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WE SUPPORT: Winter Wildlands Alliance

Wednesday, September 7, 2016
We take a large amount of pride in our history of outspoken advocacy for conservation and access causes, as well as in our support of conservation, education and recreation groups on the front lines.

WWAFormed in February of 2000, Winter Wildlands Alliance is the first and only national non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and preserving winter wildlands and working on behalf of skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers and other human-powered winter sports enthusiasts. With over 1,300 individual members, 34 grassroots groups in 12 states, and a collective membership of more than 30,000 backcountry enthusiasts, WWA speaks out from the backcountry to the back halls of Congress to ensure a motor-free backcountry experience that's quiet, pristine and safe. Working with local partners, WWA's efforts over the past five years have protected nearly two million acres of national forest lands for human-powered activities

In addition to its advocacy work, the organization sponsors the Backcountry Film Festival, offers winter ecology trips for kids and started the Winter Wildlands Alliance Climate Initiative, which strives to mitigate global warming to explore solutions for an advanced energy future. WWA is a founding member of the Outdoor Alliance, a coalition of user groups that work to ensure conservation and stewarship of public lands and waters through the promotion of sustainable human-powered recreation.

Below is an excerpt of an essay that ran in the 2008 Black Diamond Ski catalog that does a great job summing up the mission and purpose of the WWA.

Many of the backcountry locales we ski are at risk-regionally renowned places like Utah's Franklin Basin, Wyoming's Togwotee Pass, Colorado's Hahn's Peak and California's Leavitt Bowl to name only a few. Places where not very long ago you might have found no more than a few hardy partners to share trail-breaking duty rewarded by lap after lap of untracked bliss, but where now you're more likely to find a melee of deep ruts, blue smoke and engine brap.

Photo by Andrew Burr

I'm not against snowmobiles. I've logged my share of miles on a sled, commuting for three winters to a cabin high in the Wasatch Mountains and on occasion accessing remote powder stashes that would have taken days to approach on skis. My wife says the lingering smell of two-stroke on my clothes is sexy. So I freely admit that snowmobiles have their place. But it isn't every place.

The vast majority of backcountry skiing in the U.S. takes place in National Forests. Unfortunately, the U.S. Forest Service's approach to managing our winter playgrounds—a policy where all areas not protected as Wilderness are open to snowmobiles unless specifically designated and signed as closed—results in a backcountry free-for-all where those with the biggest, loudest, most powerful toys get their run of the place and the rest of us get pushed aside.

You can help change that. Three years ago the U.S. Forest Service began a process called Travel Management Planning which requires the development of "motor vehicle use maps" that designate where motorized users can go on each of the 177 National Forests in the U.S. While it may appear subtle, this shift from an "open unless designated closed" to a "closed unless designated open" policy has huge implications and can go a long way in protecting areas for non-motorized use.

It's not a perfect process. In fact, it's got some serious loopholes, the biggest of which exempts snowmobiles unless a local Forest Service official chooses to include them in the travel plan.  And, the process is heavily weighted toward those interest groups willing to organize and speak up. With nearly 2,500 snowmobile clubs (as compared to a handful of backcountry skier groups) in the U.S., it's no surprise the motorized industry is very good at making their voice heard.

Yes, I know, backcountry skiers don't do process. We go it alone, break our own trail. However, in this case it's simple: get involved or live with an outcome that will most likely mean being backed into a few pockets of accessible Wilderness or secret stashes overlooked-for now-by our motorized brethren.

The best way to get involved is to meet directly with your local Forest Ranger. Better yet, take along a few of your backcountry ski partners. Tell the ranger your concerns and why they should include snowmobiles in their travel management plan. Identify the areas that are key for backcountry skiing. And comment in writing when a proposed plan is opened up for public input. Winter Wildlands Alliance can help. We can tell you how, when and where to comment, give you talking points, statistics and tools to be effective. But it's your voice, your local knowledge that will make the biggest difference with local forest officials. If you value a backcountry experience where you can hear the sound of your own voice, the time to use that voice is now.

-Mark Menlove

To join or contribute to the WWA, or to sign up for their Action Alert newsletter, CLICK HERE.