, ,

March 2018 Policy Update: Hard Work Paying Off

We’re officially into spring now, and as much as we at Winter Wildlands Alliance love coldsmoke powder days, there’s nothing quite like Nordic crust cruising or skiing steep corn in the sunshine. The days are getting longer and the season for long distance tours is upon us. Happy Spring!

March has been filled with meetings and travel for Winter Wildlands Alliance staff and we’ve been busy working on all fronts of public lands advocacy — and seen some encouraging successes (good news at the end of this post)!

Talkin’ winter rec policy at the Sangree Hut.

Forest and Travel Planning

During the first few days of March our policy director, Hilary, drove down to Leadville, CO for the annual Backcountry Snowsports Initiative (BSI) hut trip. Originally called the Backcountry Snowsports Alliance, one of the three founding organizations that created Winter Wildlands Alliance, it’s now a program within the Colorado Mountain Club. BSI unites winter organizations and enthusiasts in Colorado. Each year BSI brings land managers, hut owners, and backcountry advocates to the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association’s Sangree Hut to discuss advocacy issues that affect winter recreation. It’s always a great opportunity to connect with our Colorado partners.

On the way to Leadville, Hilary stopped in Red Lodge, MT to meet with the local district ranger and discuss the comments we recently submitted for the Custer Gallatin forest plan revision. Stopping in Red Lodge also gave her the chance to attend a Backcountry Film Festival screening, hosted by our local grassroots group Beartooth Recreational Trails Association. They had a packed house and an awesome raffle!

And on the way home to Montana from Colorado Hilary stopped in Cody, WY to meet with the Shoshone National Forest. The Shoshone is the one forest outside of California that is currently working on a forest-wide winter travel plan, and they have a new forest supervisor and a new planning lead. It was great to have the opportunity to meet with the new staff, educate them about human-powered winter recreation on the Shoshone, and fill them in on what we’ve been advocating for in the travel planning process. It sounds like we’ll be seeing a draft EIS for the Shoshone plan in June.

Spring snow at the edge of the Tahoe National Forest

We’re expecting a draft EIS for the Tahoe winter travel plan and a final EIS for the Lassen winter travel plan any day now (by April 1, we’re told), with a draft EIS for the Eldorado NF plan shortly after. When those drop we’ll get the word out and analyze them as quickly as possible. Stay tuned to our channels or sign up to be part of our California Action Team to help us ensure that these forests have in place balanced winter management plans that provide quality recreation opportunities for both non-motorized and motorized winter recreation, minimizing conflict between users and impacts to wildlife and resources.

Forest Service Policy and Partnerships

The Forest Service is currently re-evaluating how they approach the NEPA process and they’ve been holding meetings in each Region to solicit advice on what to do. We attended the Region One and Region Five Environmental Analysis and Decision Making roundtables. Attending the Roundtables was a good opportunity to make our suggestions and concerns heard. There was also a public comment period recently on the “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” (we had a blog post about it a couple of months ago and worked with Outdoor Alliance to submit this comment letter). All of this is in part to comply with President Trump’s goal of streamlining environmental analyses and eliminating “unnecessary” regulatory burdens. We’re pretty leery of the reasons behind this effort, but do agree that the Forest Service could be more efficient in their approach to NEPA.

Also this month, our advocacy director, David, traveled to Sacramento, CA to attend the Forest Service’s Region 5 quarterly regional leadership team meeting and to serve on a panel about recreation access on public lands, alongside the Blue Ribbon Coalition, the California Outdoor Engagement Coalition and Youth Outside. He also updated the roomful of forest supervisors on the mixed results of a last-minute stakeholder collaborative convened on the Lassen National Forest winter travel plan. Despite those shortcomings, there was general consensus across the panel that improving agency partnerships with organizations and communities and engaging in better collaborative planning and management will be the way forward.

With the Conservation Alliance in D.C.


