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!

By Andy Dappen for Backcountry Magazine, 2016

For many skiers, the 50-year evolution of snowmobile use on public lands has represented an on-going loss of habitat. That’s certainly been my story. Places where I once cross-country skied or ski toured for peaceful exercise, soft turns, quiet ascents, or serene meditations have been consistently plucked from my plate as snowmobiles spread onto ever steeper slopes and into ever deeper snows.

The pace of change has been slow but relentless. My earliest losses occurred in the late 1960s when forest roads and flat meadows in the Mount Hood National Forest where I Nordic skied started seeing enough motorized use that the noise, speed, commotion, trammeled snows, and fumes undermined my experience. Back then it was easy to move off the roads or into forests to escape the machines.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as the power of snowmobiles improved, some of my favorite telemark terrain near my home in Western Washington was gradually assimilated by the Borg. Again I moved – either into thicker trees or onto steeper slopes.

Stemilt Basin, Wenatchee Mountains, Washington. Photo by Mike Rolfs.

Over the last fifteen years the pace of loss accelerated as increased horsepower, improved track designs, better suspension, and new riding positions could put sleds on almost any open slope I hoped to ski. Meanwhile, snowbikes with their narrow tracks and maneuverability gave experienced dirt bikers an entirely new opportunity to ride off-trail in winter. Snowbikes can navigate forests, traverse steep slopes, or zig-zag through a jumble of snow-covered boulders with such dexterity that there were precious few places near plowed roads where I can be sure machines won’t disturb the quiet, natural experience I value.

All of this is could change soon due to new rulings supporting old laws. In 1972, The Nixon Administration issued Executive Order 11644 mandating federal agencies to create management plans for all off-highway vehicles. The executive order (EO) required federal land agencies to substantiate that, where permitted, off-highway vehicles would not negatively impact wildlife, erode other forest resources (soil, plants and water), or impact other users. In the earliest years, snow machines primarily traveled the snow-covered roads of the national forest. These were the same roads used by wheeled vehicles in summer, so the Forest Service opted to forego separate management policies for over-snow vehicles (OSVs).

In 2005 the Forest Service started a decade-long process of revamping its management policies for off-highway vehicles. Unfortunately, just as it had done earlier, the agency punted on creating wintertime management policies for OSVs. By now, however, the capability of new snow machines did not confine them to roads and, with no policy, if a machine could get there, it could go there.

The absence of winter policies was clearly inconsistent with the management of off-highway vehicles in other seasons. For years, the Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA), a Boise based non-profit promoting human-powered winter recreation, prodded the Forest Service to follow the EO and create winter policies for OSVs. The Forest Service steadfastly refused, eventually forcing WWA to sue. In January 2015 Federal Courts ruled the Forest Service was clearly out of compliance and mandated each National Forest to create policies, complete with maps, defining where OSVs could travel.

This is terrific news for we who drink from the chalice of non-motorized winter recreation. Over the next few years each national forest must define corridors and ranges allowing OSV use as well as those areas that are closed to motorized use in winter. With the welfare of wildlife, other forest resources, and other forest users acting as benchmarks to guide the process, there is every reason to be optimistic that more quiet zones, fresh air, and stashes of soft snow will be returning to our national forests.

The bad news is that the Forest Service is an overworked, underfunded agency and some branches of the agency will be truculent — they will do their best to keep kicking the can down the road. Advocacy and involvement will help the cause. In the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest surrounding the town where I live today, our local backcountry skiing and snowshoeing club, El Sendero, has begun preparing articles for the media educating our citizenry about what is required of the Forest Service. Next, the club has asked forest administrators to define a time frame for initiating and completing the process.

El Sendero is also scheduling meetings with local snowmobile clubs to discuss designated zones where non-motorized recreationalists and motorized recreationalists can each pursue their passion without impinging upon the other group. These two groups will certainly have areas of disagreement, but by initiating respectful dialog and finding consensus on low- hanging fruit, we hope to avoid snow wars and to help the Forest Service fulfill its obligations.

Pressuring, haggling, deal-making … these are not tasks elevating the pulse of skiers and snowshoers. And yet this is a process non-motorized winter recreationalists should embrace. We have the law behind us, a court decision upholding the law, and guidelines defining the goals of winter policies. This gives us a long lever, a place to stand, and a generational opportunity to reclaim lost ground.

Human-powered snowsports are an important part of the $887 BILLION outdoor recreation economy and the fastest growing segment of the winter outdoor recreation industry. With 16 MILLION annual participants, booming equipment expenditures and related tourism revenues, human-powered winter backcountry activities create jobs and bring income into rural economies while contributing to community development, quality of life, health, and public land conservation.

See below for the full report, compiled and written by Natalie Knowles. Or click here to download the pdf.

2018 Trends and Impact Report