Policy Update – January 2024

We share the latest from our policy staff, details on the Kaniksu OSV plan, RIMS app reminders, and more in January’s grassroots policy update.

Photo by Henrik Morkel on Unsplash

Executive Director Letter

(1/26/2024)

With Hilary out this quarter managing a newborn critter, we’re testing out a new approach to our monthly policy update. Luckily, we’ve built some solid new capacity for our policy team this winter with the hiring of Kelly Bessem as our California Stewardship Manager and Brittany Leffel as Policy Coordinator in Colorado. Please welcome them and see below for updates from each.

On the national front, we were pleased to see the bipartisan Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE) Act pass out of markup with its squishy but better-than-nothing travel management language intact.

Other pieces include:

  • The Biking on Long Distance Trails Act (BOLT Act), which would identify and create more long-distance bike trails;
  • The Protecting America’s Rock Climbing Act (PARC Act), which would safeguard Wilderness climbing;
  • The Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation Act (SOAR Act), which would modernize recreational permitting for guides and outfitters;
  • As well as specific codification for the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership, which funds parks and green spaces in neighborhoods that need it most.

Meanwhile, I imagine you may have read or heard plenty of coverage on the oral arguments last week before the Supreme Court considering a likely judicial pivot on the 40-year-old Chevron Doctrine. Pundits were divided as to how such a move would actually impact the day-to-day business of federal agencies, but from our perspective—thinking in particular of the Forest Service’s ability to actively plan for and manage recreation—it did not bode well.

On the Executive side this week, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) sent its “Phase 2” revisions for NEPA regulations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for a 90-day review. The revisions reverse provisions of the Trump administration’s 2020 NEPA Rule, remove restrictions on public comments and legal reviews of projects, and require agencies to consider climate change and disadvantaged communities in environmental reviews. By all accounts the revisions are likely to be fiercely opposed by Republican lawmakers and litigated by red states attorneys general.

But enough about all that! For some seriously positive and inspiring perspectives on things we care about, if you haven’t already done so: put your headphones in your ears, head out for a walk, and savor all nine episodes of Trail Break Radio.

And please: let it snow already!

-David Page, WWA Executive Director

On the Ground in California

An update from our California Stewardship Manager, Kelly Bessem:

Our backcountry ambassadors have continued to set the example for what winter recreation data collection can look like across the Inyo, Lassen, Plumas, Stanislaus, and El Dorado National Forests. Those who were with us for the pilot program last season have returned and continue to build up data entries and the number of people they reach at trailheads.

As we begin to get more local knowledge about winter trailheads and related issues, we are able to improve our understanding of the locations and types of data we need to help land managers make informed decisions.

With that in mind, we are looking to expand our Backcountry Ambassador program throughout the 7 National Forests of California and to increase the capacity on each forest. Email Kelly at kbessem@winterwildlands.org for more information!

From the Field in Colorado

An update from our Colorado Policy Coordinator, Brittany Leffel:

The winter travel planning process will kick off in Southwest Colorado this spring! Data collected through the RIMS App this winter will allow the backcountry community to create a vision of how to improve and protect human-powered recreation opportunities while helping land managers better understand winter recreation use.

Also: before heading out on maternity leave earlier this month, WWA Policy Director Hilary Eisen had the chance to be a part of the San Juan Snowcast, a podcast for locals in SW Colorado that aims to help backcountry skiers and riders make safer decisions by disseminating current conditions reports, avalanche incident debriefs, and backcountry education. She discussed public lands management and local issues affecting human-powered backcountry recreation in the San Juan mountains. You can listen to the full podcast on San Juan Snowcast’s podcast channel here.