by Julie Mach
CMC Conservation Director
You’ve heard about rogue trail building that leads to erosion, dispersed camping that pollutes waterways and unmanaged campfires that become devastating infernos. All are the result of increased and irresponsible recreation on public lands.
Now, a new phenomenon has made its first irreversible mark on the West. In September, hikers on the Santa Fe National Forest discovered over 1,000 unlawfully cut trees in and around New Mexico’s Pecos Wilderness. The suspected culprit is not industry but recreation: backcountry skiers “glading” slopes to improve the terrain for snowsports.
While the forest service continues their investigation, we want the backcountry ski community to recognize the potential implications of this cavalier activity. Glading impacts the sacrificed trees but destroys wildlife habitat, influences water quality, degrades visual resources, and can contribute to the spread of disease and pests like bark beetle that disrupt forest health. Additionally, it puts backcountry access at risk and could result in closure or restricted use of our favorite winter landscapes.
As backcountry users we are explorers: always looking for a great powder stash, a new vista, an alternate route to find solitude, or a unique outdoor challenge to master with friends. We are also stewards of our public lands and it is our job to protect those natural resources and landscapes we enjoy. Not only are there countless natural glades and great ski terrain throughout the Rockies, but there are responsible and legal ways to improve recreational opportunities in the backcountry.
In Vermont, forest staff are working closely with skiers to identify thinning projects that meet goals for timber management and also enhance backcountry skiing opportunities. The Vermont Backounty Alliance (www.vtbc.org) has successfully deployed volunteer chainsaw crews to work alongside land managers in clearing brush and select trees to open up ski terrain and simultaneously improve forest health. Just as mountain bikers are expected to get approval for new trail development through the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process, snowsports enthusiasts are beholden to the same standards to ensure sustainable recreation is balanced with natural resource conservation. We encourage users to build relationships with their local public land managers to discuss issues and work collaboratively to enhance recreation opportunities. CMC’s Backcountry Snowsports Initiative (BSI) works closely with recreation managers across the state and can help users get involved in local advocacy, planning and stewardship projects.
With the exploding growth of backcountry snowsports, it is our responsibility to develop a strong environmental ethic in the community of new and existing users. This month, Leave No Trace (LNT) released a new set of principles specific to winter recreation which outlines responsible behaviors including: leave only your tracks; respect wildlife; know your group’s limits; minimize hut impacts; and be considerate of other users. These are fairly intuitive ideals for seasoned backcountry travelers, but as new users transition from ski resorts to open, remote, and secluded terrain these principles are an important educational component.
BSI is working with Winter Wildlands Alliance and partners across the state to disperse the new LNT principles and reinforce the importance of sustainable recreation practices. We urge users to help us develop a culture of stewardship and responsible use of public lands within the backcountry snowsports community. Help us make the New Mexico glading incident the last of its kind in the west. To get involved in this and other BSI initiatives visit www.cmc.org/bsi.