By Dave Hurwitz
Snowmobile Alliance of Western States
We just received this action alert from SAWS. It is time to make your voices heard regarding the Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee (COW) Forest Plan Revision (FPR) Proposed Action (PA). If you are satisfied with what the Forest Service (FS) has proposed, there is no need to submit a comment. However, if you are not pleased with the PA, then you need to make your voice heard, and you need to do so very soon.
Comment deadline: August 29, 2011.
Send comments to:
Okanogan Valley Office
1240 Second Avenue South
Okanogan, WA 98840
Here is a link to the website describing the proposed action:
Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Plan Revision Website
Previously, SAWS requested that the FS provide more detailed maps and that the comment period be delayed until such maps were provided to the public. They have finally made some improved maps available. Here are links to a few of the better maps (warning these are large PDF files):
Management Areas Map for Colville N.F. with section lines
Management Areas Map for Okanogan N.F. with section lines
Management Areas Map for Wenatchee N.F. with section lines
According to FS figures, the FS is proposing approximately 238,800 acres as additional Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWA) in these three forests. This figure breaks down to 125,800 acres—Preliminary Administratively Recommended Wilderness (Okanogan/Wenatchee), 12,000 acres—Wilderness Study Area (Okanogan/Wenatchee) and 101,000 Preliminary Administratively Recommended Wilderness (Colville).
SAWS is opposed to all RWAs in all three forests and in particular SAWS is opposed to RWAs where snowmobile use currently exists. The text below is taken directly from the FS and helps detail why even their own agency has not shown the “need” for more RWAs. (Forest Service handbook (FSH) 1909.12 - Land Management Planning Chapter 70 - Wilderness Evaluation). This charter in part states:
“Determine the need for an area to be designated as wilderness through an analysis of the degree to which it contributes to the overall National Wilderness Preservation System. Demonstrate this need through the public involvement process, including public input to the evaluation report. Deal with “need” on a regional basis and evaluate such factors as the geographic distribution of areas and representations of landforms and ecosystems…In determining whether there is a need to recommend a potential wilderness area for wilderness study or designation, at a minimum consider … The location, size, and type of other wildernesses in the general vicinity and their distance from the proposed area…Present visitor pressure on other wildernesses, the trends in use, changing patterns of use, population expansion factors, and trends and changes in transportation… The extent to which non-wilderness lands on the NFS unit or other Federal lands are likely to provide opportunities for unconfined outdoor recreation experiences.”
SAWS representatives and some members have attended many meetings and provided comments regarding the COW FPR for seven years, since the FS preliminary scoping began. We have also sent numerous communications (News, Alerts and Editorials) to our Washington SAWS members, warning them of what would most likely be proposed by the FS for areas we currently snowmobile in that could become closed (roadless areas recommended for Wilderness). It is very obvious from the PA that our previous warnings to our members were not unfounded and that the FS did not listen to comments provided from the snowmobile community, but instead decided to ignore facts and common sense by proposing a huge amount of additional acres of unneeded new wilderness areas that could eventually be closed to snowmobile use.
On July 4, 2011, I made the following request for information from our WA SAWS members:
“I need your help to identify the areas, be it townships, ranges, sections, drainage basins, valleys, mountains, hills, etc., where you currently ride and why these areas are unique or important to you. This will allow me to not only submit a detailed SAWS comment opposing these areas as RWAs, but I can then also alert our members to some of these areas that could be lost that are of value to snowmobile enthusiasts. And most important; YOU need to tell the FS why these areas are important to you as a snowmobiler. I know the areas I ride that could be lost that are important to me and my family, but I do not have ESP to know the areas that are important to you.”
Unfortunately SAWS received very limited feedback and the feedback was only regarding the areas that could be lost to snowmobile use that are located south of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in the north fork Teanaway area. There are many play areas that are included in the RWAs such as; Scatter Creek, Fortune Creek, Eldorado Creek, Beverly Creek, Stafford Creek and more. The high alpine riding in some of these areas cannot be found anywhere else in these forests. Once again, YOU need to tell the FS in your own words why the areas you ride are important to you as a snowmobiler.
Here is a link to the FS document titled Preliminary Administrative Wilderness (PWA) – Recommendation Information for Proposed Action - Colville, and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Plan Revision
A few quotes from this FS document:
Snowmobiling – Use expected to increase by 350 percent by 2050. Some PWAs have popular marked routes and play areas. For all three forests, all but two miles of groomed trail are outside PWAs. Climate change will alter winter use. High use on the Wenatchee and Colville, where projected increase could have impacts.
