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Forest Service Over-Snow Vehicle Travel Rule - comment period is open!

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  • Forest Service Over-Snow Vehicle Travel Rule - comment period is open!

    If you want to have a say in how the Forest Service manages snowmobile use on National Forests, please comment now!

    Here's some information from Winter Wildlands Alliance:

    http://winterwildlands.org/long-awaited-winter-rule/

    Last April Winter Wildlands Alliance won a historic victory when a Federal Court agreed with our claim that the Forest Service has an obligation to manage snowmobiles under the same guidelines used for all other off-road vehicles in other seasons. The court ruled that the exemption of over-snow vehicles (OSVs) in the 2005 Travel Management Rule was unlawful and it directed the Agency to develop a new rule outlining the process under which each national forest will create a winter travel plan to complement their existing summer travel management plans. This new Over-Snow Vehicle Travel Rule (OSV Rule) is a huge opportunity to protect winter ecosystems and bring balance to the backcountry.
    But, the proposed rule released today falls short of its potential, and your engagement will be crucial if the Forest Service is going to get it right. Stakeholders have just 45 days – until August 4 — to comment on the draft. WWA has an ambitious goal to rally at least 1,000 backcountry and Nordic skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and winter mountaineers to weigh in with unique comments to ensure the Forest Service finalizes a rule that meets its obligation to minimize the impacts of winter motorized use, and finally brings balance to the backcountry.
    The draft says each national forest must now take a proactive approach to designating appropriate trails and areas for winter motorized use as either open or closed, or with certain restrictions (like dates or a minimum snow depth). Forests that have previously completed comprehensive winter travel plans also would not have to redo them. Both of these aspects of the rule are great, but when we dig a little deeper the draft is problematic.
    • The draft would allow individual national forest units to choose either an ‘open unless designated closed’ approach or the opposite ‘closed unless designated open’ approach, as is the case with all other off-road vehicles in all other seasons. This element of the draft is inconsistent, and would be confusing on the ground.

    • The draft also appears to grandfather in past decisions about over-snow vehicle use, regardless of whether they were comprehensive, minimized conflict and resource damage, or involved the public. Administrative decisions that did not allow stakeholder involvement, or that apply to only part of a forest, should not be allowed to pass for proper planning.

    • Also, the rule proposes to change the definition of an “area” to include landscapes even broader than a Ranger District, with groomed trails in that area not subject to analysis. Groomed trails concentrate use, and cross-country snowmobile travel, while certainly appropriate in some places, also has impacts. Both of these deserve a harder look than is possible when designating areas that could be hundreds of thousands of acres as the draft proposes.

    The Forest Service needs to hear from skiers and snowshoers about how management of the backcountry has the potential to improve your experience on national forest lands — or how a lack of management has degraded your experience. This is a chance for WWA members to share your story.
    The Take Action page at http://winterwildlands.org/take-action/provides everything you need to comment. Personal comments are proven to make the biggest difference to decision-makers — so please take 10 minutes to weigh in on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to impact how the backcountry is managed.
    Once the public comment period closes the Forest Service will analyze all comments and will issue a final rule no later than September 9, 2014 as directed by the court. After the final rule is released the Forest Service will issue guidance and a schedule for developing individual winter travel plans on national forests.
    The draft rule can be viewed online here: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documen...2014-0004-0001

    For questions on the draft rule, or help writing comments please contact:

    Hilary Eisen
    Recreation Planning Coordinator
    [email protected]

  • #2
    My local forest has an established Winter Travel Rule and it doesn't work all that well. One could blame that on lack of enforcement budget. But I think doing so would be a mistake; the underlying problem is the snow machine user community condones rule violations, both in the form of motorized poaching of non-motorized, non-wilderness trail and crossing wilderness boundaries. Some self reporting does occur but is of limited effectiveness as USFS enforcement has a hard time busting on user (as opposed to officer) submitted evidence (which is a GOOD thing). What has worked is segregating the two user populations as much as possible and, somewhat counterintuitively, using ATV/sno-mo gas tax dollars to mitigate parking pressure at snow parks by constructing large amounts of rig+trailer parking.

    That experience is something for folks to think about when commenting to forests without travel rules or which may be making extensive revisions. Be careful what you ask for, though; inability to extract a skier with a broken femur or the like via a sled is probably not what you want.

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks for posting this.

