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Photo Credit: Ming Poon

Since the Forest Service published a Proposed Action in late September that outlines a preliminary winter recreation plan in the Lake Tahoe Basin, we’ve been hearing from all sides that their proposal is far from perfect.

Now, the Forest Service is asking for your input on how to make it better for everyone. Submit your comment directly to the Forest Service. The deadline for public comment on the Proposed Action for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is December 9th.

At an open house for over-snow vehicle planning in Tahoe last week, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais said this is just the start of the process. Right now, we are consulting with our local partners in Tahoe—Snowlands Network and the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance. And as we write our comments in response to the Forest Service’s proposed action, we encourage you to do the same.

To help you navigate through the document, here’s an outline of the elements we support in the Proposed Action and what we’re concerned about.

What We Support

  • Designation of a minimum snow depth of at least 12 inches in areas open to OSV use — as “a way for the Forest Service to help the public decide when it is appropriate to use an OSV and when they will not cause damage,” to “help reduce uncertainty,” and to provide “a certain level of protection for all resources without being overly restrictive or overly prescriptive for individual resources or different geographic areas”;
  • Designation of a season of use for motorized over-snow recreation — although given historic snowfall/snowpack patterns we feel that a more appropriate and reasonable open season would run from December 15 – April 30 rather than the suggested November 1 – April 15.
  • Application of 5 “minimization criteria” as a basis for decision making and designation, including:
    • To minimize damage to soil, watershed, vegetation, and other forest resources;
    • To minimize harassment of wildlife and significant disruption of wildlife habitats;
    • To minimize conflicts between motor vehicle use and existing or proposed recreational uses of NFS lands or neighboring Federal lands;
    • To minimize conflicts among different classes of motor vehicle uses on NFS lands or neighboring Federal lands;
    • To consider compatibility of motor vehicle use with existing conditions in populated areas.
  • Recognition of the lack of winter parking and staging areas in the Basin, the “need to analyze additional winter parking opportunities and allow snow plowing of existing paved surfaces outside of sensitive habitats,” and to “[c]onstruct additional winter parking capacity” and “[d]esignate locations suitable for snow play areas” — HOWEVER, we do not feel that the current proposal goes nearly far enough to address these issues;
  • Proposed closure to OSV use for “the area between Mt. Rose Wilderness and the City of Incline Village”;
  • Proposed closure of an “area near the Granite Chief Wilderness and within 500 feet of the Pacific Crest Trail”;
  • Desire to engage a stakeholder collaborative effort to help find workable compromise and reasonable solutions to on-the-ground issues.

What We’re Concerned About

  • North Quadrant/Mt. Rose Highway: This is currently ground zero for every type of winter recreation, and one of the biggest hotspots in the basin for conflict between different uses. Cars are frequently parked on both sides of the two-lane highway, families are sledding and playing in the snow near the road, snowshoers are walking out amongst the trees to hear the chickadees and squirrels, backcountry skiers are heading off on skin tracks to ski powder-filled bowls, and snowmobilers are firing up and unloading sleds for a run up to Relay Ridge. 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 rather than minimize conflict.
  • Lack of coordination between the LTBMU and the neighboring Humboldt-Toiyabe and Tahoe National Forests.
  • Lack of protected public-access family snowplay areas.
  • Proposed opening of OSV terrain at the lowest elevations and near neighborhoods with significant pedestrian and dog-walking activity.
  • Proposed opening to OSV use of popular and accessible non-motorized Gardner Mountain area east of Fallen Leaf Lake.
  • Lack of actual solutions to significant parking/staging issues for both motorized and nonmotorized recreation.

For more context, materials, and information, check out the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit landing page for all things over-snow vehicle planning. We will be updating this page as the process moves forward.

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.