in early March. The comment period ends June 6. There are few places in the country where world-class outdoor recreation opportunities overlap with a landscape as wild, and intact, as the Custer Gallatin. Through work in a variety of coalitions, we’re advocating for a vision for the forest that balances conservation, recreation, and wildlife values. Find out more and submit a comment online here.

In other policy news, the state of Utah has petitioned the US Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service to exempt Utah from the Roadless Rule, which rule happens to protect the majority of backcountry ski terrain in Utah. We’re working with Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, Outdoor Alliance, and our partners in Utah’s conservation community to push back against this attack on the Roadless Rule. You can help out by sending a letter to USDA Secretary Perdue and Under Secretary Hubbard using Outdoor Alliance’s online form. Perdue and Hubbard have been feeling the heat and haven’t responded to Utah’s petition, yet. Help us keep the pressure on.

Finally, I want to bring your attention to Minnesota, where the Trump Administration recently renewed federal leases for a sulfide-ore copper mine on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The Boundary Waters are an amazing place to visit in winter, providing endless opportunities to cross-country ski, showshoe, and winter camp in one of the quietest places in the country. This week, Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum introduced legislation compelling the U.S. Forest Service to complete a study on toxic mining near the Boundary Waters and halt mineral leasing in the watershed of the Boundary Waters until the study is complete. Our partners at Save the Boundary Waters are leading the charge to protect this special place, and you can get involved here.

We’ve updated the Bill Tracker page on our website if you’re interested in seeing what other legislation we’re supporting, and tracking, on the Hill this year. There are a number of good bills, including bipartisan legislation to establish full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Act, a House bill to protect the Arctic Refuge, and legislation to codify the Roadless Rule and put an end to state-by-state exemptions from the Rule.

That’s all for now!

Hilary Eisen, Policy Director


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Comment Deadline is Tuesday October 9

The Stanislaus National Forest‘s draft winter travel plan attempts to establish a balance for winter management that allows for appropriate snowmobile routes and play areas, and also provides some limited protections for important non-motorized recreation zones, wildlife, and natural resources. Click here for a link to the high-res map (pdf) of the forest’s “preferred” Alternative 5.

However, the forest’s proposal, as written, fails to minimize user conflict and impacts to sensitive wildlife (including critically endangered Sierra Nevada red fox) in the following key areas:

  • Pacific Valley and Eagle/Night Near Natural Areas
  • The Herring Creek area immediately adjacent to the Leland Snowplay Area on Highway 108
  • Osborne Hill and other Nordic touring terrain to the immediate east and west of Lake Alpine
  • Areas between Cabbage Patch and Black Springs and Mattley Ridge off Highway 4
  • Route 7N02 in the Big Meadow Area for non-motorized touring to the Stanislaus Canyon overlook

Use the easy form below to submit specific, customizable comments in support of wildlife and human-powered recreation.

Tongass National Forest, USFS Image

The autumn equinox has come and gone and the nights in the Northern Hemisphere are now officially longer than the days. The aspens are turning to gold and and our excitement is on the rise for deep powder turns, quiet ski tours in the wild, and frozen waterfalls to climb. Meanwhile, policy never sleeps!

There have been 3 big policy items front and center this month: pushing Congress to permanently authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund, defending the Roadless Rule, and reviewing the Stanislaus National Forest winter travel plan draft EIS.

Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)

LWCF expires this weekend, September 30. Assuming Congress doesn’t get a bill through today, LWCF will expire, meaning that the nation’s most popular and most successful conservation program will die. The fact that this is a historically impactful fund (funding public lands and recreation since 1964) with broad bipartisan support makes it even more ridiculous for it to be teetering on the brink. LWCF dollars pay for trail maintenance, recreation site improvements, and public land access, to list a few benefits.

There are bills that would have gotten the reauthorization job done in both the House and the Senate. The only roadblock was Republican party leadership not bringing the bills up for vote. There was some positive movement this month, with the two leaders in the House Natural Resources Committee (Bishop, R, UT and Grijalva, D, AZ) striking a deal, but the clock is ticking toward midnight and the chances are now slim for action. We brought this up in last month’s policy update and we’re highlighting it again because Congress needs to hear from all of us—today! If you haven’t yet, PLEASE contact your Senators and Representative, and ask your friends to do the same.

Roadless Rule

The Roadless Rule was put in place in 2001 to protect unroaded National Forest lands. It’s critical for keeping many of our most valued winter backcountry areas across the country undeveloped and wild. Roadless lands are also an important source of clean air and water and provide critical habitat for wildlife. Pretty awesome, right? Unfortunately, the Roadless Rule is under attack by the timber industry and its allies in D.C. who’d like to open up roadless lands to intensive logging.

The most significant threat to the Roadless Rule right now is an effort to remove Roadless Rule protections on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Not only does this threaten to fragment the coastal rainforests of Southeast Alaska, it sets a dangerous precedent for roadless lands elsewhere in the country. Basically, Roadless Rule opponents are taking a 2-tiered approach: 1) try and take down the Rule nationally, through Congress; and 2) dismantle it piece by piece, by exempting one state at a time. The Forest Service is accepting comments on the Alaskan rulemaking process through October 15. Comment today and let the Forest Service know that the federal Roadless Rule should remain in place in Alaska, and all current roadless areas in the state should remain protected.

Stanislaus National Forest winter travel planning

A Winter Wildlands policy update wouldn’t be complete without a nod to winter travel planning. This is the 4thnational forest in California to publish a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for winter travel management. The EIS analyzes and compares 5 Alternatives (including the status-quo) for over-snow vehicle use designation on the Stanislaus National Forest. We were hopeful about the Stanislaus, after hearing that the “preferred alternative” (Alternative 5) was a blend of our proposals and the snowmobile community’s proposals. Unfortunately, we can’t support Alternative 5 as written, as it would designate portions of two “near natural areas” for over-snow vehicle use despite the fact that the Forest Plan specifically calls out how important here areas are for ecological reasons and stresses that they should remain non-motorized to protect habitat for species such as the extremely rare Sierra Nevada red fox.

Furthermore, in our previous comments to the Forest Service we have highlighted 7 distinct areas on the Stanislaus, totaling just 2% of the forest, that are highly valued for non-motorized winter recreation. Alternative 5 would designate 5 of these 7 areas for snowmobile use. We strongly support Alternative 3, which is based on our proposals. It is the only alternative in the DEIS that would keep important ski and snowshoe zones non-motorized to provide quiet winter recreation opportunities and it’s the only alternative that fully protects sensitive ecological areas from motorized recreation. Want to learn more and get involved? Check out the information page on our website and submit a comment!

That’s all for now. Enjoy the waning days of dirt season and start dusting off your ski gear!

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!