      OSV restrictions do not prohibit rescue missions, even in Wilderness.

      In the Sierra Nevada, Snowlands Network has been pressuring the Forest Service to do greater OSV management for over a decade. Two recent lawsuit settlements require the FS to look at some aspects of OSV use in the Sierra Nevada within the next year. Snowlands is also leading a collaborative effort including representatives of the OSV community to revisit OSV restrictions in the Tahoe basin (LTBMU).

      That's just by way of background and related ancillary info.

      With regard to the proposed rule, WWA gives the background as quoted above. This rule should be a major turning point with regard to Forest Service inattention to OSV impacts, but once again the Forest Service appears to be trying its best to avoid addressing this issue. If the Forest Service would only spend as much time addressing the issues as it spends trying to avoid addressing the issues, there might be some constructive progress.

      The WWA website includes a new document including case studies of OSV management efforts in several national forests, accessed through this page. One readily sees that collaborative efforts to address OSV use are not effective without the Forest Service standing behind them and willing to impose OSV restrictions in any event.

      I am still reviewing the rule and discussing it with folks involved in the Idaho lawsuit. It seems to me that the rule continues to violate the EOs. The alternative approach of providing that areas are open unless designated closed has been used in the past to avoid analysis of OSV impacts; the rule needs to specifically require Forests to look at OSV impacts in every area, and only after such review can they deem the forest "open unless designated closed."

      Another problem with the Forest Service approach -- and one that NEEDS YOUR COMMENT -- is that the Forest Service continues to dismiss OSV impacts. The preamble to the rule points out the ways in which OSV impacts are less than OHV impacts, because they travel over snow rather than across ground. This is true, but there are other ways in which OSV impacts are greater than OHV impacts and the Forest Service needs to acknowledge this. OSVs have a far greater power to weight ratio, which results in the powerful OSVs being incredibly noisy machines. They also (and likely for the same reason) are FAR more polluting than OHV's, as documented in an EPA 2002 study. Further, the fact that they can travel over snow makes them, with today's powerful machines, far more able to travel deep into roadless terrain. Also, the nature of access in winter (as well as the practical inaccessibility of Wilderness) causes a far greater concentration of use in winter than in summer, and thus FAR greater conflict between motorized and nonmotorized users. Because of this, overcrowding continues to intensify at popular backcountry areas, and the FS needs to recognize that any one area will support a far greater level of nonmotorized use than motorized use.

      There are other differences as well.

      The Forest Service needs a kick in the butt. Please help tell the Forest Service they need to beef up the rule to require real review of OSV impacts.

      More later.
      Last edited by Baaahb; 23 June 2014, 10:40 AM.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Baaahb View Post
        Another problem with the Forest Service approach -- and one that NEEDS YOUR COMMENT -- is that the Forest Service continues to dismiss OSV impacts. The preamble to the rule points out the ways in which OSV impacts are less than OHV impacts, because they travel over snow rather than across ground. This is true, but there are other ways in which OSV impacts are greater than OHV impacts and the Forest Service needs to acknowledge this. OSVs have a far greater power to weight ratio, which results in the powerful OSVs being incredibly noisy machines. They also (and likely for the same reason) are FAR more polluting than OHV's, as documented in an EPA 2002 study. Further, the fact that they can travel over snow makes them, with today's powerful machines, far more able to travel deep into roadless terrain. Also, the nature of access in winter (as well as the practical inaccessibility of Wilderness) causes a far greater concentration of use in winter than in summer, and thus FAR greater conflict between motorized and nonmotorized users. Because of this, overcrowding continues to intensify at popular backcountry areas, and the FS needs to recognize that any one area will support a far greater level of nonmotorized use than motorized use.

        There are other differences as well.

        The Forest Service needs a kick in the butt. Please help tell the Forest Service they need to beef up the rule to require real review of OSV impacts.

        More later.
        So what baahb? This is just you and a few other elitists trying to impose your value system on others. The only thing you're trying to "save" is your right to enjoy public lands in the way that you prefer with people whose company you prefer. It's YOU that needs a kick in the butt. A really fu*king hard one.

        Comment


        • #5
          Well aware of the revisions as they apply to the Chugach National Forest. Get involved to protect wilderness and quiet. We did despite some pretty aggressive tar heads at our meetings that scared most folks away from out public discussions. So we just write comments and avoid public debates. I was amazed at how many tar heads showed up a the meeting without a clue, just opposition to anything related to sharing public lands. Fortunately a federal judge disagrees and ordered the FS to accommodate BC skiers and others.

