In spring 2015, the Tahoe National Forest held public meetings to garner comments on its scoping proposal for Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) travel (snowmobiles, snow bikes etc.). The plan from this initial period recommended closing down approximately 3,500 acres of lands, much of which were low priority snowmobiling and sled-ski areas. Fast forward to April 2018 — the forest service has released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement with a preferred alternative that shuts down some 230,000+ acres to OSV use. How did we go from 3,500 acres to over 230,000 acres?!!
Tahoe National Forest is preparing its OSV travel plan because of a lawsuit and subsequent settlement agreement with the Snowlands Network and Winter Wildlands Alliance. With little rhyme or reason, these groups have lobbied the forest service for a considerable amount of land to be closed to OSV. Rather than working to improve access to the backcountry for non-motorized use, which is their stated mission, these two groups are working exclusively to remove OSV use. It seems they think it’s easier to sue the forest service than solve the problem of access. But is that really the answer?
Currently, over 80 percent of the Alpine terrain in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range is closed to OSV use. The Snowlands Network of Los Gatos and the Winter Wildlands Alliance of Boise, Idaho, do not represent the local users. They are a minority who push their ideological views on the forest service. These groups must realize that contact is not conflict. There are plenty of happy skiers at Castle Peak and elsewhere, enjoying their day, even within the presence of snowmobilers. From Martis Peak to the west side of Andesite Ridge, lost snowshoers and skiers not familiar with the areas regularly receive help from the snowmobile community to get to their destinations. Many other backcountry skiers own and use snowmobiles as a tool to access backcountry terrain.
Yet, Snowlands and Winter Wildlands Alliance have done their best to drive a divisive wedge between the local backcountry users. Rather than working as one, litigation was used to gain the upper hand to push the interest of only a few users. The advocacy groups could be attacking the problem of limited access to quiet recreation by pushing to develop more plowed trailheads at existing closed areas. Instead, they are attacking another user group. In the process, they are creating far more conflict than they are solving.
The snowmobile community is working to get heard and inform the public about the preferred alternative that shuts down some 360 square miles to OSV use. In April and May of this year, the forest service held open houses in Sierraville, Sierra City, and Auburn that saw approximately 60 people attend. Shortly after, the Sierra Snowmobile Foundation, a grassroots organization of local snowmobilers and sled skiers was formed. SSF believed the community wasn’t well-versed about the proposal, so the group lobbied for a fourth meeting to be held in the Truckee/North Lake Tahoe area. An open house was held May 18 in Truckee and over 300 OSV proponents attended to show their support for keeping these lands open. The sentiment at the open house was clear: local users do NOT want to see additional lands shut down to snowmobile/sled-skiing. This was further conveyed by the approximately 2,800 public comments that were submitted.
We all know that access to the backcountry is what makes the Tahoe and adjacent National Forests special, but should it come at the sacrifice of closing out a specific user group? The majority of local users don’t believe that it should. Hopefully this message is conveyed to the forest service, and these special places are kept open for all users to enjoy.
~ Dennis Troy has been backcountry skiing and snowmobiling across the Sierra Nevada mountains for the past 15 years. When he realized that the voice of snowmobilers and sled-skiers wasn’t being heard, he helped form the Sierra Snowmobile Foundation, a grassroots effort that provides a platform for local backcountry snowmobilers and sled-skiers. Info: sierrasnowmobilefoundation.com