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Snowmobilers critical of USFS plan

Feather River Bulletin of Quincy, California

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"We need your written comments so your concerns become part of the record," Dan Lovato, acting supervisor of Plumas National Forest, urged the 60 people who attended a meeting Oct. 27, in Quincy to discuss the agency's over-snow vehicle plan. He repeated his plea multiple times, as he absorbed verbal jabs during the sometimes-hostile meeting.

Throughout the meeting, Lovato apologized profusely for the agency's missteps during the process. "We are not the experts in forest management anymore," he said at one point. "We need your help."

Dave Wood, acting public services staff officer, told the crowd that the Forest is seeking public comment for a draft environmental impact statement, necessitated by the agency's larger travel management plan and a settlement agreement in a related lawsuit.

The Forest proposes four main changes to its current management of snowmobiles. The plan would prohibit OSV use in two currently open areas; restrict use around bald eagle nests; set a minimum unpacked snow depth of 12' inches for OSV use to protect resources; and designate locations where snowmobiles could cross the non-motorized Pacific Crest Trail.

"We tried not to touch the groomed system and to provide areas desirable to cross-country skiers," Wood said about the rationale for the changes. He also noted the forest is obligated to safeguard bald eagles under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. He said the Forest had received comments for and against the changes.

The public will have one more opportunity to learn about the plan, at a meeting Nov. 5 at the Sierra City Community Hall at 6 p.m.

No sooner had the Quincy meeting started than Corky Lazzarino, of the Sierra Access Coalition, challenged its organization, pushing for a question-and-answer format instead of the breakout sessions the Forest had planned.

Wood's presentation was interrupted multiple times by questions and comments that exhibited a range of concerns.

One man accused the Forest of luring bald eagles into areas so it could then close them. "I have no idea what you're talking about," replied Wood.

Another asked for clarification about the size of the radius around bald eagle nests. An agency biologist said it depended on whether the terrain was wooded or open.

One man said it was misleading when the agency claimed that 1.2 million acres would be open to OSVs because the lower elevations of the forest don't get snow.

Yet another asked how the Forest would determine resource damage under the terms of the snow depth provision. "Damage to the road base, to vegetation, animals, things like that," Wood responded.

The OSV users were most upset by the off-limit areas. The Forest proposed two such locations: one between the eastern border of Bucks Lake Wilderness and Silver Lake Road (what the agency calls Black Gulch/Clear Creek) and an area adjacent to the south border of Plumas Eureka State Park (generally referred to as Jamison Canyon). In essence, these proposed closures extend the existing non-motorized status of the wilderness and the state park.

Of the two, the Jamison area prompted the most concern. "It makes us suspicious that you take our most favorite area," said county supervisor Terry Swofford, who has been a vocal critic of the Forest's lack of coordination with county officials.

While the OSV users kept up a steady stream of questions and comments, conservation advocates and non-motorized users, who made up about a third of the audience, remained largely silent.

When Darrel Jury, president of Friends of Plumas Wilderness, tried to speak, he was heckled. "I'm concerned that there are not enough areas for non-motorized recreation and for carnivores," he said before being interrupted.

"Why can't you share," sneered one man. "You have to have your own special place."

"You wedge us apart," another accused. "You cause trouble, the small group that can't get along."

After the presentation, the meeting moved to another room, where agency personnel staffed stations devoted to each of the plan's main areas. Each station featured maps and comment sheets.

Once again, the proposed non-motorized areas attracted the most comments.

"It's a land grab!" said Quincy resident Kyle Felker, gesturing at one of the maps.

Darla DeRuiter, an environmental studies instructor at Feather River College, spoke about non-motorized users' desire for quiet in a largely motorized landscape. "That's a conflict," she said.

"The Forest Service might have a rationale for picking these areas," said John Sheehan, who sits on the county coordinating council, which is supposed to facilitate communication between the agency and county government, "but they haven't articulated it."

The other parties are set to articulate theirs. Before the breakout session, Lazzarino announced that SAC would be submitting its own alternative to the Forest's plan.

During the breakout session, Jury said FPW would submit a conservation alternative.

As part of the settlement that prompted the planning effort to begin with, the Forest must consider an alternative by the plaintiffs — Snowlands Network, Winter Wildlands Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity.

"This process is not a sprint," Lovato said. "It's a marathon."

For more information, visit fs.usda.gov/plumas or David C. Wood at dcwood@fs.usda.gov or call 283-2050.



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Original Publication Date: November 4, 2015



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