          Here's our comments from last summer. CNF should be back in Valdez with some proposals for quiet areas near Valdez to share in the fall.



          July 31, 2013

          U.S. Forest Service
          Chugach National Forest
          RE: COMMENTS REGARDING CHUGACH NATIONAL FOREST PLAN REVISION

          We support the current process to revise the Chugach National Forest Plan (CNF). Our primary concern is CNF lands south of Valdez and Thompson Pass/Marshall Pass. Since the last revision, unanticipated changes have occurred across the CNF in this region that are having negative impacts. First, winter recreation, primarily snow machining and commercial helicopter skiing, have grown and displaced backcountry skiing on adjacent State lands. Second, climate change caused by human dependence on fossil fuels has become a global crisis. Two objectives—regulating mechanized winter recreation and stemming global warming—should be at the core of this CNF plan.

          Regulation of Motorized Uses

          The CNF south of Valdez and Thompson Pass warrants particular attention in regards to winter use. Conflicts between commercial and recreational users on State lands adjacent to CNF have increased over the past two decades. Many of the conflicts result from the State’s hands-off approach to land management. In addition to the inevitable user conflicts, the State’s approach has also created a poor business climate, displaced non-motorized user groups and lead to growing public safety concerns, including human-triggered avalanches.

          As a backcountry ski guide and residents of Valdez since 1980, we’ve witnessed many changes in the progression of winter recreation around Valdez and the CNF. While backcountry skiing has a long history in the Chugach (dozens of established routes have existed across the region since the 1980’s) motorized sled and heli-skiing were relatively infantile before the existing plan was developed.

          Backcountry skiing is increasingly popular in the United States as a healthy, fun, and low cost way to access remote areas with little or no impact on the environment. In this region, there is increased demand for the backcountry ski experience which, for many skiers, includes not only the physical effort of skiing, but also the ability to experience natural quiet and wilderness. Unfortunately, the backcountry ski experience that the lands surrounding Valdez and Thompson/Marshall Pass have long provided for us and other Alaskans has been severely diminished since heli-skiing, and more recently, powerful sleds arrived and overwhelmed the landscape. As a result, opportunities for this type of backcountry skiing experience have become very limited, particularly on State lands. Because the State provides for no non-motorized or quiet areas in the region, it is incumbent upon the U.S. Forest Service to acknowledge this in its own plan and allow for additional acreage to be set aside for such opportunities.

          We recommend one such area be designated south of Marshall Pass and another area south of Port Valdez. These areas should be off limits to snowmachines and heli-skiing and provide a backcountry experience, including the experience of natural quiet.

          Global Warming

          Any increase in mechanized or carbon-dependent recreation in the CNF will increase current levels of C02. The current revision should seek to reduce C02 from existing recreational users, not encourage more. Any increased access such as opening current non-motorized areas to motorized vehicles, providing easier access for snowmachines, or allowing for more commercial heli-ski operating days would be a contradiction to Modified Alternative A.

          Nowhere is it more appropriate to limit carbon pollution than on our public lands, including the CNF. New models of snowmachines use improved technology to reduce their contribution to carbon pollution. Old technology needs to be urgently phased out and the CNF plan should feature regulations that encourage this phase out.

          While an outright ban of mechanized recreation is not practical, there are alternatives that will readily reduce the carbon footprint of motorized recreation on the CNF. Following are our recommendations.

          1.Elimination of 2-stroke snowmachines and ATVs in the CNF by 2018.

          2.Require all snowmachines using CNF lands to comply with noise and emissions standards and use Best Available Technology (BAT).

          3.Eliminate or more tightly limit heli-ski user days in CNF. This industry provides the greatest contribution to greenhouse gases of any winter recreational user group in CNF. The adjacent loosely regulated State lands already provide for this type of experience. The State’s abundant lands and mountains are a practical and perhaps more affordable option. Any increase in helicopter skiing user days allowed to the current three permitees for the CNF would be in conflict with Modified Alternative A and its position on global warming.

          We also support the development of remote public-use huts and cabins throughout the CNF in areas used for recreation including boating, hiking, and backcountry skiing, particularly in the areas south of Valdez. We believe the expansion of the existing cabin system to include winter-use huts will increase opportunities for local recreationists as well as support winter tourism.

