Policy Update – February 2024

We share the latest from our policy staff, investments in regional mapping and data collection, first glimpses of a Winter Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) on the Lolo National Forest, and more in February’s grassroots policy update.

Photo by Yang on Unsplash

Executive Director Letter

(2/28/2024)

Winter finally snuck in across most of the West this month, just in time to provide plenty of “boot-top fairy pow” (as our old friend Joe St. Onge describes it) for our annual Coyote Yurt trip, as well as to allow dozens of SnowSchool sites to finally get under way. Sincere condolences to our friends in the midwest and back East, where dogsled races have been canceled and Nordic events are occurring on grass.

Climate change is getting far too real in too many places, highlighting the immediate need not only to find more meaningful systemic ways to slash greenhouse gas emissions, but also to kick into high gear on policies that will help us and forests/ecosystems adapt and stay resilient as winters continue to diminish.

To that end, we continue to invest in regional mapping, data collection and constituency organizing in Colorado and California in anticipation of new winter travel planning starts on forest units in those states (see updates below from WWA staff Kelly Bessem and Brittany Leffel).

Meanwhile, the release of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Grand Targhee’s proposed commercial expansion into Teton Canyon and the ensuing comment period have been delayed until April or May but we and our coalition are poised to mobilize when that happens. No word yet on Taos.

The first glimpses of a Winter Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) on the Lolo National Forest this month provides a solid ray of hope for our interests in forest planning. “Amazingly, nearly every one of our priority backcountry ski areas was labeled non-motorized,” reports Adam Switalski of Montana Backcountry Alliance, a WWA Grassroots Group. “Specifically, they were labeled as ‘Semi-primitive Nonmotorized’ and ‘Primitive’ for their Desired Winter ROS. Wow! In fact, two areas where we have conflict with snowmobiles were labeled as non-motorized as the desired condition. Wow!” Stay tuned to our channels for how you can help support our friends on the Lolo.

And if you’re in Colorado this month and up for a trek and some good networking/discussion, join us (and Colorado Mountain Club and 10th Mountain Huts Association) for the annual Backcountry Snowsports Initiative (BSI) gathering at the famous Fowler-Hilliard Hut above Camp Hale. There’s no cost but space is limited. Register now to join us!

Let it snow!

-David Page, WWA Executive Director

On the Ground in California

An update from our California Stewardship Manager, Kelly Bessem:

With the Inyo National Forest’s OSV use planning underway, there’s an immediate need for visitor use, facilities, ecological, and user conflict data within the region. This data is used to inform WWA’s comments and is provided directly to the US Forest Service each season.

The Forest has indicated their dedication to moving forward with the release of a Draft Environmental Assessment with multiple alternatives, and we could see them as early as Fall 2024. This season can provide us and the US Forest Service with information on winter recreation user visitation levels and impacts during lower snowfall averages.

It’s important to collect data in a variety of conditions to understand long-term impacts. Inyo National Forest staff have expressed that they will also begin collecting winter recreation data themselves in the coming year.

If you’d like more information on how to submit winter recreation data via the RIMS app, please visit CMC’s website here.

Please reach out to our CA Stewardship Director with any questions or other requests at kbessem@winterwildlands.org.

From the Field in Colorado

An update from our Colorado Policy Coordinator, Brittany Leffel:

This month, the Southwest Colorado Conservation & Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (SCCORR) kicked off its listening session tour in Durango, and I was able to meet with other motorized and non-motorized users to discuss the challenges and opportunities of balancing conservation and recreation.

SCCORR spans from Silverton to Pagosa Springs and is part of the Colorado Outdoor Regional Partnership Initiative which convenes a broad spectrum of voices that will eventually inform the next Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.

The reach of SCCORR overlaps with the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forest, with the latter slated to begin OSV planning this Spring. Human-powered recreation groups sit on the steering committees of many of these regional partnerships and it is important to continue to show up to these listening sessions as a voice for the non-motorized recreation community.

The Grand Mesa Ucompaghre (GMUG) is still working on their forest revision plan. We have been working with our partners at Outdoor Alliance as well as WWA Grassroots Groups Colorado Mountain Club and Elk Mountain Backcountry Alliance to address the Winter Recreation Opportunity Spectrum settings and how it might set the stage for winter travel planning. The GMUG held their objection resolution meeting this month and we had the opportunity to voice our concerns on potential impacts and the need for OSV planning once the forest revision is complete. More to come!

If you have any questions, please reach out to our Colorado Policy Coordinator at: bleffel@winterwildlands.org.