WA SAWS News: COW Forest Plan Revision Proposed Action - 238,800 acres recommended for additional Wilderness

 

WA SAWS Members,

 

I hope all of you have an enjoyable Independence Day with your family and friends! When your fun and good times are over for the holiday and it is back to the norm, I am requesting and need your help.

 

As I mentioned in my WA SAWS News email a week ago (Monday June 27), the Forest Service (FS) proposed action for the Colville, Okanogan and Wenatchee (COW) "will most likely contain thousands of acres of Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWA)." Well that turns out to be quite the understatement. It seems the actual number of RWAs is 238,800 acres additional land the FS is recommending for Wilderness. 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).

 

This amount of RWAs are not only outrageous, but the fact that there is clearly not a need (as required by law and FS policy) for this amount of additional RWAs in these three forests makes me very angry that the FS would even propose so many acres for wilderness. If the FS had actually done any real planning and studied the facts in front of them during their effort, there would be very little to no areas proposed as RWAs. As a reminder, SAWS does not support ANY additional proposed wilderness in any forest, but clearly some areas in these forest will end up as RWAs in the final Record of Decision (ROD) no matter what SAWS or any other snowmobile pro-access organizations requests, so we need to concentrate on fighting to keep open the areas that are most important to us as snowmobilers. This approach is not a compromise, and does not indicate that some of these areas are OK to lose, but merely a fact that we need to concentrate our attention and time to those areas we care about most.

 

This is where I need your help. I cannot address this terrible proposal alone without active involvement from our SAWS members. We all need to fight this as a united and determined team or we will lose. It is not a good strategy for any of us to sit back and hope that others will take care of this proposal and that your favorite riding areas in the end will somehow through a miracle remain open to snowmobiling without any effort on your part.

 

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.

 

Here is a link to the FS document titled “Preliminary Administrative Wilderness Recommendation” that reflects where and why areas in these forests are proposed for wilderness:

 

http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5313069.pdf

 

Here are a few quotes from this 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. A relative low use activity on Okanogan.

 

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. Recommended PWAs can offer a high quality wilderness setting in conjunction with existing wilderness; and/or a wilderness setting (landform or ecosystem) currently not widely available in the system. The recommendation would increase somewhat the amount of wilderness available for a growing demand.”

 

Here is a link to the FS document titled “Proposed Action for Forest Plan Revision Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest:

 

http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5312322.pdf

 

“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)”

 

 

There you have the FS opinion in a nutshell and why they feel there is a need for all of the new wilderness areas. Snowmobile use is “expected to increase by 350 percent by 2050”. Back country skiing has “low use for all three Forests”. Approximately 6% of forest visits are to current wilderness areas (129,900/2,130,800 = 6.1%). The second highest use of the forest at approximately 14% is snowmobiling. Not to mention the fact snowmobiling brings in over 21 million dollars “annually to local economies” (154 million times 13.9% = 21.4 million).

 

These are all FS figures. The math just does not add up for more wilderness.

 

The maps I have viewed to date are very poor and with little detail so it is very difficult to determine the exact boundaries. I have contacted the FS and requested better maps and they have responded that better maps are on the way. But even with these poor maps you can get a good idea of what could be lost.

 

I am also very concerned about the “Backcountry” designation, but no acre figures were provided that I noticed. 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.

 

Here is a link to the Proposed Action:

 

Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Plan Revision - Proposed Action

 

Below are the details for the first three meetings that are currently scheduled to review this proposal in more detail. More meetings in additional cities are forthcoming.

 

Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest Plan Revision -- Public Meetings

 

Colville, WA -- Saturday, July 16

9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Community College, Institute for Extended Learning Center
Colville Center, 985 South Elm
Colville, WA 99114

Republic, WA -- Thursday, July 28

5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Republic Elementary School Multi-purpose Room
30306 E. Highway 20
Republic, WA 99166

Okanogan, WA -- Saturday, July 30

9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Okanogan County Fairgrounds, Agriplex Building
175 Rodeo Trail Road
Okanogan, WA 98840

Is there a bright side to this repulsive proposed action? I guess possibly the fact that the FS service 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. But 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.

 

I will not have a chance to get back to this very important issue for about a week or so. Once I do have some additional free time, I will begin to put together a SAWS Alert, but I thought I would give you a heads up as to what we are up against.

 

Once again, please provide me your input as requested above. I will need quite a bit of help from our members fighting this proposed action if we want to have any hope to be successful.

 

 

Dave Hurwitz

Snowmobile Alliance of Western States

 

 

Previous SAWS email regarding this proposed action below.

WA SAWS members,

Two very important issues that our WA SAWS members need to be made aware of that have active comment periods; Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee (COW) Forest Plan Revisions Proposed Action Comment Period and Yellowstone National Park Draft Winter Use Plan/DEIS Comment Period.

Colville and Okanogan-Wenatchee (COW) Forest Plan Revisions (FPR) Proposed Action

 

Comment Period: June 30 – August 29, 2011

The long awaited COW FPR Proposed Action will be released June 30, 2011 for a 60 day comment period. This will then be followed by the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) comment period which will contain multiple alternatives, including the Forest Service preferred alternative.  

“The proposed action is not a decision. It represents our current thinking based on what we have learned so far. We have worked hard to prepare proposals for this document, incorporating many ideas that we heard in community meetings and from groups and individuals since the project was initiated in 2004… Your comments on the proposed action will help us determine the issues that will shape the analysis and decision.  These issues will be used to help the team build alternatives and to determine the scope of the analysis that will be documented in the DEIS, which we plan to release summer 2012.

 

Read more about the COW FPR Proposed Action in the Forest Plan Revision News from June 2011 containing the notification:

http://www.fs.fed.us/r6/wenatchee/forest-plan/documents/20110613PlanRevisionNewsletter.pdf

Not having seen a preliminary copy of the proposed action, I cannot state with any certainty as to what it actually says, but I will go out on a limb and state that it will almost certainly propose some snowmobile closure areas and will most likely contain thousands of acres of Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWA).


Since 2004, SAWS has informed our WA SAWS members about the
COW FPR through numerous alerts and news items requesting that our members submit comments during previous scoping activities. Listed below are a few of these previous alerts on this issue:

SAWS alert from 7/10:
http://news.snowmobilealliance.org/2010/07/colville-okanogan-wenatchee-national-forest-plan-revision/

SAWS alert from 03/06:
http://news.snowmobilealliance.org/2006/03/washington-oregon-forest-plan-revisions-recommended-wilderness-areas/

SAWS alert from 10/04:
http://news.snowmobilealliance.org/2004/10/washington-state-forest-plan-revisions-information/

Once the proposed action has been released and SAWS has had time to read the document, we will send out a SAWS Alert with our comments and recommendations, but please don’t hesitate reading the document yourself and sending in your comments proposing no new recommended wilderness areas, or any other limitations placed on snowmobilers.