sports can be a divisive issue. There are skiers and snowboarders, freestylers
and racers, gapers and locals. But perhaps no two groups are as sharply divided
as snowmobilers and cross country skiers.
On one hand you have the purists, skiers and snowshoers who want to keep
motorized vehicles off the trails. On the other, you have snowmobilers who say
that their sport is just as valid as the quieter pastimes and don't want limits
on the terrain they can ride.
The current issue on the table concerns the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe
Basin Management Unit's Forest Plan update, and whether the plan will recommend
other areas in the basin for a wilderness designation. If more wilderness is
approved—a lengthy decision that ultimately only the U.S. Congress can make—the
Dardanelles and Freel roadless areas could become off-limits to snowmobilers
and mountain bikers.
Members of the Tahoe Sierra Snowmobile Club met last Tuesday to discuss the
plan and the potential restrictions with two Forest Service representatives.
The meeting marks a first step toward real organization for the group, TSSC
member and event organizer Hanna Bernard said.
"I think we've let things happen because we haven't been organized in the
past. There has been effort and there have been groups working really, really
hard, but we have not reached out to every single snowmobiler in town the way
we're trying to do this time," Bernard said.
More than 50 people gathered at Tep's Villa Roma restaurant to learn more about
the Forest Plan, voice their concern regarding closures to motorized vehicles,
and take advantage of the public comment period that will close at the end of
The updated Forest Plan, which has been in the works since 2004, is currently
in its final 90-day public comment period. According to USFS spokeswoman Cheva
Heck, the agency welcomes all community input in the form of letters and
emails. At the moment, there are four alternatives under review, with the final
environmental document slated to come out by the end of this year.
When LTBMU Deputy Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais and co-leader on the
document's planning team Denise Downie arrived at the meeting, they were there
to honor the agency's commitment to listen to the public. In USFS uniforms, the
two stood out among a crowd that hasn't always seen eye to eye with the
“We're not very inconspicuous back here, are we?” Marsolais joked as he stepped
in front of the audience.
Most of the comments directed at Marsolais and Downie concerned past trail
closures to snowmobiles, the threat of more restrictions to come, and what many
at the meeting perceived as an unresponsiveness to the voices of South Lake Tahoe
Marsolais insisted that the Forest Plan does take feedback into account and was
developed with a variety of interests in mind.
“Folks are on different sides of the fence. When you look at what we've
presented here in terms of the draft Forest Plan, particularly regarding
snowmobiling, what we're trying to do is represent the range. We've developed a
series of alternatives that in our mind represents the range of issues that
we've heard all the way along through public scoping,” Marsolais said.
Alternatives A through D represent a variety of options, from maintaining the
status quo to augmenting developed recreation opportunities by 5 to 15 percent
to recommending thousands of acres of new wilderness areas.
To some, like Snowlands Network President Gail Ferrell, that range may not
Snowlands, an organization founded in 2001 to protect opportunities for human-powered
winter recreation like cross county skiing and snowshoeing, has 500 members who
hail from Western Nevada to the Bay Area, all united by a passion for
nonmotorized winter activities.
“We want them to address snowmobile impacts. Snowmobiles, because they're
motorized, have impacts on the environment. It has wildlife impacts, habitat
impacts, bear impacts. And there are impacts on fellow forest users,” Ferrell
Ferrell said she would like to see the Forest Service expand winter recreation
opportunities for skiers and hikers where they can enjoy the wilderness without
the accompaniment of a motor.
But for the riders at Tuesday's meeting, snowmobiling is no less valid a sport
than skiing, and many expressed concerns that rideable areas might continue to
shrink because of a lack of organization.
“The other side is organized. It takes every single one of to you push as hard
as you can or you will lose your place to ride. The other side assumes they are
the guardian of the environment, that you don't care about the environment.
That's not true, because you all live here because of it,” Leader of the
Strategic Marketing Group Carl Ribaudo said at the snowmobilers' meeting.
No land management plan will come easily, Marsolais said. The number of recreationists
has grown, with 1.4 million registered snowmobiles in the U.S according to the
International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association website. The National
Sporting Goods Association reported 2.26 million cross country skiers
nationwide in its 2011 annual sports participation report.
“There's no easy land management decision left in this county. Everything comes
with trade-offs. It will be based on science, it will be based on public
comment, it will be based on principals and values,” Marsolais said.
To comment on the Forest Plan, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
more information about the plan, go to the LTBMU website at www.fs.usda.gov/ltbmu/.
The TSSC will hold another meeting on Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. at Tep's Villa Roma
restaurant, 3450 Lake Tahoe Blvd.