By Debra Moore
Staff Writer, Plumasnews.com
Plumas County, Calif. - Snowmobilers and outdoor enthusiasts packed the
small conference room at the Beckwourth Ranger District recently to comment on
winter access at Lake
Voices were raised and barbs exchanged, but Lisa Sedlacek,
the plan's project manager, kept the group on topic.
This was the third public meeting to discuss mortorized and
non-mortorized travel as well as wildlife concerns around the lake during the
winter months. Sedlacek presented a new map that proposed groomed trails,
staging areas, trails dedicated to non-motorized travel and, perhaps the most
controversial, an area west of the lake that would be closed to all motorized
traffic. That area was slated for restrictions due to wildlife concerns,
principally to protect the nesting areas of three pairs of bald eagles.
The meeting was designed to collect public comment about the
proposed plan, though some in the audience said they thought that the Forest
Service had already made its decision.
Trent Saxton, a resident who resides at Lake Davis,
and perhaps the most outspoken commenter of the morning, peppered the Forest
Service representatives with questions about bald eagles and then shared his
own research. He suggested that rather than close the entire area, 100-yard
perimeters should be established around the nests to protect them.
He then held up images captured by his security camera. They
showed military jets flying low over the lake, which he claimed would be far
more disruptive to the eagles. "I'm trying to stay somewhat calm while I say, 'You've
lost your frickin' minds.'"
Plumas County Supervisor Terry Swofford said he thought the
bald eagles were just being used as an excuse to close the meadow. "Snowshoers
and skiers disturb them more (than snowmobiles)," he said. "I see this as
another means of controlling people and I'm absolutely opposed to doing this."
Swofford went on to compare what was happening with the eagles
at Lake Davis to what happened with the spotted
owl. "I see it like the spotted owl that closed our timber industry," he said.
"We went from one of the richest countries to one of the poorest."
Sedlacek asked the audience, "If we eliminate the hash marks
(referring to the meadow closure area) would that be OK?"
"Yes, we'd all go home," Saxton said.
But it wasn't to be that simple.
There were those in and out of the audience who favored
closing the meadow. Sedlacek read excerpts from several letters she had
received, including one from a Portola resident who wrote that they liked snow
covered meadows in pristine condition and "don't let the snowmobilers mess it
Bob Rowen, a Reno resident and vice president of Snow Lands
Network, who attended the meeting, said that "setting aside some area for a quiet, peaceful ski," could expand the
area's tourism base with skiers.
"An infusion of cash could come from outside the area," he
said, and added that he thought the input "was heavily weighted toward local
sentiment." His organization "promotes opportunities for quality, human powered
winter recreation and protecting winter wonderlands."
But there were other parts of the map to discuss in addition
to the west side meadow.
Local veterinarian Martin Schafer was one of many in the
audience who favored making no changes to the lake's winter access and wasn't a
proponent of grooming the trails. He said that he had been riding snowmobiles
in the area for 20 years and has witnessed a decline in the number of users.
"The area is used less and less, " he said. "Why don't we just wait and see."
He also expressed concern that the meetings weren't well
advertised and weren't at a desirable time. "Ten a.m. on a Tuesday morning. How
many working people can be here?" he asked.
Schafer drew support from 35-year local resident Joseph
Gottas, who said, "I'm with Martin Schafer. I don't think we should have any
more restrictions." His remark drew applause from the audience.
Some attendees agree that they didn't want groomed trails
such as those at Gold
Lake, which one man
describes as "a zoo."
While many local riders didn't want groomed trails, Jeanne
Graham of J&J Grizzly Store and Camping Resort said that they were an
important draw for tourists. "This county is going to die if we don't get
people in here. It's economics."
"Personally, I'd like to see fewer people up here, but I get
what you're saying," admitted Schafer. But he suggested that marking the trails
better and in a more clear manner would suffice. "There's nothing about a
groomed trail that makes it better," he said.
Still others said that having a groomed trail could provide
better access for more inexperienced snowmobilers. Sexton said that perhaps a
groomed trail would be appropriate on the east side, but he didn't think that
it required the expense of a groomer.
Sedlacek said she was trying to get consensus on what should
be done, but both the county's public works director, Bob Perreault, and the
deputy forest supervisor, Laurence Crabtree, said that the project would have
to follow the environmental process.
"The NEPA process is not a democratic process," Perreault
said. "Consensus in the room won't buy you anything."
He explained that an analysis of options would need to be
presented to the public for comment, but that the decision-makers would have
the final say. He said that he expected a coordinated effort with the county.
Crabtree said that the process "would stay connected with
the county," and a couple of alternatives would be proposed, analyzed and then
put out for the public to review.
When pressed for a timeline, Sedlacek said that there wasn't
one. She would collect the comments and then the forest supervisor would advise
her on how to proceed.
Comments may be mailed to Lisa Sedlacek, Project Manager, Plumas National
Forest, Beckwourth Ranger District, P.O. Box 7, Blairsden,
dropped off at the ranger station at 23
Mohawk Road in Blairsden; faxed to 836-0493 or e-mailed