A Vision for the Stevens Peak Backcountry

Where It BeginsThe Stevens Peak Backcountry comprises the subalpine area in the vicinity of Stevens Peak, located on the Lolo and Idaho Panhandle National Forests, in the vicinity of the Idaho-Montana state line.  The Stevens Peak Backountry:

  • Offers prime terrain and snow conditions for backcountry snowboarding and skiing.
  • Has historically been used primarily for quiet human-powered winter recreation.
  • Is accessible during the winter from trailheads that can be reached by passenger vehicle, something uncommon for the public lands in our region.
  • Is experiencing increasing patterns of snowmobile use primarily for high-marking.
  • Is being threatened by the proposed expansion of the Lookout Pass Ski Area.

Proposed Stevens Peak Backcountry Winter Non-Motorized Area

The Proposed Stevens Peak Backcountry Winter Non-Motorized area (shown below) is an area of approximately 6,500 acres in the vicinity of Stevens Peak. It includes portions of the Copper, Saint Regis, East Willow (Stevens Lakes), West Willow, Boulder and Gold Creek drainages.  The concept was originally proposed to the Forest Service in 2000 by members of the Spokane Mountaineers.

Fig 1 IPNF Plan Revision Comments 4-16-12

The Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance

The Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance (formerly Stevens Peak Backcountry Coalition) is a grassroots organization of backcountry skiers and snowboarders, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and climbers who value quiet human-powered winter recreation in the Inland Northwest.  Our goals:

  • Work toward the creation of a comprehensive and workable Winter Recreation Plan for the Stevens Peak Backcountry and other areas in our region.
  • Educate others about the value of and opportunities for quiet human-powered winter recreation.

We seek to strengthen the traditional winter recreation community by identifying and connecting the growing number of non-motorized winter recreation enthusiast users in our region — eastern Washington, northern Idaho and western Montana, an area that includes the cities of Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Missoula, Moscow and Pullman.

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Winter Travel Management Rule Comments Due August 4

140411_JLP0458The public comment period for the Forest Service’s draft Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) Travel Rule ends Monday August 4th.  This rule will affect ALL National Forests in the US, including our local Idaho Panhandle and Lolo National Forests! Please take a few minutes to voice your comments if you haven’t already.

The proposed OSV Travel Rule is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough. Your engagement is crucial if the Forest Service is going to get it right. The goal of the Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA) is 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 bring balance to the winter backcountry.

Here’s how to comment:

STEP 1: Review the WWA informational webpage about the draft rule HERE to get up to speed. Basically, we need to tell the Forest Service that the winter travel management rule should be consistent with the summer travel management rule.

STEP 2: Submit your comments online HERE. There you can write your comments in the online form. OR if you prefer (and you’re computer savvy), you can modify and submit the WWA’s comment letter template (a Word document) that you can find HERE.

Let the Forest Service know how management of the winter backcountry has the potential to improve your experience on National Forest lands — or how a lack of management has degraded your experience.

You may want to make sure that you include these important points in your comments:

  • Winter travel management needs to take a “closed unless designated open” approach to OSVs, which is how the Forest Service currently manages off- road vehicles (ORVs).
  • Past administrative decisions about over-snow vehicle use that apply to only part of a forest or that do not consider the impacts of OSVs on other users or the environment, should not be “grandfathered in” and must be reexamined.
  • The draft OSV Rule defines an “area” differently than the existing ORV travel management rule. This change is unnecessary and the definition should be consistent in ALL seasons.

Please include information about your own experiences and local playground, be it the Stevens Peak backcountry area and/or any other backcountry area that you use.

STEP 3: Share your tracking number with WWA. When you submit your comments on the Regulations.gov website, it gives you a tracking number. Please copy that number <Ctrl C>, then paste the tracking number <Ctrl V> in the appropriate field, along with your name and email address, at the bottom of the WWA page HERE and click Submit!

THANK YOU for taking time to comment and speak up for the quiet winter backcountry experience that we all treasure!

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We Hope You’re Looking Forward to Engaging in the Winter Travel Management Planning Process

The INWBA is looking forward to the upcoming public comment period regarding the Forest Service’s proposed over-snow vehicle Travel Management Rule.  We believe that this will be an opportunity for a major step forward toward the creation of the Steven Peak Backcountry Area.  When the time comes, INWBA members will be asked to engage in the process, including writing comments both during the initial rule-making and in the future when the forests are developing winter travel plans.

Hidden Meadow, Boulder Creek

Hidden Meadow, Boulder Creek

Just so you can (re)familiarize yourself with what has transpired to make this possible, HERE is the Winter Wildlands Alliance’s press release on the federal court decision from last year.  In the press release, Winter Wildlands Aliance Executive Director Mark Menlove says, “We’re pleased with the ruling and we look forward to working with the Forest Service and other winter stakeholders to establish management plans for winter motorized use that are consistent with vehicle use in all other seasons.”

Thanks to the efforts of the WWA and Advocates for the West, it appears that the Forest Service will have the tools for managing important winter backcountry areas for quiet self powered recreation.

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Revised Idaho Panhandle National Forest Plan Falling Short

For more than 12 years, a number of us in the Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance (INWBA) have asked the Idaho Panhandle National Forest (IPNF) and Lolo National Forest (LNF) to address winter travel management in Stevens Peak Backcountry Area.  We continue to loose recreational opportunities in the Stevens Peak area due to inaction by the IPNF and LNF!

