Tahoe National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle Use Designation

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1 Tahoe National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle Use Designation USDA Forest Service Tahoe National Forest February 20, 2015 Introduction The Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on a proposal to designate over-snow vehicle (OSV) use on National Forest System (NFS) roads, NFS trails, and areas on NFS lands within the Tahoe National Forest in accordance with Subpart C of the Travel Management Rule; and to identify snow trails available for grooming within the Tahoe National Forest. This proposal would be implemented on all of the Tahoe National Forest. Maps of this proposal are on pages 10 and 11 of this document. Background Snow Trail Grooming Program For over 30 years, the Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region, in cooperation with the California Department of Parks and Recreation Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division has enhanced winter recreation, and more specifically, snowmobiling recreation by maintaining NFS trails (snow trails) by grooming snow for OSV use. Most groomed snow trails are co-located on underlying NFS roads. Some grooming occurs on county roads and closed snow-covered highways. Grooming activities on the Tahoe National Forest are predominately funded by the State off-highway vehicle trust fund (OHMVR Division), either by directly funding the Forest Service to conduct grooming, or through funding Sierra County to conduct the grooming on the Forest under an agreement. The Bowman and Rattlesnake groomed OSV trail systems are currently not funded by the OHMVR Division. The following summarizes the Tahoe National Forest s snow trail grooming program: The Tahoe National Forest has approximately 236 miles of designated NFS OSV trails. Of the approximately 236 miles of designated NFS OSV trails, approximately 188 miles are OSV trails available for grooming. In 2013, the Forest Service entered into a Settlement Agreement with Snowlands Network et al., to complete appropriate NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] analysis(es) to identify snow trails for grooming on the Tahoe National Forest and four other national forests in California. The Forest Service will comply with the terms of the Settlement Agreement for the Tahoe National Forest by completing this analysis. Tahoe National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan The Tahoe National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan) provides management direction for OSV use across the approximately 829,510 acres of Tahoe National Forest lands as follows: 1

2 Tahoe National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle Use Designation Approximately 669,537 acres of NFS land are open to off-trail cross-country OSV use; Approximately 109,808 acres of NFS land are closed to OSV use; Approximately 105 miles of NFS trails (Pacific Crest Trail) are closed to OSV use (other designated winter non-motorized trails within existing OSV prohibited areas are not identified); Approximately 48,756 acres of NFS lands have OSV use restricted to designated routes only; and Approximately 1,408 acres of NFS lands are closed to OSV use from September 15 through December 31. Travel Management Rule Subpart C The Forest Service s 2005 Travel Management Rule established new procedures (see 36 CFR part 212 Subpart C), for implementing the requirements of Executive Order (E.O.) 11644, as amended by E.O on the National Forest System. On March 29, 2013, the U.S. District Court of Idaho, in the case of Winter Wildlands Alliance v. U.S. Forest Service (2013 WL , No. 1:11 CV 586 REB (D. Idaho Mar. 29, 2013)), ruled that Subpart C of the 2005 Travel Management Rule was invalid because the rule made designation of OSV use of roads, trails, and areas optional. The court ordered the Forest Service to produce a new rule that treats OSVs similar to other motor vehicles by requiring the designation of OSV use on roads, trails, and areas, consistent with E.O , as amended by E.O The Forest Service s final Travel Management Rule, with an amended Subpart C, was issued on January 28, 2015 (80 FR 4500, Jan. 28, 2015), and becomes effective on February 27, The final rule states: Over-snow vehicle use on National Forest System roads, on National Forest System trails, and in areas on National Forest System lands shall be designated by the Responsible Official on administrative units or Ranger Districts, or parts of administrative units or Ranger Districts, of the National Forest System where snowfall is adequate for that use to occur, and, if appropriate, shall be designated by class of vehicle and time of year (36 CFR (a)). Further, under 36 CFR , it is prohibited to possess or operate an over-snow vehicle on National Forest System lands in that administrative unit or Ranger District other than in accordance with those designations. OSV designations made as a result of the analysis in this Environmental Impact Statement would conform to the final Subpart C of the Travel Management Rule. Purpose and Need One purpose of this project is to effectively manage OSV use on the Tahoe National Forest to provide access, ensure that OSV use occurs when there is adequate snow, promote the safety of all users, enhance public enjoyment, minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources, and minimize conflicts among the various uses. There is a need to provide a manageable, designated OSV system of trails and areas within the Tahoe National Forest that is consistent with and achieves the purposes of the Forest Service Travel Management Rule at 36 CFR Part 212. This action responds to direction provided by the Forest Service s Travel Management Rule at 36 CFR Part 212 and Subpart C of the Travel Management Rule. The existing system of OSV trails and areas open for OSV use on the Tahoe National Forest results from implementation of Forest Plan management direction for OSV use. Public OSV use 2

