Senators Daines (R-MT) and Gardner (R-CO) champion #bipartisan effort to reauthorize LWCF, America’s favorite conversation program.

Winter Wildlands Alliance policy staff has been in Washington D.C. this past week for our annual Outdoor Alliance policy summit, as well as to check in with Federal land management agencies and meet with members of Congress. Congress is still limping through its lame-duck session, and it’s our last chance to make a case for legislation we’d like to see included in a possible last-ditch, year-end public lands package, and to get some important bills passed into law before having to start over with the new Congress next year.

With Democrats in control of the House and its committees, we expect to see House Republicans putting more pressure on the agencies as a way of achieving their policy priorities outside of the legislative process.

As many bad bills as there are in Congress these days (and there are plenty!), there are some good ones too. One of our top priorities has been to bring back the Land and Water Conservation Fund (#SaveLWCF). Congress let this program expire in September despite the fact that it’s America’s most popular conservation program, with broad bi-partisan support, and a critical source of funding for public land acquisition and recreation infrastructure. We’re still getting mixed beta from Senate offices and members of Congress about whether it’ll get re-authorized — either permanently or temporarily — and at what level, but we’re staying optimistic in these final days of the session.

Which brings me to the primary topic of this policy update – what will the midterm election results and a new Congress in 2019 mean for backcountry skiers who love public lands?

As you will have heard by now, Democrats won enough House races to take back control of the House of Representatives next year, while Republicans maintained control of the Senate. For the past two years, all three branches of government have been controlled by one party, but starting in January we’ll return to a divided government. In the House, the Democrats will control the agenda, forcing both the White House and Republican-controlled Senate to negotiate with them. Given our partisan politics, we expect there will be a lot of vilifying going on too, with each party continuing to focus on blaming the other for the nation’s woes. So, what do we think this means for public lands?

  • Legislation: We expect the scariest legislative threats – such as large-scale public lands transfers and attempts to gut environmental laws – to fade. These attacks on public lands and the public process have been driven by House Republicans and now they don’t have the votes to move these extreme proposals. At the same time, with a hyper-partisan divided Congress, we’re not sure that Congress will get much done in the legislative arena at all.
  • Investigations: With Democrats taking control of the House, we’re expecting a lot of investigations into the conduct and decision-making of Trump Administration officials. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is likely to be on the hot seat as Legislators look into his decisions to reduce Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, among other controversial actions of the past two years.
  • Confirmations:The Republicans have strengthened their majority in the Senate, which will likely make it easier for the President to get the 60 votes needed to confirm his nominees, from the Courts to the Cabinet. Many federal appointments are currently vacant and the rumor mill is churning with word that Secretary Zinke is on his way out. Although Zinke has been a huge disappointment for public lands enthusiasts, we’re not optimistic about who his replacement might be. In fact, there are some frightening nominees waiting in the wings to take positions across the federal public lands agencies. It’s no secret that the Trump Administration and Senate Republicans are highly motivated to change the federal judiciary by confirming as many conservative judges as possible. This will have a delayed, but major, effect on environmental and administrative law, with conservative judges likely giving less deference to land management agencies in how they interpret the laws that govern public lands management.
  • Pressure on the Agencies: It’s not unusual to see members of Congress putting pressure on the Forest Service or other land management agencies. Most recently, we saw members of the Congressional Western Caucus weighing in on winter travel planning in California and asking the Forest Service to re-evaluate any potential restrictions on snowmobile use and even to reconsider the planning process itself. With Democrats in control of the House and its committees, we expect to see House Republicans putting more pressure on the agencies as a way of achieving their policy priorities outside of the legislative process.

We’ll see how these predictions play out in the coming year. For the next week or so, we’ll remain focused on the lame duck session, with fingers crossed that we can get a few things across the finish line in the next couple of weeks!

 

 

 

 

Hilary Eisen, Policy Director

Public Comment Deadline Delayed to Late December: Comment Now!

With our local partners at Friends of Plumas Wilderness, we support the forest’s preferred Alternative 2 with specific modifications from Alternative 5.

OUR TAKE: We like that Alternative 2 protects terrain east of Bucks Lake Wilderness, the Bucks Creek Loop Trail, the Historic Lost Sierra Ski Traverse Route, and the backcountry ski zone on Thompson Peak by Susanville. We urge that the Forest Service also include specific amendments from Alternative 5 to protect proposed Middle Feather, Bucks Creek, Chips, Grizzly, & Adams Peak Wilderness Areas, Lakes Basin Snowshoe and Ski Trails, Little Jamison Basin and to stop grooming on 24N33 to help prevent OSV trespass into the Bucks Lake Wilderness.

October has been a busy month here at Winter Wildlands Alliance! Last week, we wrapped up a meeting in Boise with other conservation partners, representatives from snowmobiling organizations, Forest Service staff, state biologists, and Fish and Wildlife Services biologists. We came together to talk about how winter recreation impacts wolverines, and to start working toward science-based recommendations that we can all agree on for managing winter recreation in wolverine habitat. It was just the first meeting of many, but we’re optimistic and excited to engage with such a broad range of partners in a collaborative manner.

Meanwhile, we’re nearing the end of the public comment period for the Chugach Forest Plan. The Chugach, America’s northernmost national forest, is soliciting public feedback on the draft EIS they have developed. The Chugach features spectacular coastal mountains with some of the best and wildest backcountry terrain in the world. In this planning process we’re advocating for Alternative D. Comment now (Public comment period ends November 1)!

Also in Alaska, we’re continuing the engage in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park backcountry management plan. Right now the Park Service is looking for comments from those who have personal connections to Wrangell-St Elias. If you’ve been lucky enough to visit Wrangell-St Elias, please consider telling the Park Service about your experience. Comments are due October 31.

We directed a lot of attention to Alaska in October but Utah is on our radar as well. Alaska has been working on getting an exemption to the Roadless Rule in order to open up untouched coastal rainforests on the Tongass to commercial logging (that comment period ended October 15). Now Utah is drafting a petition, asking the Department of Agriculture and U.S. Forest Service for an exemption to the federal Rule and permission to write a state-specific Rule, just like Alaska. We’re working with our Utah-based grassroots groups to stand up for roadless lands in Utah. Stay tuned to our channels in case the opportunity arises for people outside of Utah to weigh in!

We’re also still working to save LWCF. Congress let the Land and Water Conservation Fund expire on September 30. There are two bills that would permanently reauthorize and fully fund LWCF – Senate bill S. 569 and House bill H.R. 6759. Please contact your Senators and Representative and ask them to both support these bills and push for a vote before the end of the year.

And hot off the press: the Plumas National Forest just published a draft EIS for its winter travel plan. Public comments are due December 10. Stay tuned for our outreach on that!

Finally, don’t forget to vote (and vote for public lands!) on November 6!

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!