Backcountry Skiing – A low use for all three Forests. Many of the popular or important areas are in PWA’s. Groomed Nordic trails are mostly outside PWAs and many are associated with ski areas.
Need - The Forest has eight wilderness areas. It would seem there is no need for additional wilderness. Analysis shows several PWAs can contribute significantly to the factors the handbook directs us to evaluate. Washington State has over 4 million acres of wilderness.
Forty percent of the Forest [Okanogan-Wenatchee] is in wilderness. The wildernesses on the Forest are not overcrowded as a whole; however, individual wildernesses and specific areas are managed through party size and permit quotas to control use. The population of the greater Seattle area as well as local counties is undergoing significant growth, which will increase demand for a range of outdoor recreation opportunities.
Here is a link to the FS document titled Proposed Action for Forest Plan Revision Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest:
A few quotes from this FS document:
Based on 2005 NVUM sampling, total Forest visitors were estimated to be 397,000 visitors, including 59,610 estimated wilderness visitors. The total value of these visits is estimated to be $22,900,684.
Winter use sampling of the Okanogan National Forest was affected by a very low snow year in 2005. Developed recreation sites remained closed most of the season and dispersed winter recreation use was observed to be much lower.
Total Forest visitors in 2005 were estimated to be 2,130,800, of which 129,900 were estimated wilderness visitors. Recreational use of national forest contributes 154 million dollars annually to local economies.
The six top primary activities engaged in by visitors sampled in 2005 included—
· hunting (22.7 percent totaling 483,692 visits)
· snowmobiling (13.9 percent totaling 296,181 visits)
· hiking and walking (11.7 percent totaling 249,304 visits)
· developed camping (8.9 percent totaling 189,641 visits)
· backpacking (6.9 percent totaling 147,025 visits)
· viewing natural features (6.3 percent totaling 134,240 visits)
The Okanogan-Wenatchee is considering recommending around 125,800 acres in scattered parcels adjacent to existing wilderness areas. Those parcels would be managed as recommended wilderness, where existing uses would continue until Congress took action on the recommendation. Figure 9 shows the proportions of existing wilderness (designated wilderness) to the recommendation (recommended wilderness) and the remaining acres (Rest of Forest) on the Forest.
Here is a link to the FS document titled Proposed Action for Forest Plan Revision Colville National Forest
A few quotes from this FS document:
Some user groups expressed a concern that they would lose access for snowmobiling, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
Part of the forest plan revision process is to identify which portions of the roadless inventory should be recommended for wilderness designation. Numerous comments on the subject of roadless areas indicate a wide-ranging mix of sentiments, from desiring commodity use and motorized use in inventoried roadless areas to making inventoried roadless areas (IRAs) designated wilderness.
Some people want the roadless areas to stay as they are and not be developed or designated as wilderness because they like the diversity of uses available in a semi-primitive to primitive environment. In terms of recreation, they would like to use mountain bikes, which are restricted from wilderness, and not be restricted to a party size as they are in designated wilderness areas. Some people wish to use motorized tools, which are prohibited in wilderness.
Recreationists that use motorized transportation have expressed a desire for the primitive quality of the IRAs where they can snowmobile or use their motorcycles in a mostly unmodified landscape that offers challenges.
Through National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) we know how much recreational use each Forest receives and how many people participate in the various recreational activities. The 2009 NVUM survey showed that in 362,000 people visited the Forest of which 1,000 represent visits to designated wilderness. Half the visitors are local (live within 50 miles of where they recreate) and the other half traveled farther.
The six top primary activities engaged in by visitors sampled in 2009 included—
· downhill skiing (23.3 percent totaling 84,346 visits)
· viewing natural features (12.0 percent totaling 43,440 visits)
· gathering forest products (8.6 percent totaling 31,132 visits)
· developed camping (8.5 percent totaling 30,770 visits)
· hiking and walking (7.8 percent totaling 28,236 visits)
· and snowmobiling (7.2 percent totaling 26,064 visits)
The Colville is considering recommending around 101,000 acres of additional wilderness. About 13,500 acres would be added to the existing Salmo-Priest Wilderness and the remaining 87,500 acres include portions of the Abercrombie-Hooknose, Bald Snow, Profanity, and Hoodoo areas. Those parcels would be managed as recommended wilderness, where existing uses would continue until Congress took action on the recommendation.