3 of the majority of this existing system continues to be manageable and consistent with current travel management regulations. Exceptions have been identified, based on internal and public input and the criteria for designating roads, trails, and areas listed at 36 CFR These include needs to protect natural resources, provide improved access for OSV users, provide improved quiet winter recreation opportunities, and ensure consistency with overall management area direction contained in the Forest Plan. These exceptions represent additional needs for change, and in these cases, changes are proposed to meet the overall objectives. A second purpose of this project is to identify those designated NFS OSV trails where grooming for OSV use could occur as required by the Settlement Agreement between the Forest Service and Snowlands Network et al. Under the terms of the Settlement Agreement, the Forest Service is required to complete the appropriate NEPA analysis to identify snow trails available for grooming on the Tahoe National Forest. This action identifies snow trails available for grooming and addresses the need to provide a high quality OSV trail system on the Tahoe National Forest that is smooth and stable for the rider and designed so the novice rider can use these trails without difficulty. The Forest Service proposes several actions on the Tahoe National Forest to be analyzed as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The actions proposed are as follows: 1. To designate OSV use on NFS roads, NFS trails, and areas on NFS lands within the Tahoe National Forest where snowfall depth is adequate for that use to occur. The responsible official would designate NFS roads, NFS trails, and areas on NFS lands for OSV use on administrative units or Ranger Districts, or parts of administrative units or Ranger Districts of the Tahoe National Forest. 2. To identify approximately 188 miles of designated OSV trails that would be available for grooming on the Tahoe National Forest. The network of groomed OSV trails on the Tahoe National Forest is connected to a network of approximately 52 miles of groomed OSV trails located on county roads (Nevada, Placer, and Sierra Counties) within the Tahoe National Forest and approximately 19 miles of groomed OSV trails located off the Tahoe National Forest on the Plumas National Forest and Sierra County roads to the north and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit to the south. The Tahoe National Forest does not have jurisdiction over county roads nor the Plumas National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, and is not making decisions related to OSV use or grooming for those entities. 3. To implement a standard of 12 inches or more of snow depth for snow trail grooming when funds and equipment are used from sources other than the OHMVR Division. To follow OHMVR Division snow depth standards when OHMVR Division funds or equipment are used. 4. To implement a Forest-wide snow depth requirement for OSV use that would provide for public safety and natural and cultural resource protection by (1) allowing OSV use in designated areas when there is a minimum of 12 inches of snow covering the landscape and (2) allowing OSV use on designated snow trails atop underlying NFS roads and designated NFS trails when there is a minimum of 6 inches of snow covering the road or trail. When the snow depth requirement is not met, OSV use would be prohibited. Most snow trails would be 3

