Inyo NF OSV Use Plan: Comment Period Closed, Alternatives in Development

The Inyo National Forest has released its Proposed Action for Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) Use Designation, kicking off a 3-year process to determine where snowmobiles, timbersleds, snowbikes and other motorized OSVs will be allowed on the forest—and which areas should be protected for wildlife, natural soundscapes and nonmotorized use. Unfortunately, this first effort proposes to designate motorized use pretty much everywhere on the forest outside of designated Wilderness, providing extremely limited frontcountry access to nonmotorized experiences from trailheads and communities in the Eastern Sierra.

Mammoth Lakes Trail System Photo

The USFS has proposed to formally give snowmobiles, timbersleds, and other tracked vehicles free range across most of the northern half of the Inyo National Forest, with only our most crowded winter trailhead—at the Lake Mary winter road closure—set aside (until April 17) for skiing, snowshoeing and nonmotorized snowplay, despite the fact that these nonmotorized activities comprise the vast majority of winter recreation in the Eastern Sierra.

Winter Wildlands Alliance recognizes that snowmobiling is a legitimate use of designated national forest lands, and that certain informal agreements have been reached over the last three or four decades regarding separation of conflicting winter recreation activities. We believe there are balanced solutions to minimize conflict between uses, and specific ways to allow access to high-quality snowmobile experiences on the Inyo National Forest without so severely diminishing access to high-quality nonmotorized experiences for the 98% of people who recreate without motorized vehicles.

Advocating for a Balanced, Common-Sense Alternative

The forest has promised to develop other alternatives based on public comment. In other words, we now have an opportunity to suggest more reasonable alternatives for the forest to consider for the future management of all forms of public-access winter recreation for decades to come.

How Can I Support the Common Sense Alternative?

We encourage skiers, snowshoers, conservationists, local homeowners, conscientious snowmobilers, business owners, visitors, and people who just like to be able to walk in the woods at the edge of town with their kids and dogs to help us advocate for a common-sense, equitable winter travel plan that can work for everybody, not just the 1-2% of people who have snowmobiles.

  • WWA will keep members and those subscribed updated alternative planning with the Inyo. Join WWA to help support our work or subscribe to our emails.
  • Use this interactive map to see how the proposal might impact you and your favorite areas to recreate.
  • Check out the comment reading room to see what what submitted during the comment period.

Thoughts on a Common Sense Alternative:

