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Five Forest Settlement
In 2013, Snowlands reached a settlement with the Forest Service of litigation brought in 2011 by Snowlands, Winter Wildlands Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity. The complaint challenged the Forest Service participation in the State of California's snowmobile program without full environmental review. The State program promotes the sport of snowmobiling in California through grooming of trails and plowing of trailheads for OSV (over-snow vehicle) recreation. Although skiers and snowshoers may also use OSV trailheads, the trailheads themselves tend to be dominated by the noise and toxic exhaust of OSVs, especially on weekends.
Pursuant to the settlement, the Forest Service will initiate environmental review of its snowmobile trail grooming activities on the Stanislaus, Eldorado, Tahoe, Plumas and Lassen national forests, with the expectation of completing such review by the end of 2015. Snowlands and the other plaintiffs are provided the right to submit an alternative for Forest Service consideration as part of such review. Snowlands has been developing a proposal for each of the forests with the input of its members and other knowledgable skiers.
"This is a watershed event in Snowlands Network’s efforts to cause the Forest Service to address the impacts of snowmobile recreation," said Marcus Libkind, Snowlands Network’s Chairman and founder. "We have been working towards this goal for many years and now look forward to collaboration with the Forest Service to preserve and protect areas for clean and quiet winter recreation in the central and northern Sierra and southern Cascades."
Snowlands Network Applauds Court Ruling Requiring U.S. Forest Service Management of Snowmobiles and Calls for the National Forests in California and Nevada to Take Action
NEVADA CITY, Calif – April, 2, 2013 - On March 29, the United States District Court for the District of Idaho ruled that the exemption of over-snow vehicles in the 2005 Travel Management Rule is contrary to law. In the ruling handed down Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush ordered the U.S. Forest Service to issue a new rule within 180 days that requires all national forests to manage over-snow-vehicles under the same criteria used for all other off-road vehicles.
The ruling resolves a lawsuit brought by Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance challenging the legality of the over-snow vehicle (OSV) exemption in the 2005 Travel Management Rule. Advocates for the West represented Winter Wildlands Alliance in the lawsuit.
"This ruling will affect all National Forests and confirms the position we have advocated with the Forest Service in California and Nevada," said Gail Ferrell, Snowlands Network President. "Winter is not a 'secondary' season; the Forest Service needs to comprehensively address the adverse impacts of motorized recreation in winter as well as in summer."
"The popularity of backcountry skiing and snowshoeing is apparent to anyone traveling the Mt. Rose highway, or other roads in and around the Lake Tahoe basin, in winter," said Ms. Ferrell. "The preservation and promotion of opportunities to backcountry ski and snowshoe in the basin is extremely important to the economic health of communities in the basin."
"The Forest Service cannot continue to ignore the issues presented by snowmobile recreation when revising their land management plans and formulating travel management," said Bob Rowen, Snowlands Network Vice President for Advocacy. "We call on the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, which is revising its land management plan, to address the snowmobile issue. This does not mean a total prohibition of snowmobiles, but it means providing a fair balance of lands for non-motorized recreation in winter as well as in summer. The current lack of comprehensive regulation of OSV use has allowed motorized recreation to displace skiers and snowshoers from several areas in the basin, despite the fact that the demand for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing far exceeds the demand for snowmobiling."
LTBMU Releases Revised Plan
The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit released its revised Land and Resource Management Plan in November 2013. The revised plan does not review OSV restrictions as Snowlands had requested, but does recognize a need to improve dispersed winter parking opportunities and does increase the amount of land classified as “backcountry”, both changes that Snowlands had requested. We appreciate the LTBMU’s recognition of the need for more dispersed access but object to the LTBMU’s failure to review OSV restrictions. Substantial increases in recreation demand and use in the winter backcountry in the last twenty-five years make such review necessary.
Snowlands has taken a leading role in a collaborative effort to resolve winter use conflicts at Tahoe Meadows, which effort has been set up and facilitated by the LTBMU. But Snowlands has also consistently told the LTBMU that the LTBMU has a management responsibility to assess and resolve the OSV issue and that the collaborative effort will not make progress until the LTBMU exercises such responsibility.
Snowlands will be making a specific proposal to the LTBMU to resolve its objection and allow the plan revision to be completed. We will post it here.
A coalition of environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Sierra Forest Legacy and California Wilderness Coalition have supported Snowlands' position. We have also worked with these groups on recommending broader changes in forest management. In particular, we regret that the LTBMU took a polarizing position on Wilderness, and refused to consider the group's Wilderness proposal that allowed existing popular mountain bike trails to continue.
The new backcountry management area added in the final plan is between Blackwood and Ward creeks around Stanford Rock. Backcountry designation does not impact OSV use, however it does make an area inappropriate for new developed recreation sites.
In response to pressure from Snowlands, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has made a soft start to engaging in a full review of snowmobile restrictions in the basin (Subpart C review). Snowlands has objected to the failure of the recent plan revision to address OSVs, and has offered to drop its objection if the LTBMU does two things:
- formalizes the subpart c review with specific timetable for completion, and,
- immediately designate as nonmotorized an additional approximately five square miles in the basin, consisting of the south facing bowls south and west of Chickadee Ridge (south of the Tahoe Meadows off the Mt. Rose highway) and the riparian meadows on either side of Blackwood Canyon.
These two closures are important and beyond reasonable debate. The Chickadee Ridge area is extremely popular with skiers, snowshoers and hikers, indeed, so much so that many of them believe the area already is closed. But the area does receive some OSV use and even a single user destroys the serenity for everyone else.
