Wildlands 2000 presentation meets with strong criticism | SierraSun.com

Wildlands 2000 presentation meets with strong criticism

Representatives of the California Wilderness Coalition and the American Lands Alliance were met with strong opposition, Thursday, when they presented the Wildlands 2000 plan at the community center in downtown Truckee.

Bert Guerra, the Truckee resident who introduced the speakers, began by reminding the crowd of about 100 residents that the meeting was intended to be a presentation, not a public forum.

“We are aware obviously that there are many people here who came to express their opposition to the wilderness proposals,” he said, as the room broke into applause.

California Wilderness Coalition Executive Director, Paul Spitler, showed scenic slides of California’s wild lands and the destruction that human impact such as logging, road-building and development can cause.

Brian Vincent, a Nevada City resident and representative of the American Lands Alliance, is working with the CWC to facilitate the development of a wilderness proposal specific to the Tahoe National Forest.

Seven areas considered

He said the seven areas in Tahoe National Forest that qualify for wilderness designation are Castle Peak, Grouse Ridge, East-West Yuba, Downieville, the north and middle forks of the American River, and additions to Granite Chief.

A wilderness designation would prohibit all mechanized recreational traffic in those areas, including ATVs, four-wheel drive vehicles, mountain bikes and snowmobiles.

These parcels meet the Wilderness Act of 1964’s qualifications for wilderness designation because they are over 5,000 acres in size, free of roads accessible by standard passenger vehicles and free of significant human disturbance.

Vincent said that the Alliance’s present objective is to reach out to local communities to hear concerns, draw boundaries, and find where conflict lies. “We are not trying to force anything,” he added.

In the question and answer session that followed the slide show, residents expressed a variety of concerns and there were many points of conflict.

Many wanted to be sure that setting aside land will not make it inaccessible to everyone but hikers. Others doubted wilderness land would be as valuable or widely used as it is now. Snowmobilers wondered what harm they do to deeply snow-buried natural habitat on Castle Peak in the winter.

Attendees said they are concerned that they will be left out of decisions concerning the use of Tahoe National Forest lands because designation is being handled by state organizations.

Use of the Grouse Ridge area was a local issue years ago that took 20 years to hash out in public forums, according to Scott Denim. Those who participated in the lengthy debate that ended eight years ago, such as Denim who has worked closely with the forest service for 15 years, expressed concern about the local solution being overturned. The solution was a compromise between snowmobilers and backcountry skiers that barred snowmobiles from Castle and Round Valleys so that skiers could use it, but left the rest accessible.

“Those of us who were at those meetings now feel that we have been betrayed because we set up those areas so that we can all use them and now that agreement seems to be wiped out by somebody who knows nothing about it,” said one resident.

Spitler was not familiar with the issue.

A major point of contention was the each side’s perspective. While the CWC and ALA viewed the state as a whole and the Sierra as a part of the whole, a number of local residents maintained that the Sierra are what matter to the people in the Tahoe region.

One resident complained that 70 percent of the Sierra is already closed to multiple use, in response to an earlier claim by Vincent that 95 percent of California’s land has already been “eaten” up by development.

“Not California,” said one man. “It’s the Sierras I’m talking about. This is what matters to us, the people who live here. It seems like it’ s a pretty fine balance right now. There’s plenty of wilderness areas and there’s plenty of off-road vehicle areas and I think the balance is pretty good right now.” His statement was met with widespread applause.

Spitler’s observations referred more to the state as a whole. He called for protection of the “one-fifth of California’s land (that) has remained free of human impact,” and said that California has already lost an area the size of Yosemite National Park to logging, mining and development. That is about 97 acres a day of roadless land over the past two decades.

Fourteen percent of California’s land is protected wilderness but there are still many unprotected acres that qualify for wilderness designation.

He cited the Wilderness Act of 1964, saying “When Congress passed the Wilderness Act it gave all Americans the opportunity to participate in the decision as to what type of natural areas we would like to leave behind.”

Many residents voiced their desire to “leave behind” land that is accessible by vehicles such as snow mobiles, 4-wheelers, and mountain bikes.

When asked what the Coalition’s proposal for the Tahoe National Forest is, Spitler made it clear that as of now they are “completing an inventory” of land that qualifies for wilderness designation and that a proposal will be made at some point in the future.

When the meeting ended, the presenters were asked to pass Truckee residents’ concerns on to their peers as they continued with the evaluation and proposals for Wilderness lands.

Residents requested a local forum on the topic and both presenters responded by saying that anyone who wished to speak with them further on the topic could do so.

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