Policy Update – Jan 2021

New administration priorities, Snow Ranger Summit, Heli-Skiing, and California Winter Travel Planning

Photo Credit: Jason Hummel (On the ancestral lands of the Coast Salish and other Nations)

From Hilary Eisen, WWA Policy Director (1/26/2021)

Happy New Year! We are having an abnormally warm and dry winter in my corner of the world, but I’m still feeling pretty good about 2021. President Biden has pledged to undo the environmental damage of the Trump era, and we’re looking forward to working with the federal agencies to meet the priorities of the new administration.

New Administration Means New Priorities

These priorities are climate change, racial equity, the economy, and the Covid-19 pandemic. The issues we work on fit into all of these fields as solid winter travel planning:

  • Provides tools and the ability for a forest to adapt winter recreation management to a changing climate.
  • Makes public lands more inclusive and equitable in winter by providing safe and enjoyable opportunities for everybody to access and recreate on national forests.
  • Helps to ensure that the winter recreation economy is diverse and robust while creating opportunities for many types of winter recreation activities and businesses to thrive.
  • And finally, we’re all seeing the backcountry boom that has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Winter travel planning is essential to minimizing conflict between recreation uses and protecting the backcountry (and the wildlife who live there) from recreation overload now and into the future.

CMC’s Snow Ranger Summit

Speaking of managing the backcountry boom – one of my highlights from the past month was attending the Colorado Mountain Club’s Snow Ranger Summit. CMC brought together Forest Service snow rangers and recreation managers and non-profit organizations who help with snow ranger programs or run their own trail ambassador programs for a day of sharing program models, discussing risk management, partnerships, and more.

The summit was virtual and recorded, so you can watch the sessions or check out the resources that were shared, too! Session notes, presentations and shared documents from the Summit can be found here. Additionally, most of the sessions were recorded.

  • Part 1 – Program Overviews (watch here)
  • Part 2 – Training & Risk Management Presentations (watch here)
  • Part 3 – Training & COVID Breakout Sessions (watch here)
  • Part 4 – Monitoring & Partnerships (watch here and please note that, due to technical difficulties, part of this session did not record successfully).

Heli-Skiing in the Centennial Mountains

In other policy news, two things caught my attention this month. First, was the Caribou-Targhee National Forest’s proposal to issue a temporary special use permit for a heli-skiing in Idaho’s Centennial Mountains. As it turns out, temporary special use permits are not subject to public notice or environmental review. While it’s highly unusual for a forest to use this authority to permit anything remotely high-risk or controversial, each forest has the discretion to decide what activities are appropriate for temporary permits. Hopefully the hundreds of letters the Forest Service received after putting out a last-minute call for public comments will convince the Caribou-Targhee not to permit heli-skiing in the Centennials, even temporarily.

Plumas National Forest

Second, we received word that the Plumas National Forest, which indefinitely postponed objection resolution meetings concerning its winter travel plan last March, will soon be holding workshops with objectors and a rescheduling of official objection resolution meetings.

We have also heard that several of the other forests that began winter travel planning in 2015 will likely issue final plans this year. These forests are the “early-adopters” of the Over-Snow Vehicle Rule and we’ve been eagerly anticipating these decisions for a long time. These will be the first official winter travel plans to be drafted wholly under the 2015 Over-Snow Vehicle Rule and we’ve been working to ensure they set a good template for forests across the country to follow.

In the meantime, I hope you’re having an excellent winter. Ski kind!