The riparian meadows on either side of Blackwood Canyon are watershed that drains immediately into Lake Tahoe and should be protected from highly polluting OSVs. They also provide beginner ski and snowshoe terrain from the Kaspian Sno-Park. This closure would not impact snowmobile travel on the Blackwood road, including snowmobiles accessing open area further from the lake.
We believe there are no legitimate reasons that our proposal should be refused. We would seek greater restrictions through the Subpart C review process, recognizing that further broad changes would require a balancing of competing interests.
Inyo and Sierra Forest Plan Revisions
The Inyo, Sierra and Sequoia national forests have commenced their Forest Plan revisions. Snowlands has commented on the draft forest assessments published by the Inyo and Sierra national forests and will be participating actively in the plan review process, which will take several years. Please follow us on facebook and our email alerts in order to learn quickest about comment opportunities.
In our recent comments on the Inyo’s draft assessment of existing forest conditions, we stated:
- The Inyo National Forest is world-renowned for its backcountry ski touring opportunities, as well as for its hiking and backpacking and for the destination downhill ski resort at Mammoth. There are several published guides describing many popular backcountry ski, snowshoe and snowboard routes within the Inyo National Forest. Backcountry skiing is especially popular in the spring-summer shoulder season as the roads open to and across the high Sierra passes. Skiers come from around the world to ski this terrain in the spring….
- The assessment should also recognize that the NVUM (national visitor use monitoring) data may significantly understate the popularity of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Inyo’s NVUM data shows a relative decline in the popularity of these sports from the 2002 survey to the 2006 survey, while industry equipment sales data show that they have been some of the fastest growing sports in America. The NVUM data needs to be examined: is it a problem in the tracking of visitors, or is the Inyo somehow bucking national trends and – if so – why? Part of the discrepancy may be due to the fact that NVUM methodology has not purported to track backcountry skiers, who now consider their sport separate and distinct from cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Moreover, all backcountry ski use is highly dispersed, and occurs in the Inyo primarily during a shoulder season when many facilities are officially closed….
- Other national forests that appreciate the desires of cross-country and backcountry skiers and snowshoers have successfully managed their public lands so as to better serve this segment of users. Through greater attention to the desires of cross-country skiers in particular, Inyo NF can benefit local communities dependent on the recreation economy without taxing environmental and community resources, and without the need for significant new infrastructure development….
Snowlands Network calls on the Inyo NF for winter travel management planning
Recently, Snowlands Network submitted comments to the Inyo National Forest in response to a proposed OSV staging area improvement project. The comments that we submitted, called for the Inyo NF to conduct winter travel management planning, protect lands for clean and quiet winter recreation, and take steps to limit the environmental degradation caused by OSV use. In response to our comments, the Inyo has determined to not include a "rideback trail" in its Shady Rest OSV Staging Area project. The new staging area will further separation of motorized and nonmotorized users. The "rideback trail" would have brought OSVs back in proximity to the nonmotorized nordic ski area, and the project is much better without it.
Rubicon Trail Deal
Will Protect Water Quality
Time to celebrate a victory!!!
Years of effort by Snowlands Network, other environmental organizations and concerned individuals culminated in an agreement between the Forest Service and diverse interests that will close the Rubicon (Off-Road) Trail at times to protect water quality and prevent erosion like this:
The agreement will also allow improvements to the Rubicon Trail to move forward.
Eight Appellants, including conservation and off-road organizations, as well as El Dorado County, dropped their appeals of a U.S. Forest Service Decision that grants the County an easement for the route of the historic Rubicon Trail and approvals for trail improvements. Changes to the Decision, negotiated and agreed to by the eight appellants, will require the County to close the Trail when weather conditions are likely to result in runoff of sediment and petroleum products.
"This agreement is a win for everyone", said Karen Schambach of Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation and California Field Director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "It allows the County to proceed with bridges and erosion control, and includes a winter closure that ensures those improvements will not be destroyed by irresponsible use."
"The trail improvements along with the agreed to procedures for needed closures will significantly increase protections to water resources and the many riparian and aquatic species that live depend on these waters, including the California red-legged frog and Sierra Nevada yellow legged frog." said Lisa Belenky, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Five conservation organizations jointly appealed the decision: Snowlands Network, Winter Wildlands Alliance, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, based in Georgetown where the Rubicon Trail originates, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Center for Biological Diversity. The primary concern for these groups had been the erosion and water quality issues that result from winter and early spring use of the trail, especially by so-called "extreme off-roaders." Currently the Trail is under a Regional Water Board Cleanup and Abatement Order, due to water quality issues such as sedimentation and petroleum products contamination.
"It took last minute efforts of all participants and a willingness to compromise on a plan that everyone can live with in order to make the settlement a reality, said Marcus Libkind, Chairman of Snowlands Network. "My only regret is that this same outcome was not worked out long ago."
A special thanks goes to Monte Hendricks, Snowlands' Highway 50 Coordinator, Rich Platt, retired Forest Service employee and Snowlands volunteer, and all of you who submitted comment letters over the years. >>> Background
SNOWMOBILE PLAN CHALLENGED
TO PROTECT WILDLIFE AND QUIET RECREATION
Snowlands Network, together with other petitioners, filed a lawsuit challenging the State of California's recent approval of its 10-year over snow vehicle grooming and trailhead plowing plan. The lawsuit, filed on January 19, 2011, claims that the plan did not adequately address impacts to wildlife, air or water quality, or conflicts with quiet winter recreation.
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