Shoshone National Forest: Virtual Public Meetings on Draft Travel Plan
Public comment deadline on the latest Environmental Assessment (EA) is November 18. You must submit comments this round if you want to retain standing for possible objection to the final plan. Virtual public meetings were held Nov. 2-4 (see below for links and suggested questions).
Photo: Hans Saari and Alex Lowe trekking toward Glacier Peak Beartooths
The Shoshone National Forest held three virtual public meetings the week of November 1, 2021 for the Environmental Assessment for Travel Management Planning. Recorded meetings can be accessed here:
- Clarks Fork, Greybull, and Wapiti Ranger districts – November 2nd at 6:00 pm
- Wind River Ranger District – November 3rd at 6:00 pm
- Washakie Ranger District – November 4th at 6:00 pm
Please contact Public Affairs Officer Kristie Salzmann at Kristie.firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions concerning these public meetings.
Details of the Environmental Assessment and all maps are located on the Shoshone National Forest project website.
For more information on Winter Wildlands Alliance’s perspective and engagement visit our Shoshone National Forest Travel Planning Page.
For suggested questions and topics to address at the meetings, see below:
General, Forest-wide Constructive Travel Plan Questions for Public Meetings:
- If you had difficulty understanding what the Forest is proposing in the documents provided here, explain any difficulty and ask for more details, clarification or information wherever needed.
- How will the proposed action help the Forest Service enforce and maintain the existing system, repair important access roads, and address illegal motorized use—the most common public comment concerns raised through Forest and Travel Planning?
- Ask how the travel plan considers the significant and cumulative impacts of increasing and expanding motorized use. Share relevant personal experiences or observations.
- Question why every action alternative proposes significant new route construction and motorized loops. Eg. “What alternative should I support if I don’t want additional OHV trails and just want the FS to enforce and maintain the existing route system?” “What alternative do I support for decommissioning roads not needed?
- Ask the SNF how they will make this plan a reality on the ground. Is there an implementation plan with deadlines, infrastructure priorities, responsible officials, monitoring goals and objectives?
- Request the rationale for proposing the majority of new OHV trails, route construction and motorized loops all on the Wind River District- the district that already has the most existing routes, trails and loop opportunities, and the most documented and well-known enforcement concerns. How does this meet the purpose and need of travel planning?
- Ask the Forest Service how they are using the winter travel planning to protect the 1984 wilderness character of the High Lakes Wilderness Study Area. How does the preferred alternative address increasing and expanding snowmobile use?
North Zone winter questions
- How does the forest intend to abide by the law that created High Lakes WSA, and ensure that the manner and degree of snowmobiling is consistent with the level that occurred in 1984?
- Has the Forest considered closing the Beartooth Plateau to snowmobiling after the scenic byway is open for all vehicle traffic? How does designating the area open to snowmobiles during this time consider the safety of multiple users? Is it a good idea for safety of passenger cars and a “discrete population of recreaters” who have waited all winter to enjoy a safe and quiet winter recreation experience on the plateau?
- Why has the season been extended to June? How does the Forest plan to mitigate increased use, user conflicts, memorial day weekend?
- Share personal stories about increase in winter use and ask what the FS is doing about it
- How was minimization criteria applied to converting 130 miles of roads to trails?
- Thank you for seasonal closures!! 90% of the Washakie’s roads and trails now have seasonal restrictions, allowing wheeled vehicles from May 15- December 15th. This is a big win for resources and wildlife.
Wind River District
- How many miles of new route construction are being proposed on this district, and how does that compare to other district proposals?
- Why are the vast majority of new routes, new construction and new motorized loops occurring on the Wind River District? Where there are already more than any other district?
- How many miles of new seasonal closure are proposed on the Wind River District, and how does this compare to other districts?
- All roads on south zone (south of highway) are open to wheeled vehicles Jan 1- Dec 31? Why is this allowed through crucial winter deer, elk and sheep habitat and what are the impacts?
- Why am I no longer receiving notices to comment on the travel plan when I used to?
- How is the Forest considering cumulative impacts of increasing motorized use, more neighboring homeowners, increased traffic from 3 spear easement?
- How can the Supervisor sign a Finding of No Significant Impact for multiple miles of route construction, through roadless and across wild and scenic eligible rivers, if no one has visited, surveyed or analyzed routes to determine impacts?
- How can I comment on or evaluate brand new trail proposals (WR03, WR04b) with snow on the ground, no field trips, and no route details?
- Windy Mountain – WR03- how many new miles of construction? Grandy Rd?
- How do they expect to enforce this, how does this meet best practices or Enforcement and Compliance Working Group recommendations for defensible space?
- What is the history of the MT14 trail and push to increase and expand use here? How is the 3 spear access recently affected traffic and enforcement concerns here? How is increased motorized use considered in cumulative impacts?
