Policy Update – May 2024

The policy team has been involved in winter travel planning, advocating for increased public lands funding, celebrating the restoration of NEPA, and more!

Policy Director Letter


Wow, May went by fast! I love this time of year because I can go skiing one day and then be on the river, or rock climbing, a day later. Sometimes even on the same day! Spring is the best for multi-sport adventures. When not enjoying all that the season has to offer for outdoor activities, the WWA policy team has been busy with exciting new travel planning developments and advocating for increases to public lands recreation funding, among other things. Read on for details.

Winter Travel Planning Begins in Colorado and Wraps Up in Tahoe!

The Forest Service recently began a winter travel planning process that will ultimately designate routes and areas for over-snow vehicle (OSV) use across the 1.8-million-acre Rio Grande National Forest. Meanwhile, after nine years, the Tahoe National Forest finally completed its OSV plan. More on both of these plans from Brittany and Kelly below!

Protect Public Lands With Proper Funding

Over the last fifteen years, outdoor recreation visits have steadily increased on public lands, but funding for recreation staff at the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management has decreased. This discrepancy has led to a host of issues that anybody who works with land management agencies or recreates on public lands is likely aware of, including a lack of staff for maintenance, enforcement, and visitor education, as well as limited capacity for recreation planning.

We have been working with Outdoor Alliance to advocate for improved public lands funding. This month, Outdoor Alliance, Winter Wildlands Alliance, and 33 other outdoor recreation organizations and businesses sent a letter calling on lawmakers to fully fund recreation budgets at the Forest Service and the BLM. Current budget proposals are inadequate for managing public lands and waters. Learn more, and ask Congress to increase funding for recreation management on public lands here.  

NEPA, Restored!

On April 30, the Biden Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published the final part of a two-phase effort to restore and modernize the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule gives the public a stronger voice in public lands management and government decisions that affect public health. It also strengthens requirements for assessing climate and environmental justice impacts while centering science in government decision-making.

We have been working to #ProtectNEPA since the Trump Administration tried to gut this bedrock environmental law in 2020, and we are relieved to have this new NEPA rule in place. CEQ completed Phase 1 of its NEPA restoration effort in April 2022, with a preliminary rule restoring the fundamental elements of NEPA. Over the past two years, CEQ has been working to modernize the application of NEPA to address 21st-century challenges. “Look before you leap” is a fundamental purpose of NEPA, and this new rule will ensure, among other things, that our nation can rapidly transition to a clean energy future without sacrificing public lands, the larger environment, or the health of frontline communities.

Unsurprisingly, not everybody is happy to see NPEA restored. On May 21, twenty states filed a lawsuit in North Dakota to overturn CEQ’s new NEPA rule. We are watching this case closely and will continue to alert you to opportunities to stand up for NEPA!

On the Ground in California

An update from our California Stewardship Manager, Kelly Bessem:

This OSV plan was over nine years in the making, involving a robust environmental review process, significant public participation, and a diverse array of alternatives. While the final plan allows for OSV use in most areas and all trails where people have typically taken snowmobiles in the past, it also secures non-motorized protections for key zones, such as Donner Peak and Kyburz Flat, and promotes quiet recreation experiences along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

Non-motorized buffers of various widths along the PCT have been established to prevent motorized use along the trail and to manage for a non-motorized winter experience on the trail. OSVs are allowed to cross the PCT at 41 designated crossing points, which vary in width depending on the terrain. This is a significant improvement from the initial plan, which allowed OSV use right up to the tread of the PCT.

Unlike the other two forests in California that have completed winter travel planning (the Stanislaus and Lassen), the Tahoe plan does not include a minimum snow depth, but rather uses snow-water equivalency (SWE) that translates to about 12 inches of “Sierra cement.” This approach is potentially more protective as it requires a deeper snowpack in certain conditions. However, we are concerned that this may be difficult to enforce. If minimum or sufficient snow depth is not well communicated by the Forest Service or enforced, it will not serve its intended purpose of protecting natural resources.

Most of the Sagehen Experimental Forest remains closed to OSVs, but a portion of the forest will remain open to them, providing a good venue for future research into OSV impacts.

As with any management plan, education, monitoring, and enforcement are critical next steps to implementing the Tahoe OSV plan. Visitor education and monitoring are areas where WWA can offer assistance to the Tahoe National Forest as the plan moves into implementation. To learn more about Tahoe National Forest’s Over-Snow Vehicle Travel Plan read visit our blog.

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:

The Rio Grande National Forest finally released its desired Winter Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) Maps and published a Proposed Action and Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this project. Unfortunately, it is off to a rocky start. The agency is proposing to designate 74% of the Rio Grande (1,382,276 acres) for over-snow vehicle OSV use, along with 260 miles of groomed OSV routes.

It is very concerning that the forest is proposing to designate so much of the non-wilderness forest for OSV use. The proposed action lacks clarity on how it plans to minimize conflict with wildlife, protect natural resources, and address issues between OSV and other winter recreation users. Although the ROS is just a starting point, it appears that the forest’s proposed action mirrors the winter ROS maps and does not follow the “closed unless open” designated framework.

Despite this bumpy start, we are collaborating with local partners and recreation users to develop balanced suggestions for protecting quiet recreation and wildlife. Public comments are due June 14. You can learn more about our perspective on the proposed action and sign on to our comment letter in our action alert. 

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