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:
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.