4 Tahoe National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle Use Designation located on existing dirt, gravel, or paved trails or roads. These trails and roads are used in the summer for highway vehicle and off-highway vehicle use. 5. To designate OSV crossings for the Pacific Crest Trail. There would be two designated crossings, as well as two sections in which an OSV trail and the Pacific Crest Trail share the same route where the Pacific Crest Trail is located on roads. The proposed actions are summarized in table 1 and table 2, and shown on the maps on pages 10 and 11 of this document. Table 1. Summary comparing existing OSV management with the proposed action for the management of OSV use on the Tahoe National Forest OSV Management Existing OSV Management NFS Lands within the Tahoe National Forest where 829,510 acres 829,510 acres OSV Use Designations would Apply OSV Use Allowed: Designated Areas 669,537 acres 665,717 acres Designated Trails Groomed 188 miles 188 miles Designated Trails Marked (not groomed) 48 miles 48 miles OSV Use Prohibited: Designated Areas 109,808 acres 113,629 acres Designated Trails 105 miles 105 miles (Pacific Crest Trail excluding shared route sections at Packer Saddle and near Jackson Meadow Reservoir) OSV Use Restricted: Designated Areas - Designated Routes Only Designated Areas - Specified Dates 48,756 acres 1,408 acres 48,756 acres 1,408 acres (prohibited from 9/15 to 12/31) Minimum Snow Depth for OSV Use on Designated n/a 6 inches Trails Minimum Snow Depth for Off-trail, Cross-country OSV Use n/a 12 inches All area size and trail distance estimates are approximate and are rounded to the nearest acre or nearest mile. Table 2. Summary comparing current groomed OSV trails with proposed action for the grooming of OSV trails on the Tahoe National Forest OSV Management Existing OSV Management Total Groomed Trail System* 188 miles 188 miles Minimum Snow Depth for Snow Trail Grooming to Occur Using OHMVR Division Funds/Equipment Minimum Snow Depth for Snow Trail Grooming to Occur Using Other Funds/Equipment Follow OHMVR snow depth standards *Included in the miles of trail over which OSV use is allowed in table 1. Distance estimates are approximate and are rounded to the nearest mile. n/a Follow OHMVR snow depth standards 12 inches 4

5 The designations resulting from this analysis would only apply to the use of OSVs. An OSV is defined in the Forest Service s Travel Management Rule as a motor vehicle that is designed for use over snow and that runs on a track or tracks and/or a ski or skis, while in use over snow (36 CFR 212.1). Other types of motor vehicles that may operate over snow, but do not meet the definition of an OSV, are regulated under Subpart B of the Travel Management Rule. Routes and areas on the Tahoe National Forest for these types of vehicles have been previously designated and published on a motor vehicle use map (MVUM) as the result of a separate environmental analysis and decision (Tahoe National Forest Motorized Travel Management Project Record of Decision and Final Environmental Impact Statement 2010). Limited administrative use by the Forest Service; use of any fire, military, emergency, or law enforcement vehicle for emergency purposes; authorized use of any combat or combat support vehicle for national defense purposes; law enforcement response to violations of law, including pursuit; and OSV use that is specifically authorized under a written authorization issued under Federal law or regulations would be exempt from these designations (36 CFR (a)). These designations would not affect valid existing rights held by federally recognized tribes, counties, or private individuals, including treaty rights, other statutory rights, or private rights-ofway. NFS roads, NFS trails, and areas on NFS lands where OSV use is designated would be shown on an OSV use map, in accordance with 36 CFR (c). This map would show the roads, trails and areas where OSV use is allowed. It also would show trailheads and other ancillary recreational facilities. Allowed OSV Use OSV use would be designated as currently allowed on 236 miles of trails on the Tahoe National Forest. Cross-country OSV use would also be designated as allowed on 665,717 acres. All designated OSV use would be subject to snow depth restrictions. All OSV use would be prohibited on the Tahoe National Forest unless there is adequate snow depth that meets the following conditions: OSV use on designated routes Cross-country OSV use Allowed OSV Use Minimum Snow Depth 6 inches 12 inches This change is to provide improved trail access for OSV users from trailheads to deeper snow areas and to protect natural resources. OSV Use on Groomed Trails The proposed action would identify 188 miles of NFS trails that would be available for grooming for OSV use on the Tahoe National Forest (map, page 11). This would represent no change from existing management. 5