Roughly from North to South

  • Lundy Canyon: We understand that the roadway into the canyon along Mill Creek and Lundy Lake, from its winter closure, is occasionally used by OSVs for day tours and access to the Wilderness boundary. Designating the steep sides of the main canyon as open OSV riding areas makes no sense on the ground. Designating OSV travel along the cherry stem into Lake Canyon, along a route that is designated non-motorized in summer, would invite trespass into the Hoover Wilderness and significantly impact the wilderness character of the entire canyon.
  • Tioga/Saddlebag: Given the sensitivity of this landscape, its contiguity with Yosemite National Park, the Harvey Monroe Hall Research Natural Area and the Hoover Wilderness, and its world-renowned popularity as a human-powered Nordic touring, backcountry skiing and snowboard zone, especially in spring, plus the significant avalanche danger on the Tioga Road throughout the season, we do not see the rationale for designating this area open to motorized OSV use. We also look forward to seeing thorough consultation between the INF and Fish and Wildlife, Southern California Edison, CalTrans, Mono County, the National Park Service and other cooperating agencies on how best to protect and manage this zone.
  • Lee Vining Canyon: Given the steep terrain on either side of the Poole Power Plant Road, and the canyon’s popularity as an access corridor for backcountry skiing on the flanks of the Dana Plateau, we do not see the rationale for opening either the roadway or the surrounding terrain to OSV use.
  • Parker Bench: Given the limited and complex terrain between State Route 158 (the June Lake Loop) and the wilderness boundary, and the zone’s popularity for access to numerous backcountry skiing, snowboarding and winter mountaineering routes on Mount Wood and Mount Lewis, we do not see the rationale for designating this zone open to OSV use. It must also be considered that there are BSSG leks in this area. There have been 3 translocations of sage grouse to the Parker Meadow and a small population is getting re-established here.
  • Obsidian Dome Nordic Area and Trailhead: As we understand it, this small area was established as a non-motorized Nordic ski area by community consensus and by Forest Order in the early 1990’s. It is the only such area accessible within a short drive of the communities of June Lake and Lee Vining. It is also a popular access zone for backcountry skiing and snowboarding on Chicken Wing. We do not see the rationale for diminishing this historic protection by designating any of this area open to OSV use. Furthermore, many of our members and partners have reported increasing motorized trespass into this area in recent years, and we have provided the INF with specific documentation of several instances of such trespass during the 2022-23 winter season (see RIMS data report, Appendix 3). We look forward to seeing specific implementation strategies as part of the INF’s final OSV plan, to include a combination of signage, education, monitoring and enforcement as means of minimizing conflict between uses. We  look forward to the INF’s development and analysis of different alternatives for effectively separating uses in this area, as the current multi-use parking and staging scenario tends to maximize rather than minimize conflict between uses (with motorized OSV users having to cross through the non-motorized parking and trailhead in order to join—at difficult right angles—the groomed OSV network). An alternative should also include not designating OSV use at the existing family snowplay area on the west side of Highway 395 at FS Road 2S11A.
  • Upper Deadman Creek cherry-stem: As with the cherry stem in Lake Canyon described above, designating OSV travel into this narrow canyon would invite trespass into the Owens River Headwaters Wilderness and significantly impact the wilderness character of the entire canyon.
  • Earthquake Dome: The north and east flanks of Earthquake Dome are a popular local backcountry ski and snowboard zone. We do not see the rationale for shrinking protections in this zone by expanding the area designated open for cross-country OSV use. We also support an alternative that does not designate the area around the historic Sierra Club blue-diamond Nordic touring and snowshoeing trail open to cross-country OSV use.
  • Scenic Loop dispersed camping and family snowplay zone: We can see the need to provide a designated OSV route through this zone to access the groomed OSV network beyond, but we look forward to seeing an alternative that does not designate cross-country OSV use that would conflict with the popular family snowplay and dispersed camping zone on the east side of the Mammoth Scenic Loop. We anticipate an alternative that analyzes designation of an OSV staging area at the intersection of the Inyo Craters Road.
  • Shady Rest Trailheads and trail re-alignments: We generally support the alternative being developed by the Inyo NF and the Town of Mammoth Lakes (TOML) to separate motorized and non-motorized winter recreation in the Shady Rest area. This new proposed scenario should allow for dedicated motorized staging at the New Shady Rest Campground dump station at the corner of CA203 and Sawmill Cutoff Road, with a designated re-alignment of a groomed OSV route around the west side of Shady Rest Park along the existing multi-use pathway for direct groomed access to the groomed snowmobile trail network to the north of Shady Rest Park. The town’s groomed Nordic ski and walking loops, accessible from the Welcome Center parking lot, as well as Shady Rest Park itself, should not be designated open to motorized over-snow use. This would minimize conflict between incompatible uses at one of the town’s most popular winter recreation access points, and would be a huge improvement for all users over the current situation.
  • Earthquake Fault: We would like to see an alternative that does not designate motorized OSV use in the Earthquake Fault area, thereby creating an opportunity for a dedicated, higher-altitude (climate resilient) non-motorized staging area for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, family snowplay and backcountry ski/snowboard access to the east and north sides of Earthquake Dome and to the Sierra Club’s historic blue diamond Nordic trail. As necessary, a snowmobile crossing could be established across the roadway below the parking area to provide OSV access to the Cinder Shed and the groomed OSV network beyond.
