Off Highway vehicle access advocates grill Forest Service on OHV plan
The Plumas National Forest addressed questions from the Sierra Access Coalition about its travel management plan at a recent open house.
It would be an understatement to say the majority of people attending the meeting, most of whom appeared to be SAC members or sympathizers, were not pleased with the Forest Service’s final draft of the PNF travel management plan.
The meeting was filled with angry comments that were either dismissive of the Forest Service’s explanations or expressed conspiracy theories about the government agency and its motives.
In the big picture, PNF interdisciplinary team leader Pete Hochrein said there were 4,200 miles in the forest’s road system that weren’t part of this plan.
|“We’re not a recreation forest; we’re a timber forest.”
Lee Anne Schramel
Public Information Officer
Plumas National Forest
The main thrust of this effort was to address the large number of user-created trails on the forest and decide which of them would be entered into the authorized system.
Hochrein indicated users and the Forest Service submitted 1,100 miles for consideration; 410 of them were selected to be surveyed for various environmental and safety factors.
Hochrein reported 234 miles were selected for inclusion in the system.
He said the decision consisted of balancing the wishes of people who want unlimited access to the forest with those who want the most stringent environmental protections possible.
“We’re feeling very comfortable that our document will support scrutiny by groups that feel they don’t want any trails on our forest.
“The ones that are in this decision are good trails that are sustainable, that will be on our system for many years to come.
“So we feel very strongly that we’re gonna hold up in court when we get sued and we know that’s coming.”
He suggested the Tahoe and Eldorado forests had more restrictive seasonal rules on when roads could be used.
PNF Public Affairs Officer Lee Anne Schramel told the audience, “We have enough roads and trails on this one forest to drive to the East Coast.
“Is it going to take you every place you want to go? It’s probably not, and we’ve heard from around the room it’s not going to.
“If you want a specialized experience, you want a small trail or an exciting single-track motorcycle use, we’re the first ones to tell you we don’t have enough of that on this forest.
“We’re not a recreation forest; we’re a timber forest,” the public affairs officer said before quickly adding, “I know you’ll say we’re not doing timber either; I know it’s coming.
“And I’m not going to disagree with you there,” she conceded as laughter spread throughout the room.
One of the hot topics was the small amount of single-track motorcycle routes authorized in the travel management plan, 53 miles total.
“We are deficit in that area,” Schramel admitted, adding the forest was looking at possibly adding 12.5 miles of single-track trail in French Creek and Granite Basin.
Hochrein said the Forest Service was doing an aquatic survey in that area to see what would be allowed.
He explained there were a lot of wildlife species that restricted use in that area and trails that dead end on private property.
Forest Service representatives labeled that area as a low to moderate candidate for red-legged frog habitat, but the Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t agree and ordered the PNF to do a survey of the area.
Money wasn’t available at the time, but grant funds were recently obtained to do the work.
Someone in the crowd asked why other forests didn’t have to do those surveys. Hochrein responded that other forests stopped trying to get trails in an area once it got to that point.
At that point several crowd members suggested someone should kill the frogs.
“Part of the problem is the way these trails are located,” Hochrein responded.
“Someone would go out and flag a trail line and they would start riding it and they didn’t ever do any trail construction and they didn’t have necessarily any experience on where to put the trail and they didn’t know what to avoid so these trails just were user-created trails.”
Hochrein said the future would hopefully involve more single-track opportunities, as the forest became more known for that use.
“I’ve been told by many, many single-track riders they don’t want to have people come and mess up their trails.
“If we have people coming to ride these trails there’ll be more reason to expand them and improve them and make them better, so there’s a Catch-22 there.”
“I think there’s an opportunity for Plumas County to have some trails that will attract some outside visitors.”
Another big topic was the access advocates’ complaint about the drop in trails affecting woodcutting.
The Plumas National Forest dictates woodcutting must be done within 100 feet of a road, meaning in effect there are now fewer places people can woodcut without a special permit giving an exemption to that rule.
The Lassen National Forest allows cross-country travel and has the opposite rule: the only place you can’t cut is within 100 feet of a road.
One member of the public asked if those rules could be changed so that they matched.
Hochrein said that was technically possible but “I would bet they probably won’t be.”
He added rules would probably be flexible from one ranger district to another within the PNF.
“We’re recommending that rangers find areas where we could have some free use areas or special use areas where you could do some cross-country travel for firewood access.”
He said there would also be permits available for people who needed to travel cross-country to get to their grazing area, logging site or mining operation.
Forest Service representatives told the crowd the trails on the Plumas that connected with those on the Tahoe or Lassen forests matched up, meaning you could ride the same types of vehicles as you passed from one forest to the next.
They also would look into creating more loops and opening more trails in the long term to react to Plumas and Lassen county governments’ choices to make more of their roads available for off-highway vehicles.
Taylor also acknowledged that some all-terrain vehicle trails were disjointed. In general people would have to drive further with their cars and trailers before getting on their ATVs.
In a closing comment Hochrein said, “It may seem like this is the end for a lot of you, but for the Forest Service this is just the beginning and we’re hoping that you continue to play with us and work with us, that we will add additional trails in the right locations with time.”
“Mind you we didn’t dream this process up. I mean this came to us from Congress decades ago. We’re just the last one’s getting around to implementing it,” Taylor added.
She said routes wouldn’t be decommissioned just because they didn’t make the cut. The PNF will go through a process of marking trails months before proposals to destroy them so the public can give input.
Hochrein explained Colorado and Idaho went through this painful process 20 years ago and now they have good trail systems with a lot of access.
OHV user response
After the meeting, Sierra Access Coalition Executive Director Corky Lazzarino said she had many issues with the Forest Service’s conclusions.
She began by saying the forest didn’t pay enough attention to preserving open areas used by children to learn to ride.
She agreed that many other forests probably lost more access than the Plumas did in this process, but said that wasn’t any real consolation.
“It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t pertain to us, that’s why we live here,” single-track rider Mark Tande added.
He said the Forest Service could tell people this wasn’t a recreation forest all it wanted, but many people like him lived here specifically for that reason.
Both advocates felt the PNF threw out too many short “spur roads” arbitrarily or designated connected roads as spurs too loosely.
“So other forests might have been better, but that isn’t the point. It could have been worse. We don’t care, we care about the Plumas, that’s our home,” Lazzarino concluded.