The National Visitor Use Monitoring (NVUM) reports for Okanogan and Wenatchee National Forests can be found at the following links:
Colville National Forest (CNF) - 0.3% wilderness visits
Okanogan National Forest (ONF) – About 5.0% wilderness visits
Wenatchee National Forest (WNF) – 6.25% wilderness visits
SAWS finds it rather odd that the FS claims in WNF that the primary activity during forest visits are 13.9 percent snowmobiling and 1.7 percent cross-country skiing. Yet in ONF the FS claims the primary activity is 1.9 percent for snowmobiling and 40.2 percent for cross-country skiing. And in the CNF the number is 7.2 percent for snowmobiling and 1.6 percent for cross-country skiing. It would seem that something very strange is going on with the numbers in ONF, even with the statement by the FS that it was “a very low snow year in 2005.”
Even more unusual is the visitation numbers in the NVUM reports compared to the visitation numbers reflected in the PA documents. WNF shows 2,288,000 NF visits with 143,000 of those visits to designated Wilderness areas. That would equal 6.25 percent visited existing Wilderness. ONF shows 674,000 NF visits with 34,000 of those visits to designated Wilderness areas. That would be just a little more than 5 percent. CNF shows 336,000 NF visits with 1,000 of those visits to designated Wilderness areas. That would equal 0.3 percent. The figures for ONF are night and day between the FS NVUM report and the FS PA document. SAWS wonders which one is correct and if many of the other figures quoted by the FS in the PA documents are accurate.
The FS numbers speak for themselves—there is clearly no need for additional wilderness in these forests.
SAWS is also very concerned about the “Backcountry” designation, but no acre figures were provided as of the date of this writing. It states that “Summer off-highway vehicle use” is not authorized and “The proposed action does not include site-specific changes to where winter motorized uses are allowed.” It is pretty clear about the summer OHV ban in this designation, but even the winter motorized wording could lead to very limited areas in “backcountry” where winter snowmobile use is authorized, so SAWS will not support this designation as currently worded either.
Is there a bright side to this repulsive proposed action? I guess possibly the fact that the FS in Region 6 (WA and OR) at this time still appears to be following FS guidance to some degree as they currently indicate that the RWAs will remain open to snowmobile use until Congress passes a law to officially designate these areas per the Wilderness Act as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. This is not the case in Region 1 (Montana) where the FS closes all of the RWAs to all mechanical use as soon as the ROD is final. Keep in mind that the current management practice in Region 6 could change in a heartbeat. Once recommended for Wilderness, it is a downhill slope before these areas become permanently off-limits to snowmobiling.
You may wish to read an article about this issue dated July 11, 2011 from the Yakima Herald titled “Forest Plan Revisions Causing a Stir”:
Below this alert is a list of FS meeting dates and times if you would like to attend a meeting for further information. Whether you attend a meeting or not, the bottom-line is that you need to submit a comment letter opposing the potential closing of all of the areas you ride – SAWS cannot do this for you.
Public Scoping Meetings - Open House Schedule
Republic, WA, Thursday, July 28
5 p.m.–7 p.m., Republic Elementary School Multi-purpose Room, 30306 E. Highway 20, Republic, WA
Okanogan, WA, Saturday, July 30
9 a.m.–12:30 p.m., Okanogan County Fairgrounds, Agriplex Building, 175 Rodeo Trail Road, Okanogan, WA 98840
Spokane, WA, Monday, August 1,
5 p.m.–7 p.m., Spokane County Public Library, North Branch, 44 E. Hawthorne Rd
Spokane, WA 99218
Newport, WA, Tuesday, August 2,
5 p.m.–7 p.m., Newport High School Auditorium, 1400 West Fifth Street, Newport, WA 99156
Wenatchee, WA, Saturday, August 6
9 a.m.–12:30 p.m., Wenatchee Convention Center, 201 North Wenatchee Avenue, Wenatchee, WA 98801 (Next to the Coast Wenatchee Center Hotel).
Yakima, WA Wednesday, August 10,
5 p.m.–7 p.m., Yakima Convention Center, 10 North 8th St, Yakima WA 98901-2515
Cle Elum, WA Thursday, August 11
5 p.m.-7 p.m., Cle Elum Centennial Center, 719 E. 3rd Street, Cle Elum, WA 98922
Seattle, WA Saturday, August 13,
10 a.m.–12 p.m., Magnuson Park, Mountaineers Program Center, 7700 Sand Point Way N.E., Seattle, WA 98115
Two Toll-Free “Lunch Time” Webinars—will also be held Tuesday, August 9 and Thursday, August 18 from noon to 1:30 p.m. to provide an opportunity for those people who may not be able to attend one of the other public meetings, or would like to participate in another review opportunity. More information will be announced via media release and posted on the project website when details become available.