Winter Travel Planning: Finding Balance in California’s Backcountry
“Given that we’re all owners of our public lands, it’s really important that we speak up so that we can shape how we’re able to access them.”
Winter travel planning is a legally-mandated process by which each national forest in the country is required, with public input, to designate specific areas where snowmobiles and other motorized over-snow vehicles (OSVs) are allowed to travel, with the remainder of the forest open only to human-powered travel. This process is currently underway on six national forests in California — the first forests in the nation to undergo this kind of planning
Our goal is to ensure that these forests — encompassing 4.7 million acres of public land — have in place balanced winter management plans that provide quality recreation opportunities for both non-motorized and motorized winter recreation, minimizing conflict between users and impacts to wildlife and resources.
Helping your local forest draft these plans is YOUR opportunity to protect high-value non-motorized experiences (backcountry skiing and riding, Nordic skiing, ice climbing, winter mountaineering, family snowplay, snowshoeing, etc.) in the Sierra Nevada, and to influence how YOUR backcountry is managed.
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Timeline At a Glance
Here is the current estimated timeline for winter travel planning on national forests in the northern Sierra Nevada (click on the forest name for more details):
- Stanislaus National Forest: The Record of Decision (ROD) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) were published on March 22, 2019. The Forest Service held an objection meeting in August 2019 and is currently working on finalizing the plan.
- Plumas National Forest: The Record of Decision (ROD) and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) were published on August 19, 2019. Objections were due October 4, and an objection resolution meeting has been scheduled for January 8, 2020.
- Eldorado National Forest: The Eldorado released its Draft Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on October 31, 2018. The Forest Service held an objection meeting in March 2019 and is currently working on finalizing its plan.
- Tahoe National Forest: The Tahoe published a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) on February 6, 2019. The Forest Service held an objection meeting in May 2019 and is currently working on finalizing its plan.
- Lassen National Forest: The Lassen published a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and draft Record of Decision (ROD) published on March 29, 2018. The Forest hosted an objection resolution meeting in July 2018 and should be publishing its final plan early in 2020.
- The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU) is also working on a winter travel plan. Although the LTBMU is in the same neighborhood as the 5 forests listed above, its winter travel planning process is not part of the same coordinated effort outlined above. However, we are also actively engaged in travel planning on this forest. The LTBMU published a Proposed Action on September 2019, and public comments were accepted through December 9.
- The Inyo National Forest, in October 2019, published the final approved version of the 2019 Inyo National Forest Land Management Plan. With regard to winter recreation/travel planning, Forest Supervisor Tammy Randall-Parker wrote in her final Record of Decision that “over-the-snow (winter) travel will be determined by Subpart C Travel Management Analysis, on which I am committing to initiating the public collaboration process within one year of this decision.” We therefore fully expect the forest to begin the official scoping process by October 2020.
Background for California Winter Travel Planning
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 of 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.
As part of the agreement, each of these five forests must consider an alternative management scenario developed by Winter Wildlands Alliance and Snowlands Network. Groups representing the snowmobile community have been given this opportunity as well. As such, we worked with Snowlands to develop and submit a “Skiers Alternative” for each forest. These alternatives strive to balance motorized and non-motorized winter recreation by proposing areas for OSV use that do not conflict with places that are important for backcountry skiers and other quiet recreation activities.