The latest from the WWA Policy Desk

Green Mountains, Vermont

By mid-September many a skier’s thoughts turn to snowy days ahead, but this year we’re not the only ones praying for snow. With fires raging across much of the West and snow the only hope for truly extinguishing them, Ullr is getting a lot of requests these days.

Between fires and hurricanes it seems the environment is front page news every day. There’s a lot going on that doesn’t make headlines though – Secretarial Orders and legislation that may adversely impact our environment and the way we experience it for generations to come. Right before Labor Day weekend Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued Secretarial Order 3355, which mandates that Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) must be completed within 15 months and not exceed 150 pages. The intent of this order is to streamline National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews and more quickly approve infrastructure projects, which sounds okay at first—we’re all for streamlining bureaucracy as appropriate and had already seen the encouraging beginnings of a shift within the agency toward streamlining special use permitting—but if you look closer is pretty worrisome.

Agencies write an EIS when they need to examine how a proposed project will affect the environment or people. The EIS doesn’t determine the outcome of a decision-making process but it generates the information needed for an agency to make an informed decision, and gives the public a very important window to comment on and engage in the planning process. By setting an arbitrary timeframe and page limit, SO 3355 limits opportunities for public comment during the EIS process, curtails information-gathering (including scientific data collection – it often takes more than a year to gather necessary baseline information), and undermines environmental protections for our public lands. This is just the latest example of the Trump Administration’s continuing assault on public lands.

Meanwhile, things aren’t looking any brighter over in Congress. Last week the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on a trio of scary bills – The Federal Land Freedom Act (H.R. 3565), Planning for American Energy Act of 2017 (H.R. 2907), and State Mineral Revenue Protection Act (H.R. 2661). These bills all have two things in common – they all would undermine public ownership of public lands and advance privatization of oil and gas reserves on public lands.

This week, the same committee held a hearing on the SHARE Act (H.R. 3668) which, among other things, would allow road construction and motor vehicles (including snowmobiles) within designated Wilderness areas. The committee voted to advance this bill to the full House, moving it one step closer to becoming law. And, of course, all of the other bills we’ve discussed over the past 9 months are still kicking too. The good news is that none of these has become law, yet. Help us make sure they never do by taking action today.Let your elected representatives know that these bills are bad news.

At the end of this month we’re heading to D.C. with our Outdoor Alliance colleagues to meet with agency leaders and elected officials. We’ll be advocating for public lands, the public process, and better and more sustainable funding for land management agencies so that they have the resources they need to steward the places we love.

Protecting public lands is multifaceted and complex. In addition to ensuring that these lands continue to be owned and managed by the public, and that we continue to have regulations in place to protect the environment and balance multiple uses, we also have to make sure the land management agencies are following these regulations. To that end, last week, Winter Wildlands Alliance made the difficult decision to file a lawsuit against the Payette, Boise, and Bridger-Teton National Forests. We’re suing over a somewhat wonky issue, but it’s really important for winter travel planning and for the balanced zoning of winter recreation as population and use pressure continue to increase.

Basically, these 3 forests published over-snow vehicle use maps (OSVUMs) based on outdated decisions that don’t comply with the OSV Rule (the winter travel planning regulations we fought hard for). If these maps go unchallenged, they set a dangerous precedent for winter travel planning – allowing forests to essentially cement the status quo and complete the final step in winter travel planning (publishing an OSVUM) without actually doing anything. This is a tempting option for resource-strapped forests but makes all of our past effort to establish a protocol, process and requirements for winter travel planning moot. Winter travel planning is a major campaign for WWA, and central to this campaign is the proper implementation of the OSV Rule. For better or worse, a legal challenge is necessary at this point to keep OSV Rule implementation on track.

By the way, Our upcoming Grassroots Advocacy Conference is an excellent opportunity to catch up on issues important to winter recreation and public lands. From the latest in policy and planning issues to learning new advocacy tools and spending quality lodge time with likeminded folk, it’s going to be a good time. Don’t miss it! Register by September 22 for Early Bird pricing!