In spite of the input by members of the INWBA the Spokane Mountaineers, Montana Backcountry Alliance (MBA) and Winter Wildlands Alliance (WWA) on this issue during the +10 year IPNF Forest Plan Revision process, the recently completed Revision of the IPNF Forest Plan and FEIS fail to adequately address these issues.  The Revised Forest Plan does not address the exploding popularity of backcountry snowboarding and skiing other than to recognize that backcountry skiing occurs on IPNF lands.  A strong case has repeatedly been made for the need for winter travel management in the Stevens Peak Backcountry!

During the subsequent Revised Forest Plan and FEIS comment period The INWBA, the Spokane Mountaineers, MBA, and WWA  wrote and submitted an Objection Letter, which can be read: Here.  (Figure 1 referred to in the letter is the map of the Proposed Stevens Peak Non-Motorized Winter Recreation Area.)

Fig 1 IPNF Plan Revision Comments 4-16-12

In the Objection Letter, we again asked that the IPNF address winter travel management, particularly in the Stevens Peak Backcountry.  We made the case that travel management needs to be addressed prior to consideration of the proposed Lookout Pass Ski Area expansion.  (The Stevens Peak Backcountry Area includes adjacent portions of the LNF.  The IPNF has been chosen as the lead agency in any future permitting of the proposed ski area expansion.)  During the comment period and again in the objection letter we asked for the designation of a Stevens Peak Backcountry Winter Recreation and Scenic Area.  Creation of such an area would enable the area to be managed for the preservation of quiet human-powered winter recreation as well as preserving the area’s the scenic and natural character.

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Payette Winter Recreation Forum, A Working Model for Winter Travel Management

A model for creating a winter travel management plan may be what is occurring in Idaho’s Payette National Forest. The Payette National Forest issued a special order for the 2011-2012 snow season on a trial basis to protect resources and to provide areas for backcountry skiing based on the work of the Payette Winter Recreation Forum.  The forum is a collaborative process involving a wide range of stakeholders in winter recreation and conservation.  During its first year the special order, was according to reports, successfully implemented and the Granite Mountain Special Closure Order will again be in effect January 15 – March 31, 2013 for this winter.  More information may be found Here.

2012-13-Payette-NF-Winter-Travel-Map

2012-13 Granite Mountain Travel Map (Click to enlarge)

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Comment Letter Idaho Panhandle National Forest Plan Revision

The Inland Northwest Backcountry Alliance worked with the Spokane Mountaineers, Montana Backcountry Alliance, Winter Wildlands Alliance, Panhandle Nordic Club and the Lands Council, to prepare a comment letter on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest (IPNF) Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  Our comments included the following points:

  • A proposal that the Stevens Peak Backcountry Area be given Special Area designation for management as a Recreation and Scenic Area, recognizing the area’s importance for quiet human-powered winter recreation.
  • A recommendation that until a comprehensive plan for the Stevens Peak Backcountry Area is developed, the proposed expansion of Lookout Pass Ski Area through a modified special use permit should not proceed.  And,
  • The IPNF consider the potential for management of additional suitable areas for quiet human-powered winter recreation when and where possible.

You can read our comment letter Here.  Associated Figure 1 can be viewed below.

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Stevens Peak is the Location of the Spokane Mountaineers’ Mountain School Annual Snow Climbing Practice Weekend

Stevens Lake and Stevens Peak have been the location of the Spokane Mountaineers’ Mountain School’s Snow Climbing Practice for more than 30 years.  The 2012 Mountain School Snow Practice was held the weekend of April 14-15 and is documented in a great video Here.

Roped team travel, self arrest and avalanche awareness are taught by volunteer instructors.  The Spokane Mountaineers Climbing Schools is possibly one of the best and most comprehensive climbing courses in the US.

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Mt. Spokane Ski Area Expansion Status Update

The proposed expansion of Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park would severely diminish the backcountry skiing experience now found on the west and northwest side of Mount Spokane.

Jeff Juel of The Lands Council has provided us with a status update on the ski area expansion.  The Lands Council has filed a lawsuit challenging Washington State Parks and Recreation decision and requiring an Enivronmental Impact Statement.  We support their position.  We think it makes more sense to invest scarce dollars in upgrading the existing lifts and lodges to provide a better skier experience, and permanently protect the remaining wild areas on Mt. Spokane.  More information about the situation can be found in the Regional Issues Section: Here.

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Stevens Peak Backcountry Coalition Efforts Recognized

Local Outdoors writer Rich Landers of the Spokesman-Review has written a good summary of the recent history regarding Lookout Pass Ski Area’s proposed expansion and the INWBA’s (formerlyStevens Peak Backcountry Coalition) ongoing collaborative efforts Here.

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Forest Service Denies WWA’s Petition for Management of OSVs

Yesterday the Winter Wildlands Alliance’s petition asking for management of over snow vehicles (OSV) on national forest land was denied.  The petition was signed by the Spokane Mountaineers and 89 other organizations, representing 1.3 million members.  Details can be read on the NewWest Blog Here.

Quoting from the NewWest story, “…the Forest Service did agree to develop guidelines or factors for local officials to consider if they choose to implement winter travel planning, but gave no timeline for when those directives might be announced.”

Mark Menlove, WWA’s director was quoted as saying “We appreciate the offer to establish better guidelines, but guidelines are of little use without a directive to actually follow them.”

The Stevens Peak Backcountry Coalition will continue to work toward creation of a winter non-motorized recreation area for the Stevens Peak Backcountry.

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