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A skiers view of Bears Ears National Monument

Guest post by Michael Whelan  |  Photos by Xhedral

A long time ago, in a desert far, far away I was skiing a beautiful line in the La Sals near Moab, Utah. There I met a local who told tales of great powder in a rarely visited mountain range called the Abajos. Part of this range is now within Bears Ears National Monument. This week I finally decided to go ski some of the last lines of the season in the range.

This week is also a critical week for the fate of the Bears Ears National Monument. The Trump administration is taking the first steps towards potentially shrinking or rescinding Bears Ears and 26 other monuments designated in the past 21 years. Bears Ears has become a focal point in the national struggle to defend the West’s last wild places.

Bears Ears National Monument includes the western half of the Abajo Mountains, with the highest point being the 11,014 foot Unamed Peak. The eastern side of the range is the most popular for skiing and features an old ski area and 2,000 foot gully runs. Multiple 10,000 foot peaks with steep tree and gully lines can be accessed from near Monticello, Utah. My goal was to ski the highest peak in the range and scout lines on the Bears Ears side of the peaks.

Unnamed Peak, at 11,014 feet this is the highest point in Bears Ears National Monument

The Abajos are so quiet that no one had published a report on late season skiing in the region before. I was imagining some real bottom-of-the-barrel gully skiing, and it was hard to find any partners on short notice. Arriving in the area I found only local hunters with packs of hound dogs. I felt far from the bustle of tourists that buzz around Moab. A recent snow made it possible to start skinning from 8,800 feet and it wasn’t long that I was up in the heart of this little range. Around me steep wooded lines dropped off of ridges.

When I gained elevation it became apparent that Unnamed Peak, my original goal, had seen its best skiing go by a month ago. I opted to ski a few gullies and the North Face of Abajo Peak instead and I found deep snow and beautiful tree lines. Both Abajo Peak and Jackson Ridge have quality north facing lines. North Creek Road skirts close to the peaks and gives excellent access to several valleys. While the La Sals get all the attention, the Abajos seem to have better access to a broad cross section of the peaks.

The north face of Abajo Peak

Bears Ears was designated as a monument to protect the archaeological and cultural sites contained within its boundaries but the region holds fantastic recreation opportunities as well. Much has been written about the world class climbing, mountain biking, and hiking within Bears Ears and, as I learned, the monument holds great ski terrain as well. However, Utah politicians and extractive industries are fighting to undo the monument. The monument was designated after years of public discourse involving all stakeholders and only happened after efforts to protect the area through Congressional designation failed. All Americans, not just those who live in southeastern Utah, have a stake in the future of Bears Ears. These lands, like all public lands, belong to all of us and monuments protect our collective national heritage.

The Abajos feature some very accessible terrain

Make your voice heard before Friday May 26th, 2017: use the Outdoor Alliance’s letter writing tool to tell Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke that you support the Bears Ears National Monument as it stands.

Stop the Heist: Pushing back on behalf of public lands and the environment

Caroline Gleich and Rachel Spitzer, artwork by Jeremy Collins. Photo credit: Caroline Gleich

WE GOT A TON OF POSITIVE FEEDBACK after sending out our legislative update last week so we’re back with another update today. We’re here to help the backcountry community stand up to protect our public lands and environment, so without further ado, let’s drop in!

Public Lands Heist

Across the country Americans are speaking out against the public lands heist. In Utah people packed into a town hall meeting hosted by Representative Chaffetz, challenging him on his support for overturning Bears Ears National Monument and other efforts to undermine our public lands. WWA Ambassador Caroline Gleich was in the crowd and shared her trip report on the Outdoor Alliance blog. And, we just found out last night that the Outdoor Retailer trade show is leaving Utah in response to Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s resolution urging the Trump administration to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument and Utah’s overall assault on public lands.

Meanwhile, in Idaho, skiers, hikers, hunters, and many others are gearing up for a public lands rally on March 4 to tell their elected officials to #KeepItPublic! What’s happening in your state?
Here are the bills we’re currently tracking related to the public lands heist:

    • S.J.Res.15: Last week, the House voted to pass H.J. Res. 44 and throw out BLM Planning 2.0, which provides for public input in the planning process. The bill is now in the Senate, filed as S.J.Res. 15. If passed BLM land management planning would revert to the days of limited public participation and recreation voices struggling to be heard. For more information, check out this Outdoor Alliance blog post.
      Please call your Senators today and tell them to vote “no” on S.J. Res. 15. If you don’t know your Senate office numbers directly, call (202)-224-3121 to be connected to your Senate offices (just tell them what state you’re calling from).

 

    • HR 622 proposes to eliminate the Forest Service and BLM’s law enforcement ability. This bill has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry and the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands and these committees will determine whether or not to advance the bill.

 

  • H.J.Res.46, a resolution to roll back the National Park Service’s authority to regulate private oil and gas drilling within National Parks, has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Please tell your reps that you don’t support HR 622 or H.J.Res.46 and they shouldn’t either. We need Federal and local law enforcement to work together to protect our public lands and natural resources. As for deregulating oil and gas drilling in National Parks: really? NO. These bills jeopardize our public lands and should be shot down immediately. 
It’s not all bad news though. This week Congressmen Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) and Dave Reichert (WA-08) introduced a resolution affirming that our Federal public lands are national treasures that belong to all Americans.  When you contact your representative ask them to support H.Con.Res.27 rather than voting to undermine our public lands system.

The Environment

Meanwhile, as if undermining our public lands system weren’t enough, some members of Congress have their sights set on gutting our bedrock environmental laws and the agencies that enforce them. The Environmental Protection Agency—now headed by Scott Pruitt, one of the agency’s staunchest opponents—is at the center of this fight and we’re watching a number of bills on this front:

    • H.R.637 – Stopping EPA Overreach Act of 2017. This bill would repeal federal climate change regulations and prohibit agencies from regulating greenhouse gases in any way. Regulating greenhouse gases is the key to slowing or reversing climate change and that’s a pretty big deal. As skiers, we’d like the next generation to be able to experience the joys of winter. We don’t need Congress undermining efforts to address climate change.

