This month we were in D.C. with our Outdoor Alliance colleagues (including policy staff from all of the OA member groups) to assess our work thus far into the current administration, to talk strategy for the coming year, and to meet with Congressional offices on the Hill.
It was a productive whirlwind. It’s always fun to hang out with our OA colleagues and brainstorm how we can work together to protect public lands and human-powered recreation experiences. And by teaming up with the climbers, paddlers, and mountain bikers, we’re able to get our issues in front of way more offices. And when we speak as a united team on behalf of the entire human-powered outdoor recreation community we have a lot more political power.
On the Hill, we advocated for the bi-partisan Recreation Not Red Tape bill, which OA helped to draft, plus a fire funding fix, the permanent re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), and to defend the original Nation Monument designations for Bears Ears and the Antiquities Act. These are all things that affect all forms of outdoor recreation on public lands, including snowsports.
Forest and Winter Recreation Planning
While we were in D.C., we also met with the Forest Service’s Washington Office staff who oversee the travel management program. Keeping things pretty high level, we updated them on how winter travel planning is playing out here in the West, and shared our thoughts on what we thought was working and what wasn’t.
We’re trying to find ways to make winter travel planning less intimidating, so that forests start to prioritize getting it done and doing it right. The D.C. staff seemed keen to talk about opportunities to front-load the process with collaborative efforts, and we are hopeful that they might provide some guidance to forests to encourage this approach. Until Congress appropriates more money to the Forest Service (and fixes the fire borrowing issue) they have to keep trying to figure out how to do more with less, and winter travel planning won’t happen the way it should unless we can convince each Forest that it’s a priority and worth the effort. Well-grounded, facilitated collaboratives can help make travel planning easier, which helps in convincing Forest Supervisors and District Rangers that it’s something they want to prioritize.
Another major focus this month has been Custer Gallatin forest planning. The Custer Gallatin National Forest is home to Montana’s highest and snowiest peaks, some of the best ice climbing in the country, and tons of great skiing. The comment period for the Proposed Action ends on March 5 and WWA’s Policy Director has been busy participating in two collaborative groups (love those collaboratives!) and writing comments on behalf of both Winter Wildlands Alliance and Outdoor Alliance Montana. In this forest plan revision, we are advocating for new areas to be recommended for Wilderness, as well as changes in over-snow vehicle suitability to reduce conflicts with skiers in the Bozeman area, and to build a foundation for winter travel planning on the eastern half of the forest (the west half already has a winter travel plan).
Also this month, in California, WWA’s Advocacy Director participated in an informal, 11th-hour stakeholder collaborative with snowmobilers, backcountry skiers and others on the Lassen National Forest’s winter travel plan. Stay tuned on that; we hope to be able to share high-level points of consensus and some notes on the process —what worked and what could be improved — in the coming weeks.
New Backcountry Alliance!
This month Winter Wildlands Alliance welcomed its newest grassroots group: the Teton Backcountry Alliance. We’re stoked to have an organized voice for skiers in the Tetons, covering the region from Teton Pass to Grand Teton National Park and beyond, where there’s no shortage of issues affecting skiers. We’ll be working with this group to help them get their feet under them in the coming months.
Trails Stewardship Grant Opportunity!
Finally: we recently learned that the Forest Service has scraped up a little funding to continue their National Forest System Trails Stewardship Funding Program in 2018. Last year they awarded $250,000 to trail projects across the country. This year, there’s $400,000 available (don’t ask us how they managed to increase this part of their budget). If your organization does stewardship work, this could be a great opportunity – last year the money went towards maintaining trails, installing signs, surveying trails, and improving trailheads and campgrounds. They’ll start soliciting applications on March 1 (with application deadline April 15), so if this is something you’re interested in shoot Hilary Eisen an email for more information.