Preliminary Environmental Assessment Out for Review
The Shoshone National Forest in Northwest Wyoming bills itself as a wild backcountry forest, and indeed there are some amazing adventures to be had deep in the Wind River, Absaroka, and Beartooth mountains. What’s at stake in this travel plan, and where most skiers go, is the Shoshone’s relatively accessible world-class front-country terrain. Specifically Togwotee Pass and the Beartooth Pass.
Based on a public scoping process that ended in December 2017, the Shoshone National Forest developed a Preliminary Environmental Assessment, which they published on July 29, 2020. The 60-day public comment period ends on September 28, 2020.
All of the project documents can be found on the Forest Service project website. Click the “Analysis” tab to download the Preliminary Environmental Assessment (or download it here). The Preliminary Environmental Assessment includes 3 alternatives – the “no action” (status quo) and two “action” alternatives that are very similar. Each alternative covers summer and winter travel management, but we will only be focusing on the winter aspects of the EA.
Although there are a few things that we like in the Alternatives, overall, we are disappointed with this EA. At all earlier stages of the planning process the Forest Service stated that it would be drafting an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and we were surprised when they announced earlier this summer that they would be publishing an Environmental Assessment (EA) instead. While an EA can be appropriate for some travel management plans, the Shoshone plan is too complex for this less detailed type of analysis. There are many deficiencies in the EA (including a complete disregard for backcountry skiing!) and the only way the Shoshone is going to be able to remedy these deficiencies is for the forest to take a second look at all the comments they received in 2016 and 2017 and draft an EIS.
It’s important to weigh in on the Preliminary EA during this comment period so that the Shoshone understands what they need to fix. And, there are a few good things in the alternatives that are definitely worth supporting. Here’s the breakdown:
- Rather than follow the “closed unless designated open” paradigm that the OSV Rule requires, the Shoshone’s approach to winter travel planning is “open unless designated closed”. This is a fundamental flaw that leads to many problems, like designating a desert area for snowmobile use.
- Alternatives 1 and 2 do not set season dates for OSV use on the Shoshone National Forest. Alternative 2 sets an OSV Season with the following dates:
- The North Zone, which includes the Clarks Fork, Greybull, and Wapiti Ranger Districts, will allow OSV use November 1 to May 31.
- The South Zone, which includes the Wind River and Washakie Ranger Districts will allow OSV use from December 1 to May 31.
- Unfortunately, the South Zone dates do not align with the neighboring Bridger-Teton National Forest (December 1 – April 30), which will create confusion and inconsistent management on Togwotee Pass, and the North Zone dates do nothing to alleviate the use conflict and natural resource damage that occurs on the Beartooth Pass starting in mid-May (see video, above).
- Alternatives 1 and 2 both authorize OSV use within a substantial portion of the Line Creek Research Natural Area – an area on the Beartooth Plateau that is supposed to be closed to motor vehicle travel in order to protect its rare alpine tundra vegetation for scientific study.
- There is no mention of user education, setting OSV speed limits on certain shared-use trails, or other measures that could reduce use conflict in areas that are popular with both snowmobilers and skiers.
What We Support
- Alternatives 2 and 3 both protect the Deception Creek and Pinnacles cross-country ski trails on Togwotee Pass by not designating the area surrounding these trails for OSV use.
- Alternative 3 includes our recommendation for how to manage OSV use within the High Lakes Wilderness Study Area, striking a balance between protecting wilderness character in the Wilderness Study Area and the adjacent Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and providing high-quality opportunities for snowmobiling on the Beartooth Plateau.
Click on the links below to read the comments we’ve sent in to the Forest Service previously
- Winter Wildlands Alliance Pre-scoping Comments (2015)
- Winter Wildlands Alliance round 1 Scoping Comments (2016)
- Winter Wildlands Alliance round 2 Scoping Comments (2017)