6 Tahoe National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle Use Designation Table 3 compares the number of miles of groomed snow trails that have historically been groomed and are currently managed with the miles of snow trails under the proposed action that are identified to be available for grooming. Groomed trail systems would be located in the following areas: Table 3. Comparison of miles of trail available for grooming within the Tahoe National Forest under existing management and proposed action (miles) Existing OSV Management OSV Area Forest Service County* Forest Service County** Bassetts Little Truckee Summit China Wall Rattlesnake*** Bowman*** Totals * Historic groomed county road mileage is presented for information only. Forest Service has no jurisdiction on County Roads ** Future groomed county road mileage is assumed to remain constant. Forest Service has no jurisdiction on County Roads ***Areas groomed without OHMVR Division funding The grooming season generally begins in mid-december and continues through March. Start and stop times vary by trail location and are dependent upon the presence and depth of snow. Snow trails are prioritized for grooming based on visitor use. Grooming has historically occurred several times per week. Trails would be groomed to a minimum width of 10 feet and typically up to 14 feet wide. Trails would be groomed up to 30 feet wide in the more heavily used areas such as near trailheads. Groomed trail width is determined by a variety of factors such as width of the underlying road bed, width of grooming tractor, heavy two-way traffic on the trail, and trail corners. Trail width would not be groomed beyond width of underlying roadbed. Trail grooming would be conducted in accordance with the 1997 Snowmobile Trail Grooming Standards set by the OHMVR Division when OHMVR Division funds or equipment are used, as follows: Operators shall be trained and directed by a grooming coordinator. Identify hazards in advance of grooming, preferably in autumn before snow falls. Typical grooming season is from December to March. Operate the snow tractor on approved designated trails only. Maintain a 10-foot vertical clearance from potential obstructions. Limit grooming speeds to between 3 to 7 miles per hour. Groom trails to a minimum of 10 feet wide with a typical width of 10 to 14 feet. The OHMVR Division s snowcat fleet is subject to emission regulation by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as off-road equipment. The CARB sets an emission limit for the vehicle fleet as a whole rather than for individual pieces of equipment. Based on the total horsepower of the vehicle fleet, and the model and year of the individual equipment within the 6

7 fleet, CARB determines how much horsepower per year must be repowered, retrofitted, or retired. The OHMVR Division then determines what modifications to make to its fleet in order to satisfy CARB requirements. Designation of Areas The Subpart C regulations (36 CFR 212.1) define an area as, a discrete, specifically delineated space that is smaller, and, except for OSV use, in most cases much smaller, than a Ranger District. The proposed action would designate areas on the Tahoe National Forest where crosscountry OSV uses would be allowed when there are 12 or more inches of snow on the ground. These areas total approximately 665,717 acres. These areas are located in any part of the Tahoe National Forest where OSVs are not otherwise prohibited. Prohibited OSV Use The proposed action would continue existing Forest Plan prohibitions on OSV use on approximately 109,808 acres of NFS lands in Wilderness areas, Semi-primitive Non-motorized, and Research Natural Areas. In addition, the Forest Service has identified three areas in which OSV use would be prohibited on approximately 3,821 acres (displayed in table 4). Management direction in the existing Forest Plan does not prohibit OSV use in these areas. Adopting these prohibitions would require an amendment to the Forest Plan. 1. High Loch Leven (approximately 3,117 acres) To provide increased non-motorized winter recreation opportunities in the Loch Leven Management Area. 2. Robinson Flat Cultural (approximately 1 acre) To protect fragile historic building structures from damage by snowmobile use. Snowmobile riders are known to use the snow covered roofs of the historic structures as ramps at Robinson Flat. 3. Independence Lake Donated Parcels (approximately 703 acres) To protect watershed values on steep terrain within the Independence Lake watershed, which provides habitat for the Lahontan cutthroat trout, a species listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Table 4. Additional prohibitions on OSV use under the proposed action (acres) OSV-Prohibited Area High Loch Leven - Non-motorized Recreation 3,117 Independence Parcels - Watershed 703 Robinson Flat - Cultural 1 Total OSV-Prohibited Area 3,821 All estimates are approximate and are rounded to the nearest acre. The proposed action would continue existing Forest Plan prohibitions on OSV use on the 105 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which traverses the Tahoe National Forest, excluding shared route sections where the trail is located on roads at Packer Saddle and near Jackson Meadow Reservoir. The shared routes include a 2,000-foot section at Packer Saddle where the Pacific Crest Trail shares a marked but not groomed OSV trail and 700-foot section near Jackson Meadow Reservoir where the Pacific Crest Trail shares a groomed OSV trail. 7

