Winter Travel Planning in California

Winter travel planning is currently underway on 7 national forests in California. This process, under the legal mandate of the 2015 OSV Rule (see “Background” below), represents a significant opportunity to bring balance to the winter backcountry by providing a framework for local stakeholders, communities, and the Forest Service to work together to find balanced solutions for motorized and non-motorized winter use. For the first time ever, our national forests are required to implement winter travel management plans. Helping your local forest draft these plans will be YOUR opportunity to influence how YOUR backcountry is managed. Please join us, follow us on Facebook, or stay tuned to this page to find out what comes next on which forest and how you can help us advocate for balanced solutions in those areas you care most about.

Background for California

 

In 2015, as a result of a federal court order in a lawsuit brought by Winter Wildlands Alliance, the United States Forest Service amended Subpart C of its 2005 Travel Management Rule to require that all national forests that receive enough snowfall for Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) use designate routes and areas where OSV use is allowed. (For more detailed information on national winter travel planning, check out our Winter Travel Management Planning page.)

Also, as part of a separate legal agreement with Winter Wildlands Alliance, Snowlands Network, and the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Forest Service agreed to fully assess under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) the impacts of snowmobiles on wildlife, plants and quiet recreation as a result the State’s snowmobile trail grooming program on five specific national forests in California — Stanislaus, Eldorado, Tahoe, Plumas and Lassen. Such review is being undertaken concurrently with full winter travel management planning as coordinated by the Region 5 (California) office of the Forest Service.

When completed, these plans will outline where snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles are and are not allowed on each forest. Winter Wildlands Alliance is advocating for management plans that zone the backcountry in a balanced manner so that everybody has a place to play.  This means that some areas should be designated for non-motorized use while other parts of the forest are open to and managed for snowmobiles.

As part of the agreement each of these 5 forests must consider an alternative management scenario developed by Winter Wildlands Alliance and Snowlands Network. Groups represented the snowmobile community have been given this opportunity as well. As such we will write and publish a “Skiers Alternative” for each forest with the goal of designating certain important backcountry skiing areas as non-motorized.  We would appreciate your input to help us determine which areas we should propose be closed to motorized activity. As our Alternatives are finalized we will post them on this page.

Forest by Forest

 

Lassen National Forest

The Lassen National Forest was the first national forest to get started on winter travel planning after publication of the OSV Rule and they published a final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and draft Record of Decision for the winter travel plan on August 22, 2016.  The FEIS compares different alternatives for how the Forest Service will manage snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles on the Lassen moving forward and draft Record of Decision describes the Forest Service’s selected Alternative.

When the Forest Service published a draft EIS in February 2016 they analyzed four alternatives: Alternative 1 (the status quo), Alternative 2 (the Proposed Action), Alternative 3 (based off of the “Skiers Alternative” submitted by WWA and Snowlands Network), and Alternative 4 (the “motorized emphasis” alternative).  At that time we told the Forest Service that Alternative 3, with modifications to account for impacts to wildlife, wilderness lands, and natural resources, should be the preferred alternative moving forward.  We submitted our recommendations for improving the EIS in our comments to the Forest Service in March, 2016.

After considering all of the public’s comments on the draft EIS the Forest Service modified one of the Alternatives analyzed int the EIS to come up with a draft plan, otherwise known as the “Selected Alternative.”  The draft plan, which is an amalgamation of alternatives 3 and 4, isn’t perfect but it’s pretty good. The Forest Service incorporated most of our recommendations about important non-motorized recreation areas, and the draft plan prohibits winter motorized use in these areas. The plan also prohibits over-snow vehicles (OSVs) in important conservation areas like recommended wilderness and Research Natural Areas. All the same, there is room for improvement. The draft plan would allow OSVs on one of the few official cross-country ski trails on the Lassen National Forest – the Dry Lake trail, which is part of the McGowan cross-country ski trail system – and does not go far enough in protecting quiet non-motorized recreation experiences on and around the McGowan ski trails.  We also feel that the Lassen plan does not meet the requirement of managing the forest as “closed [to over-snow vehicles] unless designated open.” The Lassen’s plan does refer to “areas designated for OSV use” and “areas not designated for cross-country OSV use” but in reality the map still shows a forest where OSV use is allowed everywhere except a few distinct areas where it’s prohibited. Low elevation areas that rarely receive snow, including 50% of the forest’s mule deer winter range, remain open to OSVs in the draft plan. The draft plan also fails to provide provide projections for rare and threatened wildlife species such as the Sierra Nevada red fox.  While it does prohibit OSV use within most of the important non-motorized recreation areas on the Lassen, it misses the mark when it comes to thoughtfully designating specific areas where OSV use is appropriate and instead relies on the old paradigm of allowing OSV use everywhere except specific areas where it’s prohibited.  You can find out more about the Lassen plan in this blog post.

In September 2016 Winter Wildlands Alliance and Snowlands Network filed an official objection to the Lassen’s draft winter travel plan, asking that the Forest Service do more to address the concerns outlined above.  Several other organizations filed objections as well.  In response, the Forest Service has decided to step back and develop a new Alternative.

Tahoe National Forest

The scoping period for the Tahoe National Forest ended on April 20, 2015 and the Forest is now working on developing and analyzing travel management alternatives.  During the scoping period Winter Wildlands Alliance and Snowlands Network submitted a “Skiers Alternative” that the Tahoe will analyze alongside other Alternatives.  You can view a map of our proposal here.

Eldorado National Forest

The Eldorado National Forest also ended their scoping period on April 20, 2015.  As with the Lassen and Tahoe National Forests, we have worked with Snowlands Network to develop a “Skiers Alternative” for the Eldorado National Forest.  You can view a map of our proposal here.

Stanislaus National Forest

Scoping for winter travel planning on the Stanislaus National Forest ended on August 10, 2015 and the Forest Service is now working on developing and analyzing a range of Alternatives.  The “Skiers Alternative” that we wrote with Snowlands Network would enforce existing protections of wild lands and unique natural features, set aside accessible areas for non-motorized winter recreation, and allow snowmobiling across a large network of trails and play areas.  You can view a map of our proposal here.

The Forest Service anticipates that they will publish a draft Environmental Impact Statement in July 2016.  This will be the next opportunity for public comment on the Stanislaus winter travel management plan.

Plumas National Forest

The scoping period for this forest has ended and the Plumas National Forest is now working on developing and analyzing a number of Alternatives.  During the scoping period Winter Wildlands Alliance and Snowlands Network submitted a “Skiers Alternative” that the Tahoe will analyze alongside other Alternatives.  You can view a map of our proposal here.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU)

The LTBMU has yet to initiate scoping for winter travel planning but they did solicit pre-scoping comments.  Click here to read the complete Winter Wildlands Alliance pre-scoping comments.  You can find out more about LTBMU winter travel planning on our LTBMU travel planning page.

 

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