 

    • H.R.861 – To Terminate the Environmental Protection Agency.  The title spells it out pretty clearly – this bill would terminate the EPA on December 31, 2018.  The EPA is the agency that’s tasked with protecting human health and the environment. It’s kind of a big deal and anybody who enjoys breathing clean air, drinking clean water, or living and recreating in a healthy environment should be a fan of the EPA.  Seriously, they do a LOT of important things!

 

  • H.R.958 – To eliminate certain programs of the Environmental Protection Agency, and for other purposes.  The text of this bill isn’t posted online yet, but the title has us pretty concerned.

Action: Tell your reps to vote NO on these bills. The EPA and our environmental laws were enacted in response to burning rivers and silent springs and we don’t need to go back to those days. 

Meanwhile, the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, led by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo), opened hearings Wednesday to “modernize the Endangered Species Act,” which sounds a lot like yet another attempt to gut important regulation. We and our partners will be keeping a close eye on that one as well!

The most effective way to speak out in defense of public lands is to call your representatives in Congress and urge them to vote against bills that threaten our public lands or undermine our bedrock environmental laws. You can call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to get connected to your political reps. If you prefer email, however, we’ve created a web portal that allows you to easily email your senators and representatives. Whether you call or email, it’s important to let them know what you value as a constituent and what your thoughts are on the bills they are considering.

Thanks,

Hilary Eisen
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager

What a Week

Photo by Thom Bridge, Independent Record (via Billings Gazette)

 

WHEW. THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS HAVE BEEN a whirlwind of activity on the national policy front and we decided it would be helpful to take a moment and fill you in on how Winter Wildlands Alliance is working to fulfill our mission and share some important ways for you to get involved and help us defend our public lands and winter backcountry.

Last week we joined over a thousand people – including tons of skiers – to rally for public lands in Montana. And, like many of you we’ve been on the phone with various Congressional offices almost every day. Not only that, we’ve been continuing to meet with Forest Service decision makers, grassroots activists, and other winter recreation stakeholders to talk about specific projects and planning efforts.

We know that our members and supporters are eager to speak out in defense of public lands so we’ve created a Public Lands Defense Web Portal that allows you to easily email your senators and representatives. This way you can let them know what you value as a constituent and what your thoughts are on the bills they are considering. You can also call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to get connected to your political reps.

With so much at stake, we’re going to start sending out a regular synthesis of the various bills being considered by Congress that would impact public lands and backcountry recreation. So, without further ado, here’s the past week in review:

Public Lands Heist Bills:

On their first day of work this year, our representatives in Congress passed a rules package intended to pave the way for transferring or selling public lands by making these transactions budget neutral. Then, Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz introduced two bills intended to further chip away at our public land system. The first, HR 621, would have “disposed of” 3.3 million acres of public land. However, after thousands of people called and emailed their representatives, attended rallies, and otherwise pushed back, Congressman Chaffetz withdrew HR 621. This was a huge win for public lands advocates and this success shows that your voice can make a difference. But there is more work to do.

Chaffetz’s second bill, HR 622, proposes to eliminate the Forest Service and BLM’s law enforcement ability and instead put local sheriffs in charge of protecting public lands. Local sheriff’s departments are already maxed out and there’s no guarantee that they will be familiar with, or choose to enforce, the rules and regulations that have been put in place to protect our public lands. Without the ability to enforce their own rules the Forest Service and BLM will have to stand by and watch as illegal roads proliferate, priceless artifacts are looted, and the safety of everybody seeking to enjoy our public lands is compromised. Winter Wildlands Alliance focuses a lot of attention on winter travel planning but these plans are meaningless if the Forest Service can’t enforce them.

Action: Tell your reps that HR 622 would jeopardize the places and experiences you care about.

On Instagram, under pressure from constituents, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz withdraws his bill to “dispose of” public lands.

Expansion of Oil and Gas Drilling in National Parks:

Last week Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar introduced a resolution (H.J.Res.46) to roll back the National Park Service’s authority to regulate private oil and gas drilling within National Parks. The Park Service predicts that if this bill were to become law new oil and gas operations could occur in up to 30 Park units, including Grand Teton.

Action: Let your reps know that oil and gas drilling has no place in our National Parks and that they should work to strengthen, not weaken, protections for parks.

Planning Rule for BLM Lands:

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages a lot of land in the West, including some really great ski terrain near Silverton, CO as well as a ton of land in Alaska. Under the Obama administration the BLM updated how they write their long term management plans. This “Planning 2.0” rule modernized BLM planning and does a much better job of recognizing the value of recreation. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are proposing to overturn the Planning 2.0 rule using the Congressional Review Act, taking us backward instead of forward. This sounds wonky—and that’s partially what makes it vulnerable in these times—but it will have real impacts on public lands and recreation.

Action: Check out this Outdoor Alliance blog post and take action.

Let’s not let this Congress roll back the public process and undercut the importance of outdoor recreation by throwing out a crucial regulation that modernizes how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducts planning on our public lands.

At Winter Wildlands Alliance we work to protect public lands, wild winter landscapes, and opportunities for human powered winter recreation. These are non-partisan issues and we work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and, through our partners at Outdoor Alliance, the broader outdoor recreation community. Your personal outreach to your political representatives is super important and has already made a difference for public lands this year. Keep it up and we will continue to advocate for the backcountry public lands experience we all love.

Thanks,

Hilary Eisen
Recreation Planning and Policy Manager