8 Tahoe National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle Use Designation In addition, there would be two designated crossings, where OSVs could cross the Pacific Crest Trail. One is located on NFS Road 007, near the intersection with NFS Road The second is located on NFS Road 0086, just north of Nevada County Road 0843 (Meadow Road). All other non-motorized winter trails (Nordic trails) on the Tahoe National Forest are located within OSV prohibited areas and are not identified here. The Tahoe National Forest also maintains other Nordic emphasis trails in areas open to OSVs. However, since OSVs are not currently prohibited from using these trails, nor are they being proposed for OSV exclusion, they too are not identified here. Restricted OSV Use The proposed action would continue existing Forest Plan restrictions on OSV use on approximately 50,165 acres of NFS lands. Forest Plan management direction for most of this acreage (approximately 48,756 acres) restricts OSV use to designated routes only. Approximately 1,408 acres are seasonally closed to OSV use from September 15 through December 31. No new OSV use restrictions are being proposed. Existing OSV restrictions that currently have the force of law, regulation, or policy would continue to exist. Design Features The proposed action includes the following design features: Trails may be temporarily closed by the Forest for other types of management activities such as contracted timber or vegetation management or other resource concerns. Groomed trails are closed to wheeled vehicle use seasonally as described in the MVUM. The Forest Service has an obligation to monitor the effects of OSV use as required by Subpart C of the Travel Management Rule. Furthermore, as an ongoing part of the Forest s Statefunded OSV program, the OHMVR Division provides funding to the Forest Service to monitor Forest trail systems for evidence of OSV trespass into closed areas, OSV use near or damage of sensitive plant and wildlife sites, and low snow areas subject to erosion concerns. Other design features and monitoring measures would be added to this list throughout the scoping and analysis processes. Management Sideboards The Tahoe National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle Use Designation is not intended to be a comprehensive, holistic winter recreation planning effort. This decision would apply only to the use of OSVs on the Tahoe National Forest. No designation of non-motorized trails or areas would result. Non-motorized winter recreational opportunities and uses will be considered in the analysis in terms of the effects designating OSV trails and areas may have on non-motorized recreational opportunities. Further, with respect to the grooming action, there are financial limitations on the miles and frequency of snow trail grooming within the Forest snow trail grooming program. This is because the current Forest snow trail grooming program is funded by the OHMVR Division. These funds are not likely to substantially increase in future years. The Tahoe National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle Use Designation is an activity implementing a land management plan. It is not an activity authorized under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (Pub. L ). Therefore, this activity is subject to pre-decisional administrative 8

9 review consistent with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 (Pub. L ) as implemented by subparts A and B of 36 CFR part 218. Certain portions of the proposed action would amend the Forest Plan. These actions are subject to pre-decisional administrative review, pursuant to Subpart B of the Planning Rule (36 CFR part 219). 9

10 Tahoe National Forest Over-Snow Vehicle Use Designation Map of 36 CFR 212 Subpart C Designations 10

11 Map of Groomed OSV Trails We are currently reviewing groomed trails where there is uncertainty regarding Forest Service jurisdiction. 11

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