So, let’s back up and remember why Share the Slate began… We began a few years back because a segment of our local population expressed interest in reducing motorized use or access to our winter recreation areas. But, the main reason why this segment of the population felt empowered was due to the OSV (Over-Snow Vehicle) Ruling which became law in February, 2015. Basically, a group called Winter Wildlands Alliance sued the National Forest, requiring the already financially-burdened organization to create Winter Travel Management Plans (summer ones already existed) for every National Forest. It’s taken some years for them to really start this process, but the first Winter Travel Management Plans are just now being developed. Even though these are currently located in California, these are extremely important to us in Colorado as they will set the precedent for future Winter Travel Management Plans – and ours is coming soon!
Why Should I Care about a Winter Travel Management Plan in California?
The first Winter Travel Management Plan happened in Lassen National Forest. Though it is still being finalized, it is clear that motorized users are losing thousands of acres of their land. While we at Share the Slate certainly recognize the need for quite-use areas, the overall Winter Travel Management Plan was hugely skewed toward non-motorized designations, rendering huge swaths of land virtually inaccessible in winter except to the most elite human-powered users. We cannot let this be the standard for all Winter Travel Management Plans to follow. Helping to preserve multi-use areas and winter access in the Sierras will help preserve them in our own Colorado backyard as well.
How can I help?
Educate yourself on the proposals for Winter Travel Management the Stanislaus National Forest and then make comments. Comments are due on October 9th – That’s VERY soon! Here’s some info to help you with all of this:
1) Take a look at the draft proposal (DEIS) for Winter Travel Management in Stanislaus National Forest. You will find a brief overview of the “Alternatives” starting on page xi (which is actually page 13 in the PDF). It’s a huge document – just get a basis for the alternatives. Remember that Alternative 2 is no action and that Alternative 5 is the actual preferred action. View he maps for Alternative 2 and Alternative 5 for comparison. More info and maps can be seen on the Forest Service page, just click on the “Analysis” tab.
2) Here’s some background knowledge:
*The Stanislaus National Forest (SNF) is undergoing a NEPA analysis to designate trails and areas for OSV (Over Snow Vehicle) use. The recently released DEIS, linked above, is the second significant phase of this process, and is open for public comment.
*Looking at the Alternatives, it looks like 2 is the best for snowmobiles. Why don’t we tell them we prefer that one? To put it simply, it’s not a voting contest. The Forest Service uses the word “Alternative” but in reality they are basically just models. The real proposal is their ‘preferred alternative’, alternative 5. That’s the one you need to look closely at and tailor your comments from. Furthermore, 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.’
* Is the SNF just going to choose one of the alternatives? Maybe. To give an example, our own Gang of 9 Decision is basically an alternative from an FEIS. As it is, they are choosing Alternative 5. However, in the only OSV managment example we have so far from the Lassen National Forest, a hybrid mix of alternatives was chosen. This is why your comments need to be specific about certain areas. They matter.
3) Consider including these thoughts in your comments:
* The preferred Alternative 5 is unfairly skewed toward non-motorized designations. The purpose of a Winter Travel Management Plan is to regulate OSV travel in a fair and balanced manner. It should be an OSV management plan, not a non-motorized enhancement plan. Alternative 5 is not a balanced use model for winter recreation. Your comment could even mention that they go back to the drawing board to create more realistic and balanced use models.
* Explain that many people use snowmobiles and other OSV’s to access areas which ultimately result in quiet use – aka, backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Many areas would be basically unreasonable to access without motorized assistance.
* Great non-motorized areas already exist close to parking areas. 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. Areas that are farther from trailheads are better accessed using motorized methods. Keep most of these hard-to-reach areas open so we can enjoy them!
* 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. We suggest the following definition be used in lieu of a hard number: Adequate snow cover is defined by a layer of dense, packed snow, or deeper fresh snow sufficient to support your vehicle, and prevent damage to forest resources.
*The Stanislaus planned for the area around Eagle Meadows, Pacific Valley, and a small area on Sonora pass along the Nightcap Ridge to be “Near Natural, non-motorized” in during their overall Forest Plan in 1991. However, this was never actually implemented, though the closure is included in the preferred Alternative 5. These have been popular riding areas both before and since 1991. Fortunately, the Forest Service acknowledges this. They have indicated a willingness to revise this designation because it would be difficult to manage as this designation originally intended. The 1991 non-motorized designation is a holdover from summer management. Snowmobiles don’t require roads or trails and have no effect on the permanent landscape. Ask them to create a new designation that allows winter time motorized use! A WINTER SPECIAL MANAGEMENT AREA.
*Preferred Alternative 5 has confusing boundaries. Boundaries should be easily distinguishable using roads, creeks, ridges or other significant features to avoid confusion. Most of Wilderness boundaries are based on this topographic sense and OSV management should follow suit.
*The Proposed action (Alternative 5) designates the area just west of Sonora Pass as closed on April 15
to match the Bridgeport Winter Recreation area. After the pass opens and the hundreds of skiers show up
to ski the pass, this small meadow and hillsides are the only places to ride most years on the Stanislaus
late in the season. Let them know that closing this area on April 15 is not acceptable! Plenty of
snowmobilers drive up the pass once it’s open to ride this zone. NO CLOSING DATE ON THE PASS.
* The Proposed Action leaves the Bear Valley ski area as closed to OSV use. There’s a long history of
locals and visitors having this area open for snowmobile skiing and snowmobiling after the ski area
closes! Ask them to designate this as a seasonal use area! No one needs to ride the ski area during
business season. But families have a long tradition of great spring days spending time with neighbors
riding the hill after the ski area closes. Let the Stanislaus know!
4) Tips on writing your comments:
* Be SPECIFIC! Use names and examples. Talk about historical use. Cite page numbers and references.
* Never ask why, never ask how. Asking questions will give the give the Forest Service the opportunity to provide answers, but not a change the document.
5) Submit your comments:
Remember, they are due by Oct 9th! Three ways to submit your comments:
– Electronic Comment Form for the Stanislaus NF OSV DEIS
– Email: comments_pacificsouthwest-Stanislaus@fs.fed.us
Subject: Stanislaus OSV Designation
– Comments can also be mailed to:
Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor’s Office
19777 Greenley Road, Sonora,
Want More Info?
Visit the Sierra Snowmobile Foundation website for more resources and specific ideas for comments. Also, keep in mind that Winter Travel Management Plans are under way in Eldorado and Tahoe National Forests as well. We will keep you informed of action needed, but their website provides valuable information.