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Photo Credit: Ming Poon

The opportunity is here to collaborate with the Forest Service for winter recreation in Lake Tahoe.

To fill out our LTBMU Winter Recreation Survey, see below. To send comments directly to the Forest Service, go here. (Public comment deadline is December 9)

The Forest Service has published a Proposed Action that outlines a preliminary vision for all types of winter recreation in the Lake Tahoe Basin. This is an important opportunity for the public to weigh in on how these public lands should be managed in winter. Click here for more details and context.

The Proposed Action document is a good look at what the Forest Service thinks winter recreation should look like in Tahoe. But it’s just a first draft. There are elements of the plan that we support and other areas where we think the Forest Service may be off the mark. By way of example, one of the biggest hotspots that we see in the Forest Service’s proposal is at the top of Mount Rose, where cars are frequently parked on both sides of the two-lane highway, families take their kids to go sledding, snowshoers walk amongst the trees to hear the song of chickadees, backcountry skiers head off on skin tracks to ski powder-filled bowls, and snowmobilers take off for the ridgeline. It’s a ground zero for every type of recreation in the winter, and right now, the Forest Service’s proposal is to alternate motorized use on an every-other-day basis. We think this is a surface-level solution, at best. At worst, it will increase opportunities for conflict.

But we want to hear what you think. Where do you backcountry ski or splitboard in Lake Tahoe? What’s your favorite place to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing or to walk the dog in the woods? If you snowmobile, what are the places that are most important to you? What about parking and access points? Have you experienced specific conflicts between different winter uses? Where? What other issues or alternatives should the Forest Service consider as they work toward a final plan?

Now’s the time to weigh in. Give us your thoughts and ideas for solutions via the form below:

Today is a big day for the future of balance in the backcountry. Almost 10 years after the Forest Service issued the Travel Management Rule – directing the management of wheeled-vehicle use, but making management of snowmobiles optional – we finally have a national rule that does the same for winter use. The long overdue Over-Snow Vehicle Rule was published in the Federal Register today and you can read it online here.

During the comment period on the draft rule, our community spoke out in unprecedented numbers and with overwhelming support for strengthening the rule. We’re pleased to report that the Forest Service heeded some of that public input by adopting a prohibited-unless-allowed approach to snowmobile use that is consistent with motorized management in other seasons, rather than the confusing “either/or” approach proposed in the draft rule.

We do still have several concerns with issues that remain in the final rule. Like the draft, the final rule allows for past management decisions to be incorporated into new travel plans without further opportunity for public involvement. While this makes sense for decisions that were done recently and with a full environmental review, we are concerned that this loophole will allow forests to sidestep the intent of travel management planning and scrape by with out-of-date decisions that avoid minimizing the impact of snowmobiles on wildlife, the environment, and non-motorized recreation.

In addition, a revised definition allowing a designated “area” for over-snow vehicle use to be nearly as large as an entire Ranger District is troubling in that it may result in snowmobiles and other over-snow vehicles continuing to dominate the winter landscape, posing serious threats to other users and to critical wildlife habitat.

Under the new rule, National Forests must designate specific roads, trails, and areas for snowmobile use and publish these designations on an Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) use map. Once an OSV map is published, snowmobile use outside of designated areas and trails will be prohibited. Forests that already have snowmobile designations in place must also publish an OSV use map, and we expect to see many of these Forests publish maps for the 2015-2016 winter season.

By zoning different areas for motorized and non-motorized use, winter travel planning is an opportunity to bring local stakeholders and communities together to find balanced solutions for winter use. With the national framework in place, winter travel planning now transitions to place-based processes where local advocates are essential. As forests across the country begin to implement the new OSV Rule, Winter Wildlands Alliance will be leading the way and looking to you to help advocate for balanced opportunities for winter recreation in the places you visit.

We want to send out a giant Thank You to our community for all of their work and support over the past decade. This new opportunity is a direct result of 10 years of never-give-up effort by Winter Wildlands Alliance and our members. It wouldn’t exist without a strong community of people who value wild winter landscapes and the human-powered recreation opportunities such places provide. We aren’t finished yet but we now have a critical tool for bringing balance to the backcountry.