Policy Update – September 2023

In this month’s policy update, we share updates on NEPA, forest plan revisions, and Inyo National Forest’s winter travel plan.

Photo Credit: Clement Delhaye

From Hilary Eisen, WWA Policy Director (9/29/2023)

On my drive home from our Grassroots Advocacy Conference last week, I was excited to see the first snow of the season dusting peaks from Colorado to Montana. The fresh snow was a fitting end to a fun and informative conference.

We recorded all of the panel discussions and will be creating a new podcast – Trailbreak Radio – out of the recordings, so stay tuned. And, we’re already looking ahead to our next conference, in September 2025!

Aside from the Grassroots Advocacy Conference, there were many other things happening on the policy front in September.

NEPA Update

First up, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)’s Phase 2 NEPA Rule. This is the final step in unwinding the disastrous Trump NEPA Rule from 2020. CEQ released a draft Rule in August and comments on the draft are due today. We’re generally happy with what CEQ has proposed and are encouraging them to work quickly to finalize the Rule. Read more here, if you missed our blog post on this earlier.

Forest Plan Revisions: Manti-La Sal and GMUG

This has also been a busy month for forest plan revision. I’m in the midst of reviewing the Manti-La Sal’s draft EIS (published August 14, comments due November 16) and the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison’s (GMUG) final forest plan (published September 8, objections due October 27).

We’re working with our Outdoor Alliance partners on both of these forest plan revisions, and WWA’s specific focus in both plans is on the winter Recreation Opportunity Spectrum (ROS) and how well the plans set their respective forests up for winter travel planning.

While the Manti-La Sal is likely several years out from winter travel planning, it’s our understanding that the GMUG intends to begin this process shortly after the forest plan revision is completed. Indeed, national forests in southwest Colorado – the GMUG, San Juan, and Rio Grande – are looking to be the next hot spot of winter travel planning in the nation, with coordination and assistance from a new travel management team in the Rocky Mountain Regional Office. Expect to be hearing more from me about Colorado travel planning in these policy updates!

Winter Travel Planning: Inyo National Forest

And finally, because who can ever have enough winter travel planning?, we were excited to see the Inyo National Forest (David’s back yard!) release a scoping notice and Proposed Action for its over-snow vehicle travel plan this month.

Unfortunately, despite several years’ worth of collaborative conversations and many suggested compromises and solutions to minimize conflict between different uses, the forest has decided to start with an alternative that proposes designating motorized use pretty much everywhere on the forest outside of designated wilderness. Under this proposed action, only a single winter trailhead would be set aside (until April) for skiing, snowshoeing and snowplay, despite the fact that these non-motorized activities comprise the vast majority of winter recreation on the forest. We believe it’s possible for the forest to develop a common sense alternative, and are working with local partners to develop suggestions for what this would be. Stay tuned for more – comments are due October 20.

Mountain snow and crisp fall temperatures signal that it’s almost time to scrape the storage wax off my skis. I can’t wait to slide downhill again!