UPDATE: The Stanislaus National Forest signed their Final Environmental Impact Statement and signed Record of Decision on July 13, 2021. In what would seem to be a direct acquiescence to one single, local environmental group, the Forest has removed from their designation (IE closed to snowmobiles) essentially all lands between Highland Lakes Rd, and Pacific Valley, as well as the entire southern edge of the Eagle Meadows area and lands south of the Herring Creek Loop road. Lookout Peak, Marshall Canyon, Willow Flat, and the entire ridge between Long Valley Rd and Waterhouse Lake (everything from Three Chimneys, to Castle Rock to McCormick Pocket) are now closed in this plan. Reasons range from habitat for a frog that hibernates all winter, to potential habitat for a small fur bearer that is not in listed as endangered or threatened. The Forest is simply letting itself be run by someone who has sued them in the past, and they are now trying to appease. These areas were addressed in a meeting with local snowmobilers who informed the supervisor that these areas are essentially all the high elevation, alpine snowmobiling on the Forest, and that closing them was not an acceptable outcome. They were ignored. The Forest plan has Pacific Valley and much of the Eagle meadows area under a non-motorized designation and they’ve added an amendment to recognize that snowmobiles are in fact different than summer OHVs. However, in removing what they did, they’re essentially taking out the terrain that is the very reason, they’ve been seeing snowmobile visitation for decades.
In addition, the tiny area at Sonora Pass proper that’s not part of the Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area (BWRA) will now follow the closure dates that the BWRA uses, to protect the Sierra Nevada Red Fox, which was only discovered in the area in the late 2000’s, when the area was seeing it’s highest snowmobile traffic in history. As recent as 2017 and 2019 when the pass wasn’t opened until midsummer with 10’s of feet of snow on the ground when the BWRA area closes, following this example is a mistake. These closures are unwarranted. In fact, many of the wildlife populations identified have already shown that snowmobiling does not have a detrimental affect on their habitat. The Forest is simply scared of getting sued again. What’s left to legally ride on the Stanislaus is so minuscule, that they designated a virtually useless area off North Fork rd out of Long Barn, south of Bourland Meadow that sits behind a closed gate at 4,500ft elevation for access, making it inaccessible for much of a ‘normal’ snow year, and irrelevant in low snow years. In signing this plan, the Forest has now squandered years worth of potential goodwill with the snowmobile community.
UPDATE!: The Stanislaus released their FEIS and Draft Record of Decision on 3/22/2019 (then released it again on 4/3/2019 because the website was down).
We are now in the OBJECTION process, which means if you submitted comments during the DEIS phase and the Forest did not adequately address your concerns, you may file an objection that may still be resolved. Objections must follow the format detailed below.
UNDERSTAND THE OBJECTION PROCESS
Draft ROD Map. This is the plan in place
Draft Environmental Impact Statement Volume 1
Draft Environmental Impact Statement Volume 2. Comments are addressed here. Find your name and your commenter ID number
Overall, the Stanislaus National Forest has shown good response to comments submitted by the snowmobile community. Part of this plan is to issue amendments to their Forest Plan to allow snowmobiling in traditional use areas like Pacific Valley, Herring Creek, and around the Eagle Meadows area. There are still a few closures however that do not make sense.
Ongoing issues and areas that are closed to OSV use.
1. Rd 5N01 in in the Eagle Meadows area is surrounded by an enormous closure from Haypress Lake all the way to the Wilderness boundary to the south. This prevents several cabin owners from reaching their property which is not acceptable.
2. The lower reaches of Jelmini Basin
3. A seasonal closure of Sonora Pass, even though this section is disconnected from the Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area.
4. Woodchuck Basin
1. We asked the Forest to acknowledge long-standing traditional use in areas before they were designated “Near Natural”. The Forest listened. The Stanislaus is proposing to amend their Forest plan which failed to account for existing use at the time.
2. You know the family snowmobile days at Bear Valley ski area once the skiing has stopped? Now it’s official. The tradition will continue.
3. We got Bridges! It may not be the greatest thing in the world but it will help keep your sled out of creeks early and late season in some key crossing areas.
4. Traditional use on most of the forest is being respected.
The objection period is open until May 13!
Get in touch with us if you have questions.
Draft Environmental Impact Statement (comment period closed)
The Stanislaus National Forest has released their Draft Environmental Impact Statement. You can find and review the documents and maps located here on the project page:
Click on the “Analysis” tab
There is a ‘proposed’ Alternative (Alt 1) that is largely reflective of the scoping proposal released in 2015. Their ‘preferred’ Alternative (Alt 5) increases closed areas by over 200% from existing management.
Comments are being accepted by the Stanislaus at the bottom of this page:
Be sure to include where you’re from, where you ride, and why the suggested closures are not acceptable to the snowmobile community. Comments are due before October 9. Keep public lands in the public’s hands!
