Winter Travel Planning: Finding Balance in the Backcountry
Travel Management Planning is the process by which the Forest Service designates specific trails and areas for motorized use. It can be thought of as a type of comprehensive “zoning” where some areas are designated for motorized use, and other trails and areas are set aside for human-powered recreation, or to protect wildlife and their habitat. While this is not a new concept — agencies have been required to do this type of planning since the early 1970’s — 2015 marked a huge shift in how the Forest Service plans for and manages backcountry winter recreation. Up to that point, Forests had focused on developing comprehensive plans for summer use. The Forest Service’s 2015 Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) Rule made this sort of planning mandatory for winter over-snow use as well, and established guidelines for how it should be accomplished.
Winter Wildlands Alliance advocates on behalf of skiers, splitboarders, snowshoers and others who recreate under their own power on the public lands. We have long advocated for comprehensive winter recreation planning, and we are glad to see the Forest Service moving forward with implementing the OSV Rule. Under this Rule, individual forests and Ranger Districts that do not already have winter travel plans will start developing them, and we will be there to ensure that backcountry and Nordic skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers have a voice in the process. This is an exciting time for anyone who loves winter, as we have a real opportunity to bring balance to the backcountry.
By stepping back and re-assessing where over-snow motorized use is appropriate, the Forest Service and those who participate in the winter travel planning process will be able to take steps to reduce user conflicts and ensure that high quality winter recreation opportunities exist for all users. Given the complex pressures of population growth, climate change and new technologies, with ever more users getting out on public lands in different ways and in ever less predictable winters, we believe that good, balanced, forward-thinking winter management planning is essential.
This is an opportunity for all those who value the winter backcountry to find common ground. We all want room to roam — and the backcountry is big enough for all of us — but we cannot afford a free-for-all.
Several National Forests have begun winter travel planning and we are working with local partners across the country to get the human-powered backcountry community involved in these planning processes.
California’s central and northern Sierra mountains are ground-zero for winter travel planning. With six “early adopter” forests — the Lassen, Tahoe, Eldorado, Stanislaus, and Plumas National Forests, and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit – this region is the first to go all-in on the OSV Rule.
See below to find out which forests are working on winter travel plans right now and more information on each of these planning processes.
- Stanislaus National Forest: The Record of Decision (ROD) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) were published on March 22, 2019. The Forest Service held an objection meeting in August 2019. A final plan and Record of Decision (ROD) are slated for release by spring of 2021.
- Plumas National Forest: The Record of Decision (ROD) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) were published on August 19, 2019. Objections were due October 4, 2019. Objection resolution meetings have been postponed several times due to COVID-19 but the forest has suggested that informational workshops will get underway in May 2021.
- Eldorado National Forest: The Eldorado released its Draft Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on October 31, 2018. The Forest Service held an objection meeting in March 2019. A final plan and Record of Decision (ROD) are slated for release by spring of 2021.
- Tahoe National Forest: The Tahoe published a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) on February 6, 2019. The Forest Service held an objection meeting in May 2019. A final plan and Record of Decision (ROD) are slated for release by summer of 2021.
- Lassen National Forest: The Lassen published a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD) on March 29, 2018. The forest hosted an objection resolution meeting in July 2018. A final plan and Record of Decision (ROD) are slated for release by summer of 2021.
- The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) is also working on a winter travel plan. Although the LTBMU is in the same neighborhood as the 5 forests listed above, its winter travel planning process is not part of the same coordinated effort outlined above. However, we are also actively engaged in travel planning on this forest. The LTBMU published a Proposed Action on September 2019, and public comments were accepted through December 9.
- The Inyo National Forest, in October 2019, published the final approved version of its new 2019 Inyo National Forest Land Management Plan. With regard to winter recreation/travel planning, Forest Supervisor Tammy Randall-Parker wrote in her final Record of Decision that “over-the-snow (winter) travel will be determined by Subpart C Travel Management Analysis, on which I am committing to initiating the public collaboration process within one year of this decision.” In part due to COVID-19-related delays, the forest has committed to beginning the official scoping process by October 2021.
- Shoshone National Forest: Draft Environmental Assessment published July 28, 2020.
- Kootenai National Forest, Ten Lakes area: Draft Environmental Impact Statement published in December 2016, awaiting final EIS. Project is on hold.
Winter Wildlands Alliance is a national nonprofit organization promoting and
preserving winter wildlands and a quality human-powered snowsports
experience on public lands.