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Group protests parking lot expansion

TIM OMARZU, Sun News Service

June. Snowmobiling.

Those two words don’t usually go together.

But a Tahoe National Forest plan to expand a parking lot popular with snowmobile riders is under fire now from a Nevada County-based environmental group.

TNF wants to double the number of spaces at the Little Truckee Summit parking lot on Highway 49, north of Truckee, according to Sam Wilbanks, TNF Sierraville district ranger.

“Right now, we have quite a severe congestion problem on peak days,” Wilbanks said. Snowmobile riders will arrive to find the lot full, but instead of turning around to go home, they park along the road or in other unauthorized spots.

“They squeeze in somewhere so it causes a safety problem,” Wilbanks said.

TNF plans to expand the parking lot, then “step up some enforcement (against) illegal parking.”

Construction work could start in summer 2001, Wilbanks said.

The Forest Issues Group threatened a lawsuit in April against the proposed parking lot expansion, arguing TNF hadn’t done sufficient environmental analysis.

FIG member Steve Benner, who threatened the suit, said the project would increase snowmobile traffic right across the crest of the Sierra, which he said is critical habitat for two rare forest mammals: the fisher and the wolverine, members of the weasel family.

Both animals are considered to be extinct in the area, he acknowledged.

But, he said, “we’re talking about emphasizing an activity that would further degrade that habitat.”

“They may just be waiting” to return; fishers have been sighted to the north in the Trinity Alps and to the south in Yosemite, and could presumably migrate back to here, he said.

Initially, TNF officials decided the project fell under a “categorical exclusion,” meaning it didn’t have enough impact to require an environmental assessment or more detailed environmental impact statement.

But, now – partly due to FIG’s lawsuit threat – TNF will probably prepare an environmental assessment to be released in spring 2001, Wilbanks said.


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