Policy Update – June 2022

In this month’s policy update, we share news on our new Executive Director, the Boundary Waters in Minnesota, Sierra and Sequoia National Forest plans in California, and a bill funding the USFS, BLM, and NPS out of Capitol Hill.

Photo by Jason Hummel (@jasonhummel)

From Hilary Eisen, WWA Policy Director (6/23/2022)

Hopefully you’ve heard WWA’s big news already, but if not, please join me in welcoming David Page as our new Executive Director. David transitioned into his new role at WWA in early June. Having served as WWA’s Advocacy Director for 6 years, David has hit the ground running and we’re all very excited about this next phase at Winter Wildlands.

Boundary Waters Update (Minnesota)

In other exciting news, the US Forest Service just released a draft environmental assessment (EA) for a proposed 20-year ban on sulfide-ore copper mining (a “mineral withdrawal”) on 225,504 acres of federal lands and minerals in the watershed of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota.

In the EA, the Forest Service determined that sulfide-ore copper mining cannot be done safely in this watershed. The EA provides a strong scientific foundation for a 20-year ban on toxic sulfide-ore copper mining near the Boundary Waters and follows the Biden administration’s decision to cancel the only two federal minerals leases in the watershed. The EA also provides the scientific foundation for Rep. Betty McCollum’s Boundary Waters Protection and Pollution Prevention Act, which would make the withdrawal permanent. A 30-day comment period begins on June 24.

Once the EA is finalized, the Forest Service will hand it off to the Bureau of Land Management which will summarize and deliver it to Interior Secretary Haaland for a decision. This is huge news, as the federal agencies are one step closer to issuing a 20-year withdrawal of sulfide-ore copper mining in the Boundary Waters watershed! You can show your support for protecting the Boundary Waters by adding your name to this petition, organized by our friends at the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters.

Sierra and Sequoia National Forest Plans (California)

This month the Forest Service also published final forest plans for the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests. We’re working with our Outdoor Alliance California partners to review the plans. Anybody who has offered substantive comments to the Forest Service over the course of this planning process has standing to file an objection by August 13.

Based on my preliminary review of the plans we will be objecting on several points concerning winter recreation management, such as the Sierra and Sequoia’s failure to include a winter “Recreation Opportunity Spectrum” (ROS) in their revised plans. A winter ROS is critical for setting the stage for winter travel planning, as well as guiding other forest management activities that occur in winter. Stay tuned for more information on these forest plans as we complete our analysis.

FY23 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Funding Bill

Finally, a brief update from Capitol Hill. This week the House Appropriations Committee released the Fiscal Year 2023 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Funding Bill. The bill increases Forest Service non-fire funding by $257.99 million above the FY22 appropriation, increases Bureau of Land Management funding by $135 million, and Park Service funding by $378 million. These increases are not as high as we have advocated for, but are a step in the right direction.

There is still more work to be done before the FY23 budget is finalized, and we are continuing to work with our Outdoor Alliance partners to advocate for increased public lands funding to address planning, recreation management, and climate resiliency needs.

I hope your summer is off to a good start – happy solstice!