Photo Credit: Ming Poon

Since the Forest Service published a Proposed Action in late September that outlines a preliminary winter recreation plan in the Lake Tahoe Basin, we’ve been hearing from all sides that their proposal is far from perfect.

Now, the Forest Service is asking for your input on how to make it better for everyone. Submit your comment directly to the Forest Service. The deadline for public comment on the Proposed Action for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is December 9th.

At an open house for over-snow vehicle planning in Tahoe last week, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais said this is just the start of the process. Right now, we are consulting with our local partners in Tahoe—Snowlands Network and the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance. And as we write our comments in response to the Forest Service’s proposed action, we encourage you to do the same.

To help you navigate through the document, here’s an outline of the elements we support in the Proposed Action and what we’re concerned about.

What We Support

  • Designation of a minimum snow depth of at least 12 inches in areas open to OSV use — as “a way for the Forest Service to help the public decide when it is appropriate to use an OSV and when they will not cause damage,” to “help reduce uncertainty,” and to provide “a certain level of protection for all resources without being overly restrictive or overly prescriptive for individual resources or different geographic areas”;
  • Designation of a season of use for motorized over-snow recreation — although given historic snowfall/snowpack patterns we feel that a more appropriate and reasonable open season would run from December 15 – April 30 rather than the suggested November 1 – April 15.
  • Application of 5 “minimization criteria” as a basis for decision making and designation, including:
    • To minimize damage to soil, watershed, vegetation, and other forest resources;
    • To minimize harassment of wildlife and significant disruption of wildlife habitats;
    • To minimize conflicts between motor vehicle use and existing or proposed recreational uses of NFS lands or neighboring Federal lands;
    • To minimize conflicts among different classes of motor vehicle uses on NFS lands or neighboring Federal lands;
    • To consider compatibility of motor vehicle use with existing conditions in populated areas.
  • Recognition of the lack of winter parking and staging areas in the Basin, the “need to analyze additional winter parking opportunities and allow snow plowing of existing paved surfaces outside of sensitive habitats,” and to “[c]onstruct additional winter parking capacity” and “[d]esignate locations suitable for snow play areas” — HOWEVER, we do not feel that the current proposal goes nearly far enough to address these issues;
  • Proposed closure to OSV use for “the area between Mt. Rose Wilderness and the City of Incline Village”;
  • Proposed closure of an “area near the Granite Chief Wilderness and within 500 feet of the Pacific Crest Trail”;
  • Desire to engage a stakeholder collaborative effort to help find workable compromise and reasonable solutions to on-the-ground issues.

What We’re Concerned About

  • North Quadrant/Mt. Rose Highway: This is currently ground zero for every type of winter recreation, and one of the biggest hotspots in the basin for conflict between different uses. Cars are frequently parked on both sides of the two-lane highway, families are sledding and playing in the snow near the road, snowshoers are walking out amongst the trees to hear the chickadees and squirrels, backcountry skiers are heading off on skin tracks to ski powder-filled bowls, and snowmobilers are firing up and unloading sleds for a run up to Relay Ridge. The Forest Service’s proposal is to alternate motorized use on an every-other-day basis. We think this is a surface-level solution, at best. At worst, it will increase rather than minimize conflict.
  • Lack of coordination between the LTBMU and the neighboring Humboldt-Toiyabe and Tahoe National Forests.
  • Lack of protected public-access family snowplay areas.
  • Proposed opening of OSV terrain at the lowest elevations and near neighborhoods with significant pedestrian and dog-walking activity.
  • Proposed opening to OSV use of popular and accessible non-motorized Gardner Mountain area east of Fallen Leaf Lake.
  • Lack of actual solutions to significant parking/staging issues for both motorized and nonmotorized recreation.

For more context, materials, and information, check out the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit landing page for all things over-snow vehicle planning. We will be updating this page as the process moves forward.

Photo Credit: Ming Poon

The opportunity is here to collaborate with the Forest Service for winter recreation in Lake Tahoe.