Links to maps:
Alternative 5, The Current Proposal from the USFS
Sonora Pass Detail from the proposal
Highway 108 Detail from the proposal
Highway 4 detail from the proposal
Alternative 1, Proposal from 2015
Alternative 2, their ‘exisiting management map’ that is not accurate
Alternative 3, Submitted by Snowlands Network and Winter Wildlands
Alternative 4, Submitted with input from CORVA, Sierra Access Coalition
What is happening?
Due to lawsuits filed by Winter Wildlands Alliance and Snowlands Network, two ‘human-powered advocacy’ groups, the Stanislaus National Forest (SNF) is undergoing a NEPA analysis to designate trails and areas for OSV use. The recently released DEIS is the second significant phase of this process, and is open for public comment. This is occurring in the Lassen, Plumas, Tahoe, and Eldorado forests as well.
What is being proposed?
Although not specifically ordered by the courts, the SNF is proposing closing hundreds of thousands of acres to snowmobile use, largely due to a previous management plan published in 1991, but never enforced. This is only tangentially related to the purpose and need of this process. The SNF does not have to close anything, only designate routes, and specific routes available for grooming.
What can I do to get involved?
Comment! The SNF comment period on the DEIS opened at the time of publication and runs through October 9, 2018. Our friends at CORVA have put together a good document that explains the purpose of comments, and how to write them effectively.
What should I say in my comment?
The most important thing to include is your local knowledge. In many cases you know these areas even better than the SNF, especially in winter. Demonstrate this with details. Let them know how valuable your riding areas are, both to you personally, and if applicable, how it affects your business.
Other points to consider:
-Many of the recommended closures are based on what the SNF calls ‘near natural areas’. This is not a nation-wide designation with universal meaning. The Pacific Valley area for example, has a well-developed dirt road, 8+ houses or structures, and a large livestock pen. It’s also about 8 miles from the closest public parking area at the Lake Alpine Snopark. This is quite a long walk for ‘quiet recreation.’
-Access to quiet recreation is a very reasonable request. However, Carson-Iceberg Wilderness sits only a mile away from the Lake Alpine Snopark parking lot. The meadow across the street from the town of Bear Valley offers great non-motorized recreation in a tame environment. Both Mokelumne and Carson-Iceberg Wilderness areas are accessible within only a few miles from multiple parking areas.
-These closures proposed are mostly an implementation of the 1991 Forest Plan that the Stanislaus never enforced. The comments from the scoping period are very poorly represented in the Preferred Alternative 5 from the DEIS. They’re not getting enough input from snowmobilers. The majority of the comments in the scoping period do not support closures.
-The preferred alternative is a piecemeal jigsaw puzzle of closed areas, open areas, varying snow depth requirements….a mess far too complicated to follow when in these areas, much less enforce. Both user and forest rangers alike will be unable to decipher boundaries. It’s a solution looking for a problem.
Looking at the Alternatives, it looks like 2 is the best for snowmobiles. Why don’t we just pick that one?
To put it simply, it’s not a voting contest. Alternative 2 which the SNF calls their ‘existing/no-action alternative’ cannot and will not be legally adopted as is. This alternative fails to meet the court orders to designate trails and areas for OSV use, and does not identify roads available for grooming. It also has several areas that have been closed to OSV use for years in their Forest Plan, and is an inaccurate representation of ‘current management.’
Although each of the maps is called an alternative, they are basically just ways to model an analysis. The real proposal is their ‘preferred alternative’, alternative 5. That’s the one you need to look closely at and tailor your comments from. Name the areas you ride in you comments, don’t just pick the one with the most acreage listed as open. Be specific and name the routes. Mention the areas like Tryon Peak and Lookout peak, areas very far from where any hiker is likely to travel to. Mention roads like Highland Lakes road, the loops from Cabbage Patch, and yes, even Hwy 4. Alternative 2 with routes designated is an option.
Is the SNF just going to choose one of the alternatives?
Maybe. In the past, this would have most likely been the case. In the only example we have so far from the Lassen National Forest regarding OSV management, a hybrid mix of alternatives was chosen. This is why your comments need to be specific about certain areas. Talk about details. Talk about history. Talk about visitor spending to the area. They matter.
Besides areas and trails, what else is being proposed?
In order to prevent resource damage, the SNF is proposing a variety of minimum snow depth requirements. If you know snow, you’re well aware that not all snow is equal. Ice, powder, sun-baked, this is far too ambiguous a measure. Mention that in your comments. Snowmobiles don’t go very far on dirt before melting the hifax and overheating. Remind the Forest Service of this. Minimum snow depths aren’t necessary.
Where can I learn more?
We’re still at the beginning of finding out everything addressed in the DEIS. In the coming weeks, we’ll be posting up more information on the Sierra Snowmobile Foundation website, and Facebook and Instagram accounts. You can always reach us through those outlets if you have questions. Likewise, if you have some information you think would be valuable for us to know, get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.