  • Cinder Shed: We can see the value in establishing a sustainable higher-elevation motorized staging area here for more predictable seasonal access to the broader groomed OSV network.
  • Minaret Vista: We would like to see alternatives developed and analyzed in conjunction with INF’s analysis of the proposed Mammoth Mountain Main Lodge Redevelopment Project. Alternatives should seek to delineate separate motorized and non-motorized access routes to Minaret Summit and the popular Minaret Vista overlook. The INF should show its rationale for designating cross-country OSV use along San Joaquin Ridge above Minaret Vista.
  • Agnew Meadows, Reds Meadow and Devils Postpile: The INF should show its rationale for designating cross-country OSV use beyond Minaret Summit into the Reds Meadow area and how it plans to enforce against motorized trespass into Devils Postpile NM and the Ansel Adams and John Muir Wilderness areas.
  • Mammoth Lakes municipal boundary: Generally, in order to provide equitable access to natural soundscapes and non-motorized recreation opportunities, to minimize conflicts between uses and impacts to populated areas, the forest should develop and analyze alternatives that designate discrete OSV routes that move OSVs at low speeds to areas and routes well beyond communities and neighborhoods, where impacts to other uses and to populated areas are minimized.
  • Sherwins: The Sherwins Front—from Mill City and Mammoth Rock to Bardini and the Tele Bowls—is a renowned, world-class, frontcountry human-powered ski and snowboard area right at the edge of Mammoth Lakes. The Sherwins Meadow is a popular and easily-accessible area for walking, Nordic skiing, snowshoeing and family snowplay. These areas are generally nonmotorized in summer—with singletrack trails open to equestrians, hikers and mountain bikers but not e-bikes or dirt bikes—and were recommended to be nonmotorized in winter in the community-developed Sherwins Area Recreation Plan (SHARP), as adopted by the Town of Mammoth Lakes in 2009. As with the Shady Rest proposal above, we highly support the development of an alternative that would not designate the Sherwins area for motorized OSV use. This would protect the meadow and the popular backcountry ski and snowboard zones and uphill tracks for quiet, nonmotorized recreation and natural soundscapes. There is plenty of room at the propane tanks and borrow pit parking areas to create a simple, strategic separation between nonmotorized and motorized staging. This would allow for direct OSV access to thousands of acres of cross-country snowmobiling by way of a designated OSV trail that follows Sherwin Creek Road to the motocross area and beyond (rather than straight through the walking and sledding area and over the south-facing slopes and manzanita across from the Tele Bowls), effectively minimizing conflict between incompatible uses and allowing for a range of different recreation experiences for all people.
  • Solitude Canyon: Just three years ago, in November 2020, then Mammoth District Ranger Gordon Martin rejected a proposal to build a sustainable non-motorized trail in Solitude Canyon, citing “Issues raised by the public, state agencies, and U.S. Forest Service staff as part of the NEPA scoping process [including]: concerns that this project has the potential to affect important migration corridors relied upon by the Round Valley mule deer herd; [and] that Solitude Canyon provides a greater value as a natural and informal dispersed use area.” We look forward to seeing the INF’s rationale for designating this Inventoried Roadless Area open to cross-country OSV use when it has already deemed a non-motorized trail to be too impactful.
  • Long Valley: There are BSSG leks in the Laurel Ponds/Sherwin Creek area as well as in the area to the east of the Mammoth airport. There are about 30 leks in the area from the Upper Owens River to the foot of the Glass Mountains and from the Green Church to Crowley Lake. This whole area is a nesting zone for the South Mono Population Management Unit (PMU), which is the second largest sub-population unit and a core BSSG area. It is an important PMU to protect or the species will be listed. (The species currently has a USFWS candidate listing as threatened and so must be treated as listed until the review deems otherwise; all BSSG PMUs should be seasonally closed per the latest updated BSSG plan.) We look forward to a thorough analysis and consultation with federal and state wildlife agencies, USGS, USFS biologists and the Local Area Working Group with regard to how cross-country snowmobiling in this area would impact this sensitive species.
  • Convict Lake: We understand that the Tobacco Flat area above Convict Lake to the south has historically provided cross-country OSV use opportunities and access to the McGee Crest, but we do not see the rationale for designating OSV use right to the edge of Convict Lake, where the plowed parking area along the lakeshore provides one of the few dedicated public-access non-motorized trailheads on the northern part of the INF, and where the terrain is clearly unsuitable for motorized use.
  • Rock Creek: Given the popularity of the upper canyon for Nordic touring, walking, snowshoeing and backcountry ski/snowboard access, and the close proximity of wilderness on either side, we do not see the rationale for designating open OSV areas above the Sno Park. The steep terrain and dense vegetation on either side of the road in the lower part of upper Rock Creek Canyon seem to us to make no sense for cross-country OSV use. We look forward to seeing the rationale for this proposed designation.
  • Southern INF: Perhaps we misunderstand the maps provided with the INF’s PA, but we do not see the rationale and are deeply concerned if indeed the INF is proposing to designate motorized OSV routes on cherry-stemmed roadways into the John Muir Wilderness at Onion Valley, Whitney Portal, Tuttle Creek and Horseshoe Meadows. This would obviously invite wilderness trespass and greatly impact wilderness character in these zones.