Our Executive Director, Mark, was in D.C. earlier this month with the Conservation Alliance. In addition to educating the full Conservation Alliance delegation on winter travel planning and other issues important to the backcountry community during the Conservation Policy Training day, Mark joined member company representatives from the Rocky Mountain region to meet with Congressional offices from Colorado, Utah, Montana and Idaho. The group conveyed our support and thanks for specific efforts such as the Blackfoot-Clearwater Stewardship Act, the Yellowstone Gateway Protection Act and Recreation not Red Tape Act as well as overarching efforts including full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, while voicing strong concern with two bills that would release Wilderness Study Areas in Montana and another two that would codify the Trump Administration’s recent rollbacks of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments.

As always, you can stay up-to-date on legislation we’re tracking by checking in on the bill tracker page on our website!

The Tongass National Forest: saved (for now) from new roads and clear-cutting

Mark’s visit was timely, as Congress was working on finalizing a spending bill, the details of which were released late last week. One would think the spending bill should just affect spending, which is important in and of itself because it sets how much funding public land agencies and important programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund will receive. However, Congress being Congress, the spending bill is also full of unrelated riders. We were particularly concerned about two riders Senator Murkowski inserted into the bill which would exempt Alaska from the Roadless Rule and open up millions of acres of currently protected land for road building, logging, and development.

And finally some good news…

Thankfully, due to an outpouring of opposition from the outdoor recreation community, conservation community, and others who value wild unroaded lands, Murkowski’s riders were removed from the bill. In other good news, the final spending bill includes a 10-year wildfire funding fix and continues funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, at a slightly higher level than last year. However, even this slightly increased level of funding for LWCF is still less than half of what full funding would be, and the program is slated to expire on September 30 so we’re still pushing for full funding and permanent authorization for LWCF. Read a more detailed breakdown of what’s in the spending bill on the Outdoor Alliance Blog.

, , ,

Over 90% of winter recreation takes place on public lands.

, ,

Help Wanted: WWA Seeks Citizen Science Volunteers in California’s Sierra Nevada

Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for backcountry skiers, splitboarders or cross-country skiers to help collect data for an important trailhead snowdepth study to inform upcoming winter recreation planning on public lands in the Sierra Nevada.

Snow depth measurements recorded by citizen science volunteers can be integrated into snowpack models to improve the accuracy of the models and to better evaluate how snow is distributed on the mountain landscape. When these measurements are collected at trailheads used for winter recreation activities over time, we can develop a relationship between long-term measurements observed at remote weather and snowpack stations (such as SNOTELs) and conditions at the trailhead. These relationships can help inform whether a trailhead can be opened for snowmobile use in order to prevent damages to the underlying soil and vegetation. Reducing the likelihood of such damage will greatly aid maintaining access to winter recreation opportunities.

In the Sierra Nevada of California and Nevada, we are particularly interested in the timing of sufficient snow depth for winter recreation and how this varies by elevation and location. A major goal is to evaluate how sufficient snow depth timing has varied historically and how this may change in the future. In the last 10 years, we have observed a rise in winter snow levels during storms.

This implies that lower elevation trailheads are seeing an increase in rain and decrease in snow, which means we have to wait longer for enough snow to accumulate to recreate in these places and that our window of time to enjoy places accessed from these trailheads is getting smaller. Developing relationships between trailhead snow depths and remote snow sensors will help us identify trailheads that are most resilient to continued changes in the mountain environment and assess how these changes may play out in the future.

By incorporating field snow depth observations from citizen scientists into snow models, all groups interested in mountain recreation and science will benefit. This information will improve our capabilities to accurately simulate snow cover and snow depth in the mountains. It will also enhance the quality of daily avalanche forecasts during big storms and runoff predictions (think flooding) during storms with high snow levels.

Ongoing work by researchers near Valdez, Alaska has shown very encouraging results. We hope to apply similar techniques throughout the Sierra Nevada during the winters of 2017/18 and 2018/19. Your contributions of snow depth measurements from along your ski tour or when you are staging your snowmobile will be instrumental in helping this project succeed.

Interested? The Community Snow Observations group has put together this tutorial on how to record your depth measurements using the MountainHub App. Also, if you sign up below we will be in touch with information about training opportunities and other project updates.

Sign up here to volunteer! 