To fill out our LTBMU Winter Recreation Survey, see below. To send comments directly to the Forest Service, go here. (Public comment deadline is December 9)

The Forest Service has published a Proposed Action that outlines a preliminary vision for all types of winter recreation in the Lake Tahoe Basin. This is an important opportunity for the public to weigh in on how these public lands should be managed in winter. Click here for more details and context.

The Proposed Action document is a good look at what the Forest Service thinks winter recreation should look like in Tahoe. But it’s just a first draft. There are elements of the plan that we support and other areas where we think the Forest Service may be off the mark. By way of example, one of the biggest hotspots that we see in the Forest Service’s proposal is at the top of Mount Rose, where cars are frequently parked on both sides of the two-lane highway, families take their kids to go sledding, snowshoers walk amongst the trees to hear the song of chickadees, backcountry skiers head off on skin tracks to ski powder-filled bowls, and snowmobilers take off for the ridgeline. It’s a ground zero for every type of recreation in the winter, and right now, the Forest Service’s proposal is to alternate motorized use on an every-other-day basis. We think this is a surface-level solution, at best. At worst, it will increase opportunities for conflict.

But we want to hear what you think. Where do you backcountry ski or splitboard in Lake Tahoe? What’s your favorite place to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing or to walk the dog in the woods? If you snowmobile, what are the places that are most important to you? What about parking and access points? Have you experienced specific conflicts between different winter uses? Where? What other issues or alternatives should the Forest Service consider as they work toward a final plan?

Now’s the time to weigh in. Give us your thoughts and ideas for solutions via the form below:

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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Making tracks in Yellowstone National Park, photo by Hilary Eisen

Although it’s been pretty cold across the Snowbelt lately, things have been hot on the public lands front! Especially in D.C., where Congress just passed the biggest public lands bill in a decade. On Tuesday, February 26, the House passed the public lands package (S47, the Natural Resources Management Act) by a vote of 363-62. Two weeks earlier the Senate passed the same bill 92-8. Now the bill heads to the President’s desk, where we expect he will sign it into law.

The public lands package permanently authorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, protects backcountry ski terrain in the Methow Headwaters (WA) and near Yellowstone National Park (in MT) from industrial-scale mining, and designates 1.3 million acres of new Wilderness, among many other public land protections. This bill was the culmination of years of hard work by the outdoor recreation and conservation community and we’re super excited that it has passed. You can send a message thanking Congress for passing the public lands package using this form. We’d love to see this Congress continue to support – and fund – public lands, so it’s important to thank them for the good work they’ve done so far.

Outside the Beltway, the big thing we’ve been working on this month has been to review the Tahoe National Forest’s draft winter travel plan. The Tahoe published a final EIS and draft Record of Decision on February 8. Overall they’ve done a pretty good job – despite a highly contentious planning process, the Tahoe has produced a draft plan that clearly aims to meet the interests of all stakeholders while also protecting natural resources and complying with the Over-Snow Vehicle Rule. The draft plan protects most of the priority ski zones that we’ve advocated for and their analysis is the most robust that we’ve seen to date (they considered a wide range of alternatives, including a couple that were very conservation-focused). However, we’d still like to see some protection for non-motorized use in a couple of high-profile spots on the forest, we’re not thrilled that they’re proposing to allow OSV use adjacent to the Pacific Crest Trail (a Congressionally designated non-motorized trail), and we’re disappointed that they’ve reversed course on using minimum snow depth as a management tool to protect soils and vegetation from over-snow vehicle impacts. Objections are due March 22.

In other news, this week marks the first full week in over 14 years where Mark Menlove has not been at the helm of Winter Wildlands Alliance. We’re excited to see what he accomplishes in his new role as Idaho State Director for The Nature Conservancy, and we’re actively searching for a new Executive Director. The application deadline for this position closed on March 6, 2019.

That’s all for now – February is a short month so it’s a short policy update!

Hilary Eisen, Policy Director

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.