- Why is the grandy reservoir road shown closed if it’s open? What’s the point of travel planning if the MVUM doesn’t mean anything on the ground?
- Warm Springs Canyon, WR07 and WR13:
- Why reward illegal behavior?
- How many miles of route construction? How is this engineering possible through rock slide? Has the area been surveyed for bats, peregrines, cultural resources?
- Bear Ck – why no improvements or seasonal closures for this important access road if there are known resource issues?
Limiting snowmobile use before Memorial Day weekend on the Beartooth Pass is one of many issues in the draft plan
For any backcountry skier, a Memorial Day weekend trip to Wyoming’s Beartooth Pass is a rite of passage. After a long winter, the road finally opens in late spring, granting access to bowls that still hold snow long after the lower elevations have melted. Springtime backcountry skiing is good living up here. The Pass is known for steep chutes right off the road but there’s mellow terrain for less experienced skiers too, and the corn hits it’s prime just as the road opens for easy access. This time of year, skiing in shorts and a floppy sun-hat is encouraged.
“It’s a tradition for people all over Montana and northern Wyoming,” says Hilary Eisen, policy director.
The Beartooth Pass is one of the spots that will be impacted by the Shoshone National Forest’s Travel Plan. The Forest Service published a Preliminary Environmental Assessment for the plan at the end of July 2020, kicking off a 30-day public comment period that ended August 29. (You can download that document on the Shoshone National Forest’s website. (On this page, click the “analysis” tab and then download the PDF labeled “SNF – Travel Management PEA.” You’ll also see the appendixes on this tab.))
In the Preliminary Environmental Assessment, the Shoshone National Forest Service proposed a season end date for snowmobiling on May 31st. Well, that date doesn’t do much to protect the tradition of human-powered skiing on Beartooth Pass over Memorial Day weekend. Over the last decade, snowmobiles have gone from an occasional appearance to dominating the scene on the Pass. The more sleds that arrive on the Pass, the more human-powered recreation is pushed out.
“A lot of people just don’t go [to the Pass] anymore because the places we used to ski are overrun,” Eisen said.
This issue is really pinned to Memorial Day, since the road is closed until then and difficult for skiers to access. Winter Wildlands Alliance has been engaged on this process with the Shoshone National Forest since the beginning, and we’ve been advocating for a season end date for over-snow vehicles that lands on April 15th, May 1st, or even May 15th. This leaves all winter and most of the spring for snowmobilers to enjoy the Pass.
This date detail is just the tip of the iceberg on the Shoshone Travel Plan. More broadly, the Forest Service has completely missed the paradigm shift that happened when Winter Travel Planning was mandated. Eisen said the document uses the old framework that assumes the forest is open to over-snow vehicles unless designated closed. That’s incorrect. The 2015 Over-Snow Vehicle Rule requires the Forest Service to close public lands to OSV after travel planning unless they are designated open.
“Because they didn’t pay attention to what they were designating, they have designated places in the forest for snowmobile use that don’t get snow,” Eisen pointed out. Like the Beartooth Front, which is steep, rugged, and snowless. “Where the mountains hit the Bighorn Basin, it’s a desert and they designated it for snowmobile use.”
Another zone that we need to advocate for is on Togwotee Pass, where a community Nordic ski area is surrounded by land heavily used by snowmobiles. We would like to see the area surrounding the Deception Creek and Pinnacle Nordic Ski Trails be closed to snowmobile use so that Nordic skiers can access the peace and quiet of the forest without the sound of motors. These trails are protected in the draft plan, but there’s a big inconsistency that’s bound to cause problems. Essentially, the Shoshone National Forest neighbors the Bridger-Teton National Forest on Togwotee, and the dates that each forest allows snowmobiles don’t line up. We’re also asking the Shoshone National Forest to increase education about stewardship and ethics on the Togwotee to help skiers and snowmobilers share the area with less conflict. This Environmental Assessment, however, doesn’t even mention backcountry skiing on the Togwotee, let alone anything related to user education and conflict mitigation.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Eisen said.
One last point on the Shoshone Travel Plan—the Forest Service is moving forward on a complicated and contentious process with only an Environmental Assessment. This deserves an asterisk for the National Environmental Policy Act, which the Trump Administration just whittled down. In an attempt to streamline the environmental review process to make it easier for corporations and polluters to get their projects approved at the expense of the public, the Administration is encouraging federal agencies like the Forest Service to do the bare minimum when it comes to NEPA no matter what the project is. Travel planning is one of the biggest issues that the public engages with the Forest Service on and it should always include the highest level of environmental review in order to make sure all issues are examined. That comes with an Environmental Impact Statement. Instead, as we’re seeing on the Shoshone, the Forest Service is downgrading its efforts, limiting the scope to an Environmental Assessment for every possible project. (You can learn more about the differences between these two processes and about NEPA right here.)