          In conclusion, we look forward to working with U.S. Forest Service staff to more specifically identify areas within the CNF that best suit the qualities needed for backcountry skiing from Valdez and Thompson Pass.

          Thank you for your consideration of these recommendations and comments.

          Sincerely,
          Matt KinneyTabitha Gregory
          Valdez, AK

          Comment


          • #6
            No fhw, you are wrong and you are an a**hole. It is the job of the land manager, the Forest Service, to look at different uses and different values and come up with a solution that reaches the right balance. This is the point and history of land use restrictions, as well as other environmental restrictions, and because all government regulations have started from a point where there were no regulations, those who create the most abuse always complain that those trying to create a balance are "imposing their value system on others". Go back to the days DDT, smokestacks and filthy rivers if that is the world you want. Huge improvements in our life and our world have been made in the last fifty years because those nasty environmentalists and other pressured the government to "impose their value system on others".

            Valdez (or others), are you familiar with/what do you think of the Resurrection Pass model, of having alternate motorized/nonmotorized use years?

            Comment


            • #7
              baaahb….The Resurrection Plan works real good for Anchorage skinners. Conflicts are nonexistent. You know what to expect when you leave the trailhead. Chugach Powder Guide operates in the area, but they ceded a large chunk of backcountry ski terrain in their permit with CNF out of respect for the ski community. That Plan has been around since the early 80's. Actually the prime bc ski areas in area do not alternate uses each year, but some other areas do.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Baaahb View Post
                No fhw, you are wrong and you are an a**hole. It is the job of the land manager, the Forest Service, to look at different uses and different values and come up with a solution that reaches the right balance. This is the point and history of land use restrictions, as well as other environmental restrictions, and because all government regulations have started from a point where there were no regulations, those who create the most abuse always complain that those trying to create a balance are "imposing their value system on others". Go back to the days DDT, smokestacks and filthy rivers if that is the world you want. Huge improvements in our life and our world have been made in the last fifty years because those nasty environmentalists and other pressured the government to "impose their value system on others".

                That's a false equivalence. Those regulations were necessary to protect peoples' health and the future of endangered wildlife. Your crusade against motorized vehicles in the BC is all about creating an environmental Caliphate on our public lands where you can go stare quietly at your navel. I don't own a snowmobile or ATV and if I'm on public lands I'll be on foot or on skis. But I'll fight your attempts to keep others out with everything I have. You've just wrapped your selfishness in the garb of righteous environmentalism; it's all about getting more for you and for the people who share your values and screw all those philistines who enjoy nature and the backcountry differently. I don't hate all people who are looking for ways to solve some of these issues but I fuc*ing despise you because I know what you're all about. You're an asshole Baaahb. And the only people who don't know it are those that are soon to find out.

                Comment


                • #9
                  What's wrong with cleaning out navel lint in a wilderness setting?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    has usfs provided info about how this will dovetail with the new 2012 forests planning efforts?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Nearly all the good BC skiing where Willy lives is protected under a NYS/DEC/APA Wilderness classification, he has nothing to worry about...

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I wish they'd just go to 4 stroke with smog checks and mufflers. Plates and registration to support the infrastructure. Keep 'em on maintained road whether it's under the snow or not. Enforce speed limits on high use areas. Same as any other motorized way of travel.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          There's certainly a lot of room for honest disagreement around these issues, but jeez, FHW, what's with all the venom?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by thornton View Post
                            has usfs provided info about how this will dovetail with the new 2012 forests planning efforts?
                            The USFS preference appears to be to do travel management separately from its plan revisions. This is a point of contention.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Matt J View Post
                              I wish they'd just go to 4 stroke with smog checks and mufflers. Plates and registration to support the infrastructure. Keep 'em on maintained road whether it's under the snow or not. Enforce speed limits on high use areas. Same as any other motorized way of travel.
                              From an environmental standpoint, in particular if one is concerned about anthropogenic global warming, it is a travesty for the EPA or the FS not to force the transition to lower emission vehicles. The "older" machine issue also disproportionately causes user conflict. You have my total support for a Best Available Technology requirement and a general road restriction requirement, the same as any other motorized travel.

                              But, note, that is a far more aggressive position than that taken by organizations like Snowlands and Winter Wildlands Allliance, that are just demanding a greater balance in recreation opportunity, based on all relevant factors.

                              Comment

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