Winter Travel Planning

Lassen National Forest

BACKGROUND

The Lassen National Forest was the first of five forests to begin an Over Snow Vehicle (OSV) Use Designation Analysis pursuant to a lawsuit brought against the Forest Service by Winter Wildlands Alliance. A second lawsuit required the Forest Service to include the grooming of snowmobile trails in their analysis.

Lassen NF issued a scoping notice and proposed action for this project on January 14, 2015. The Proposed Action (PA) was to continue managing OSV use very much as they have been doing, leaving 85% of the Forest open to snowmobiles, and 324 miles of snowmobile trail would continue to be groomed.

SKIERS ALTERNATIVE

Snowlands Network and Winter Wildlands Alliance submitted a proposed alternative that would help balance recreational opportunity. Our proposal included:

  • Designation of the McGowan, Colby and Almanor Lake cross-country ski areas as nonmotorized areas, not just areas with nonmotorized trails.
     
  • Designation of the Butte Lake area extending from Lassen National Park and the Caribou Wilderness to Highway 44 as nonmotorized in order to create opportunity for accessible, primitive, backcountry nonmotorized recreation in a Wilderness-like environment.
     
  • Designation of the Fredonyer-Goumaz area as a managed shared use area on the east side of the Lassen NF, close to Susanville, where snowmobiles are limited to travel on designated routes and the use of cleaner and quieter (best available technology) snowmobiles is encouraged, in order to improve ski and snowshoe opportunity in the Susanville area.

DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT

Lassen NF issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) on January 29, 2016. The DEIS presented four alternatives: 1) a No-Action alternative that would leave management of OSV use as is, 2) the Proposed Action alternative, which is similar to the proposed action presented in the scoping notice, 3) Alternative 3, which was developed from the Snowlands/WWA proposal, and 4) Alternative 4, submitted by snowmobile groups.

You may access the documents from the Lassen Project Page.

You may view the comments on the DEIS submitted by Snowlands and Winter Wildlands.

RECORD OF DECISION

On August 22, 2016, Lassen issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Record of Decision (ROD) stating the decision of Forest Supervisor Russell Hays for the OSV Use Designation plan. The decision was good news for backcountry skiers, as it closed all of the areas asked to be closed in the Skier's Alternative. Only 4,490 acres will be closed in the McGowan Lake area, and not the 10,280 that we requested be closed, but the area that will be closed includes the most popular backcountry areas.

The plan also includes two designated route-only snowmobile trails: one ungroomed trail through the Butte Lake closure and a groomed trail through the Fredonyer-Goumaz area. The plan includes 28 designated crossing points for the Pacific Crest Trail, and a minimum snow depth of 12 inches for cross-country OSV travel (but 6 inches over roads and trails where designated). 349 miles of snowmobile trail would be eligible for grooming, provided money is available from the California Off Highway Motor Vehicle Division, which runs the State's OHV recreation program.

Project documents may be found at the USFS web site here:

http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=45832

OBJECTION

Snowlands and Winter Wildlands Alliance will be jointly submitting objections to the draft decision. Although we are pleased that the plan will close an additional 6% of the forest to snowmobiles, we feel that several important aspects of the environmental analysis were not done properly, and that had they been done as they should have been, the plan would have been better.

Snowlands will be submitting the following objections:

The EIS does not consider a full range of alternatives
The EIS describes four alternatives, which range from 78% of the forest open to snowmobiles up to 84% open. We feel that the Forest Service should have considered at least one alternative that designated 50% or less of the forest open to OSV use.
The selected alternative does not adhere to "closed unless designated open"
The Forest Service is supposed to determine which areas of each forest can sustain the impact of snowmobile use and only open those areas where the criteria of minimizing the impact on resources, wildlife, and other users is satisfied. All other areas of the forest are closed to OSV use. However, what the Forest Service has done at Lassen is select some areas where non-motorized activity is popular, closed those areas, and left the rest of the forest open to snowmobiles.
The draft ROD designates areas for OSV use that are larger than a ranger district
The 2005 Travel Management Rule clearly states that areas open for cross-country motor vehicle travel must be "discrete, specifically delineated spaces that are smaller ... than a Ranger District". The Lassen decision, which leaves 78% of the forest open to snowmobile cross-country travel does not comply with this requirement.
The draft ROD fails to minimize conflicts in the McGowan Lake area
The McGowan Lake area between the town of Mineral and Lassen National Park is a popular cross-country ski and snowshoe area. Currently, there are several trails in this area that are closed to motor vehicles. The draft decision keeps these trails closed and also closes the area around the trails. However, the decision also opens two miles of currently closed trail to snowmobile use, reportedly for the convenience of some locals in the town of Mineral who have been illegally using the ski trails.
The draft ROD fails to manage the Pacific Crest Trail correctly
The management plan for the PCT requires Forest Service planners to consider the impact of motorized use on PCT users. Lassen NF has failed to do this, allowing motorized use right up to the boundaries of the trail, with no non-motorized corridor.
The draft ROD fails to minimize significant disturbance to wildlife
The wildlife harassment minimization measures are nonspecific, arbitrary, and do not show how impacts to sensitive wildlife are minimized.
The draft ROD does not consider OSV restrictions based on best-available techonolgy
Mandating or encouraging the use of quiet, clean vehicles would be an effective way to reduce the impact on wildlife and other users without having to curtail snowmobile activity, but the Forest Service refuse to consider such a strategy.
The Forest Service response to comments are arbitrary and capricious
Several commenters suggested specific areas that should be closed to snowmobiles to minimize conflict with skiers, as is mandated by the Travel Rule. The Forest Service dismissed these suggestions as being "non site-specific," despite the fact that they mentioned specific areas withing Lassen NF.

The response to these and other objections was issued on Dec 21. The Forest Service has announced a two-year delay in completing the five OSV Use Designation projects so that additional environmental analysis may be done. Since the completion date was agreed upon as part of the lawsuit settlement, the plaintiffs (Snowlands, WWA, CBD) must agree to the delay. We are currently in negotiation with the Forest Service on the new completion dates and intermediate milestones. We think that in requesting the delay, the Forest Service is acknowledging that the environmental analysis done so far as part of the OSV planning has been inadequate. Lassen is the first national forest to issue a final environmental impact analysis and record of decision for OSV Use Designation, so it is important that the Forest Service carry out their planning effort for Lassen correctly.

Lassen will issue a Revised Draft EIS and Final EIS with more elaborate consideration of the minimization criteria, more analysis on adequate snow depth for resource protection, and a wider range of alternatives. There will be a public comment period on the RDEIS, including a public meeting to discuss the RDEIS.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

The comment periods for this plan are closed. There will be an additional public comment period for the Revised Draft EIS when it is published. See the project page for Lassen (link found above) if you want to particpate further.

THANK YOU

Thanks to all of the people who submitted comments on this project and made the result a reality. Thank you for participating in this community effort. We look forward to skiing in these newly-created motor-free zones next winter.