Tahoe National Forest use plan available for comment | SierraSun.com

Tahoe National Forest use plan available for comment

Laura Brown
Sun News Service

Sun News Service/ John HartScott Rabeneau of the Nevada County Woods Riders Motorcycle Club and his friend, Kyra, of the California Off-road Vehicle Association even that they can't on the trail with motor bike the group helped to maintain the Pioneer Trail off Highway 20 east of Nevada City.

TAHOE NATIONAL FOREST “-Two months is too little time to respond to a complicated draft environmental plan for off-road vehicle use on the Tahoe National Forest, area county supervisors, motorcycle and environmental groups said.

About 10 people from different groups relayed their concerns earlier this week about the plan at a county supervisors’ meeting.

Released late September, people have until Nov. 26 to review and provide input on the voluminous document numbering more than a 1,000 pages and weighing almost 12 pounds.

“This is an unreasonable amount of information for people to digest and comment on in a short period of time,” said Kyra, a member of the Nevada County Woods Riders. “We need more time.”

Disillusioned off-road vehicle users contend the plan omits significant trails used by locals and doesn’t take into account the economic contributions the group provides to the county’s restaurants, motels and gas stations.

Environmental groups argue additional trails should not be added when the existing ones are poorly managed and impacts to water quality, wildlife and quiet recreationists are not being thoroughly enough addressed.

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So far, about 3,000 letters have been submitted via e-mail, with a majority coming as form letters from the San Francisco-based Wilderness Society, said Tahoe National Forest spokeswoman Ann Westling.

“There’s interest nationally, because a lot of people who don’t live in California visit the Sierra Nevada,” said Stan Van Velsor, a spokesman for The Wilderness Society, which is keeping a close tabs on eight national forests in the state that will release similar documents in coming months.

The Tahoe National Forest is the second after Eldorado to release its draft environmental plan.

“That’s why we’re concerned this one be done right,” because it could become a templet for the others, Van Velsor said.

Forest service officials are unlikely to grant an extension to the public comment period, because they must meet a deadline for a final plan in March, Westling said.

“It would have to be approved by the regional forester (in Vallejo). Due to the short time periods we’re under, that would be unlikely,” she said.

Long process

In the works for five years, the off highway vehicle route designation process started to address the increasing number of people who drive motorcycles, quads and vehicles criss-crossing the back country.

Interest in the route designation process has been strong, with more than 200 people attending an informational workshop in Nevada City last month.

On Oct. 28, about 25 people attended a meeting at the South Yuba River Citizen League’s Nevada City office to map out areas of concern and draft letters.

The purpose of the plan is to protect natural resources while providing challenging and diverse trails for a variety of recreation.

There are 2800 miles of roads and non-motorized trails within the Tahoe National Forest and an additional 1400 miles of unauthorized trails that off roaders have used for years.

Seven alternatives to the existing trail network have been identified in the draft plan. The preferred alternative would prohibit cross country travel, establish seasons of use and add 70 miles of trails to the system.

Concerns

“No one is really happy with the draft EIS. It has a considerable number of omissions,” said Kyra. “Many of those trails are flat out not in there or are not analyzed.”

Deer Creek and Diamond Springs, two locally created trails in the Bulington Ridge area, are noticeably missing, said motorcyclist Joseph Cochran.

“Some of the roads and trails we use are going to be closed forever,” said Cochran.

A coalition of environmental groups such as SYRCL, the Wilderness Society and Sierra Club voiced concern that the forest service focused undue attention on a minority group while failing to sufficiently consider hikers and anglers who go to the forest for a more quiet form of recreation.

“The OHV interests are well organized and well funded. They are a vocal minority in the watershed for sure,” said Jason Rainey of SYRCL.

“Non-motorized users do not have adequate areas to recreate without noise and pollution,” Van Velsor said.

According to the draft plan, close to 9 percent of recreation on the Tahoe is by motorized users such as OHV users and those who drive for pleasure.

Non-motorized users such as hikers, bicyclists, cross country skiers and horseback riders made up 21 percent of users, between 2004 and 2005, according to random surveys and interviews done by the national forest. A remaining 75 percent of recreationists visited the forest to camp, picnic, study nature and downhill ski.

Specific areas of concern stem from a consideration to close a road in the Castle Valley Meadow area or re-designate a road leading to Grouse Ridge Lookout and trailheads that could make travel by passenger cars more difficult.

A final environmental impact statement is expected to be complete by March 2009 with a final multi-use map listing all authorized roads and trails expected to come out in the fall.

Each year, forest service staff will update the map.

“This is not the end of the process. It’s a continuation of the process,” Westling said.

“The OHV interests are well organized and well funded. They are a vocal minority in the watershed for sure,” said Jason Rainey of SYRCL.

“Non-motorized users do not have adequate areas to recreate without noise and pollution,” Van Velsor said.

According to the draft plan, close to 9 percent of recreation on the Tahoe is by motorized users such as OHV users and those who drive for pleasure.

Non-motorized users such as hikers, bicyclists, cross country skiers and horseback riders made up 21 percent of users, between 2004 and 2005, according to random surveys and interviews done by the national forest. A remaining 75 percent of recreationists visited the forest to camp, picnic, study nature and downhill ski.

Specific areas of concern stem from a consideration to close a road in the Castle Valley Meadow area or re-designate a road leading to Grouse Ridge Lookout and trailheads that could make travel by passenger cars more difficult.

A final environmental impact statement is expected to be complete by March 2009 with a final multi-use map listing all authorized roads and trails expected to come out in the fall.

Each year, forest service staff will update the map.

“This is not the end of the process. It’s a continuation of the process,” Westling said.

Between 1972 and 2000, off-highway vehicle use grew from about 5 million to almost 36 million users, a six-fold increase, according to the Tahoe National Forest.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Tahoe National Forest Travel Management Process was released on Sept. 26.

Public review and comments are due Nov. 26.

The DEIS looks at prohibiting cross country travel throughout the forest except for designated areas, roads and trails.

There are approximately 2800 miles of roads and motorized trails on the Tahoe National Forest’s system.

An additional 1400 miles of unauthorized trails exist on old logging roads, historic mining trails and user created trails.

The DEIS would add a variety of these unauthorized routes into the established motorized system.

The DEIS considers a variety of seasonal restrictions.

The DEIS considers changing the classification of roads and the types of vehicles permitted on them.

Public comments can be sent to the Tahoe National Forest, Travel Management Team, 631 Coyote St., Nevada City, CA 95959 or email: tnf_rte_desig@fs.fed.us