Policy Update – October 2021

Quick-hit updates on budget reconciliation, Save Moose Mountain, Teton Bighorn Sheep, Shoshone National Forest Draft Travel Plan (what a mess!), and Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre (GMUG) Forest Plan Revision in this month’s policy update.

Photo Credit: Jason Hummel

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.

(10/25/2021) After 24 hours of soaking rain—the wettest day in over 150 years of record-keeping for parts of central California—the fires are out and the debris slides are on. Here at 8415 feet in the Eastern Sierra, rain finally turned to heavy snow at 8:00am this morning. Now, toward the end of the day, the sun is shining and all is turning to slush. Happy day. We’ve got lots going on:

Build Back Better Budget Reconciliation

The “Build Back Better” budget reconciliation bill is still in heated negotiation, as lawmakers try to hammer out what should stay in and what might need to be cut out in order to get a yes vote from Representative Manchin and Representative Sinema.

Last week, with our Outdoor Alliance partners, we helped draft a list of top priorities for climate and the outdoors that we shared with leaders and allies in Congress in hopes that they will fight hard to keep the provisions we most care about. These include important investments in a modern Civilian Climate Corps (CCC) and other climate resilience efforts, wildfire funding, specific land protections from Arizona to Alaska, and oil and gas leasing reforms on public lands.

Read the Outdoor Alliance letter and take action today to keep your congress folks on the right track.

[update 10/29: much trimming underway to try to keep the bill alive. So far we’re pleased to see many of our priorities (climate resilience investments, CCC, public lands oil/gas leasing and mining reform, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge protection, urban parks, forest restoration, fuels reduction, legacy roads and trails funding, and NEPA implementation. Disappointed to see Oak Flat and Grand Canyon protections cut, as well as the Clean Electricity Performance Program and Every Kid Outdoors. Absolutely still worth writing your elected representatives to encourage them to support the priorities that matter to all of us! ]

Ski Area Expansion: Lutsen Mountains Corporate Ski Area

The Superior National Forest in Minnesota announced this past week that it has extended the public comment deadline for the Lutsen ski area expansion from Oct 25 to Dec 9.

The Forest Service is considering whether to approve or deny a proposal by the Lutsen Mountains Corporation to develop extensive commercial ski resort infrastructure on public lands, with seven chairlifts, one surface lift, two new base facilities, a “mountain-top chalet,” two new snowmaking reservoirs, a reroute of the Superior Hiking Trail/North Country National Scenic Trail (SHT/NCNST), and 1,260 new parking spaces. (For context, the existing ski area currently has 200 parking spaces on private land.)

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement outlines a broad range of negative impacts that the proposed project would have on ecosystems, wildlife habitat, vegetation, watersheds, air quality, scenic integrity, carbon sequestration, the socioeconomics of local communities, and on equitable access to a diverse set of recreation opportunities on public lands. Backcountry skiers and riders would be pushed out of the best terrain in Minnesota. On top of all that, a project like this would set terrible precedent for other ski resort expansion proposals in Idaho, Wyoming, Washington state and beyond.

If you haven’t already, please read more and take action here (also use savemoosemountain.org for sharing). And share with your colleagues and friends! #SaveMooseMountain

Teton Bighorn Sheep Working Group Meeting

In case you missed it, the collaborative Teton Sheep Working Group held a public meeting on Zoom last week to present and discuss its Final Report and recommendations (Teton Range Bighorn Sheep and Winter Recreation Strategy). There was a small social media conversation in the days leading up to the meeting about whether proposed closures were too much of a sacrifice for skiers. However, the great majority of the backcountry ski community seems to be on board with a few reasonable compromises in hopes of bringing two separate herds back from the brink of extinction.

Before you form an opinion, we recommend you watch the recorded meeting and read the report. There’s still time to share specific thoughts and perspectives with the working group before the relevant agencies (Grand Teton National Park, Bridger-Teton National Forest and Caribou-Targhee National Forest) begin the process of making hard decisions.

It’s important to understand this working group is creating recommendations for future policymaking and is the first of its kind in terms of collaboration proceeding the actual rulemaking process led by the USFS.

Shoshone National Forest Travel Plan Draft EA Released

Winter Wildlands Alliance and our various national and Wyoming-based partners have been tracking a Travel Management planning process on the Shoshone National Forest since 2015. The forest released its latest draft Environmental Assessment (EA) last week, initiating a 30-day public comment period to end November 18. Citing the complexity and scope of travel planning as well as inadequate public engagement due to COVID-19, we and our partners asked for an additional 30-day extension of the comment period. The extension was promptly denied. We continue to have a long list of concerns and will be sharing resources for commenting on this round within the next week or so. Stay tuned!

[update 10/29: Ready to get into the weeds on the draft Shoshone travel plan? The forest is holding three virtual meetings next week of November, each starting at 6 pm:

Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre (GMUC) Forest Plan Revision DEIS

Public comments are due November 12 on the Draft Forest Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement. We are working with our partners at Outdoor Alliance Colorado, the Colorado Mountain Club and Silent Tracks to address concerns we have with new Winter Recreation Opportunity Settings and how these might set the stage for future winter travel planning on the GMUG.