Policy Update – November 2021

In this month’s policy update, we check in on the Shoshone National Forest Draft Travel Plan, the new Outdoor Recreation Act, a NEPA update, and Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre Forest Plan Revision.

Photo Credit: Howie Garber

From David Page, WWA Advocacy Director

Note: Every seven years, Winter Wildlands staff are able to take a 3 month paid sabbatical. Policy Director, Hilary Eisen, is now on sabbatical through December. David Page, WWA Advocacy Director, is filling in while she’s away and enjoying the outdoors.

(11/23/2021) Greetings from Northern New Mexico, where I’m out visiting family for the Thanksgiving holiday. The cottonwoods are bare. The green chile’s hot. The sky is blue as a turquoise bolo in a pawnshop window. And, alas, there’s still not a trace of snow on the Sangre de Cristos.

Shoshone National Forest

Last Thursday, in collaboration with our friends at the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Wyoming Wilderness Association (the other WWA), The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club and Wild Earth Guardians, we finalized and submitted nearly 80 pages of joint comments on the latest highly concerning Environmental Assessment for the Shoshone National Forest Travel Management Plan, pushing back on a proposed extension of open OSV season to June 15 on the Beartooth Plateau, a failure to minimize use conflict in any way on Togwotee Pass, a failure to protect wilderness characteristics in the High Lakes Wilderness Study Area, and a host of other issues. We were pleased to be able to rally more than 80 individual customized comments through our website and action alerts (thanks to those of you who submitted!), and will continue into the new year applying pressure on the Forest to actually listen to and address our many concerns.

Outdoor Recreation Act

The same day, the day before the Build Back Better (BBB) bill finally passed the House, Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (ENR), and John Barrasso (R-WY), Ranking Member of the Committee, introduced the Outdoor Recreation Act. Especially given Manchin’s high-profile role in tamping down the most ambitious aspects of the BBB, and Barrasso’s determined support for expanding motorized recreation into the wildest reaches of the public landscape (including the wildest parts of the Shoshone National Forest, see above), our engagement with Outdoor Alliance in crafting key components of this bill seemed like a round of bargaining with the devil.

There is much to like in the bill as introduced—requiring substantial improvements in recreation inventories and use data, the development of specific guidance for climbing in Wilderness, and mandating that the Forest Service and BLM complete Travel Management — but there’s more than a whiff of poison in it.

Still, it’s gratifying to see the following specific language introduced in the U.S. Senate: “SEC. 204. TRAVEL MANAGEMENT. 24 (a) IN GENERAL. The Secretaries shall prioritize finalizing travel management planning activities of the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service, as applicable, including evaluating and designating as open, limited, or closed applicable Federal land areas or routes, roads, trails, or staging areas on applicable Federal land for nonmotorized or motorized use, including for over-snow vehicles.”

We’ll see where all that goes. And of course we’ll see if Manchin ends up doing the right thing on the Reconciliation Bill.

NEPA Update
Meanwhile, we also joined Outdoor Alliance and the American Alpine Club last week in submitting joint comments on the first phase of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)’s rulemaking to restore NEPA.

Grand Mesa Uncompahgre (GMUG)

And we are working with our friends at Colorado Mountain Club and Silent Tracks to button up comments on Winter Recreation Opportunity Settings and other issues in the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre (GMUG)’s Draft Forest Plan. Public comment deadline is this Friday November 26th!

Hopefully you all get a couple days this week to gather and break bread with family and friends, and to get out and breathe crisp, clean air on public lands. And stay tuned in early December for our final push to Save Moose Mountain from corporate ski resort development!

As always, please stay in touch and keep us informed of issues, concerns, and tales of adventure from your backyard.