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Groups Ponder Overhaul Of Tahoe Snowmobile Rules

Published online: Feb 11, 2014 News Tom Lotshaw, Tahoe Daily Tribune
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Can skiers, snowshoers, snowmobilers and other interested groups work together to craft new over-snow vehicle boundaries and restrictions for National Forest land in the Lake Tahoe Basin?

The U.S. Forest Service wants them to try. But it is committed to reviewing existing boundaries and rules if they won’t.

A number of groups met with a Forest Service facilitator Feb. 1 and were asked if they want to craft one of several alternatives that would undergo an environmental review and be considered for adoption. The groups must report back with their answer and possibly a framework to guide their efforts by early March.

“We’re hopeful some of these people will come together and have an interest in developing a proposal we could analyze, basically a community-based proposal,” said Cheva Heck, public affairs specialist for Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

“The idea is that maybe we can end up with a proposal that comes closer to making everyone happy and improves recreation opportunities for everyone. But we will do a process regardless of what they decide.”

The Forest Service has three options as part of its review of over-snow vehicle restrictions.

It could consider the community-based alternative, which would be one of several alternatives developed and considered; move forward with a full review without a community-based alternative; or simply republish the existing over-snow vehicle use map and not make any changes.

“We would prefer to see a proposal come in from the community,” Heck said.

Open for discussion are the boundaries, rules and restrictions governing where snowmobiles are and are not allowed in the basin, and the adequacy of facilities such as parking areas and trailheads.

This promises to potentially be the first major review of over-snow vehicle use in Lake Tahoe Basin in more than two decades.

Snowmobiles are not allowed in designated wilderness areas. But they are allowed in about half of the remaining National Forest land in the basin—a percentage that some want increased and others want reduced.

Greg McKay, president of Tahoe Sierra Snowmobiling Club, said his group is interested in participating because of the chance for a long-term agreement. He praised the Forest Service for encouraging collaboration that could lead to a better outcome for everyone.

“We’re willing to discuss this and sit down and see if some reasonable compromises can be achieved. I give it a 50-50 chance that it will produce good results,” McKay said.

Bob Rowen, vice president of advocacy for Snowlands Network, an advocacy group for skiers and snowshoers, said a lot is at stake.

“User conflict, environmental issues, safety issues, sustainability issues, socioeconomic issues, but they’re all relevant to one issue. To what extent should OSVs be restricted in the basin,” Rowen said.

Restrictions could mean closing more of the National Forest off to snowmobiles, restricting them to roads or trails or prohibiting the oldest, most polluting models of snowmobiles, Rowen said.

Snowlands already is pushing for non-motorized designations for five square miles of land near Chickadee Ridge off Mount Rose Highway and the riparian meadows on either side of Blackwood Canyon.

“I think everybody recognizes the collaborative approach is a good way to get closer to the right and final result. Everybody’s eager to participate, cautiously optimistic,” Rowen said.

That feeling was shared by Amy Granat, managing director of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association.

“If we come to the table with the best of intentions, hopefully we can leave with the best of plans,” Granat said.

“Do I believe we can find room and appropriate places for everyone? I have to go into the process thinking that we can. I am encouraged that the Forest Service is bringing the community together and saying, ‘Find an alternative we can support.’ Now it’s on us.”

The process would conclude with an environmental review of any alternatives that are developed. It is estimated to take about 18 months.

Discussions will include more than skiers, snowshoers and snowmobilers who are looking to carve out big enough boundaries and adequate access and facilities for their own recreational interests and preferences.

It also will include the general public, businesses, local governments and other groups such as chambers of commerce and visitor’s authorities—all of whom have a stake in the outcome.

“If a proposal comes to us, we want something with broad-based support,” Heck said. “There will be a lot of interest in this. We’re looking for a broad-based, diverse group to come up with a plan for where we should go.”