Moving Forward on the Shoshone’s latest winter travel plan

The Shoshone National Forest has published a revised Proposed Action outlining its vision for winter travel management on the forest. When finalized, this plan will have major repercussions for skiing and snowboarding on the Shoshone, especially on Togwotee Pass and Beartooth Pass.

We now have until December 10, 2017, to provide comments to influence the plan as it takes shape. Your comments matter (even if you commented last year, it’s important to weigh in again).



The Shoshone National Forest bills itself as a wild backcountry forest, and indeed there are some amazing adventures to be had deep in the Wind River, Absaroka, and Beartooth mountains. What’s at stake in this travel plan, however, and where most skiers go, is the Shoshone’s relatively accessible world-class front-country terrain. Specifically Togwotee Pass and the Beartooth Pass.

The current Proposed Action —revised from the Proposed Action of May 2016—was developed based on suggestions the Forest Service received from the public as well as from groups like Winter Wildlands Alliance, Togwotee Backcountry Alliance, and the Wyoming Wilderness Association. This revised Proposed Action doesn’t change much from how snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles (OSVs) are currently managed on the forest, and for the most part we’re pretty supportive of what the Forest Service is proposing. You can review the latest plan, and look at maps of what the Forest Service is proposing here.

Discrete Motorized Season

For the first time ever, the Shoshone is considering a set season for winter motorized use. We like that they’re proposing specific dates before and after which snowmobile use would not be allowed, but the current proposal is confusing — there are different season dates for each ranger district and even different dates within ranger districts. We suggest they simplify things with a single season: December 1 through April 30, with a slight extension to allow snowmobile use on the Beartooth Pass until May 15.

Implementing these season dates would reduce conflicts between over-snow vehicles and wildlife and is a balanced way for skiers and snowmobilers to share the Beartooth Pass while recognizing that the two user groups have traditionally used this area during different and distinct seasons. These season dates also bring the Shoshone in line with how it’s neighbor, the Bridger-Teton, manages winter use on Togwotee Pass.

Protection for Cross-Country Skiing on Togwotee Pass

We are pleased to see that the Shoshone is proposing to formally close the cross-country ski trails on Togwotee Pass to motorized use (excepting for grooming purposes). The local trails group in Dubois — DART — spends a lot of resources grooming these trails for skiing and their efforts can be completely undermined by just one or two irresponsible OSV users. By closing, and signing, these areas cross-country skiers on Togwotee Pass will finally have non-motorized trails to enjoy.

Compliance With OSV Rule and Wilderness Act

In general, we think the Shoshone needs to do more to comply with the OSV Rule. The OSV Rule requires that the Forest Service designate discrete areas for OSV use, located to minimize impacts on wildlife and the environment and in areas that won’t cause conflict with other uses. Right now we’re not so sure the areas they’re proposing to designate really will minimize impacts and we expect them to explain how they’ve complied with this requirement when they write an Environmental Impact Statement.

We are especially concerned that the Shoshone has proposed to designate the entire High Lakes Wilderness Study Area (WSA) open for OSV use. This violates the Wyoming Wilderness Act, which states that snowmobile use in the WSA is only permissible if it’s at the same “manner and extent” as occurred in 1984. Unfortunately nobody thought to collect any baseline data showing how many people were snowmobiling in the WSA in the early ’80’s or where they were going, so we have to give it our best guess. While it’s pretty hard to guess how many snowmobiles were up there in the 80’s, we are confident that the machines people were riding then weren’t as powerful as what they’re riding today and therefore people weren’t traveling very far into the WSA. Therefore, we think the Forest Service should limit where snowmobiles can go within the WSA, restricting them to areas near the designated trail network (where it seems most likely people were riding in the past). After all, until Congress changes the status of the WSA the Forest Service is legally bound to comply with the existing law.


Wyofile.org. 12/8/2017: Skis and Snowmobiles: National forest examines winter travel. 

, ,

Comment Now on the Shoshone National Forest Winter Travel Plan

December 10, 2017 is the last day to submit public comment on the Shoshone National Forest’s latest winter travel plan. The final plan will have major repercussions for skiing and snowboarding on the forest, especially in frontcountry zones such as Togwotee Pass and Beartooth Pass.