CONTRA COSTA TIMES -- May 12, 2005

Re-examining off-road forest access


SACRAMENTO - Environmental groups and off-road vehicle enthusiasts both claimed victory Wednesday after a federal judge ordered the U.S. Forest Service to re-examine access in one of the busiest recreation areas in the Sierra Nevada.
U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled tentatively Monday that off-road plans for Eldorado National Forest did not comply with environmental requirements, ordering the Forest Service to close 700 miles of trails but keeping another 2,245 miles open.The decision came as the service prepares to designate official routes out of the makeshift tracks that have spider-webbed across public lands since the Gold Rush. California is leading a national effort to list off-road routes, many of which started as trails for mining, logging and hunting.The Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation and California Wilderness Coalition wanted all trails closed to vehicles until the environmental review was completed, but they called the decision a good start.Closing 700 miles of the most damaging trails will help stem erosion and wildlife disturbances, said Karen Schambach of the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation.The California Enduro Riders Association, the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, American Motorcyclist Association, the California Off-Road Vehicle Association and the BlueRibbon Coalition wanted none of the trails closed but said Karlton found middle ground.The judge gave the Forest Service a month to plan an environmental review for off-road use throughout the national forest that climbs from Sacramento to Lake Tahoe.Nationwide, off-road use has increased from 5 million in 1972 to 36 million by 2000. People using off-road trails now make up about 5 percent of annual visitors, the Forest Service said.The Eldorado forest had already mapped its off-road trails as part of the statewide route designation drive, said spokesman Frank Mosbacher. Maps are available on the forest's Web site for review in advance of the first public hearing Saturday in Folsom.Most of California's 18 national forests are at a similar stage of scheduling public hearings on hundreds of off-road routes, said regional spokesman Rick Alexander.National Forest Service officials consider damage from poorly planned trails a leading threat to forest health."California happens to be a step or a step-and-a-half ahead" because the Forest Service agreed with state officials to act quickly.After June 2006, anyone creating an unmapped trail will be ticketed by the Forest Service, Alexander said. After environmental reviews, each forest supervisor is to designate a final route system by September 2008.*




Off-roaders cut off from parts of national forest

Amanda Fehd

A federal judge has closed 700 miles of trails in Eldorado National Forest to off-road vehicle traffic until an environmental impact statement is completed by the U.S. Forest Service.
The forest is a popular spot with off-roaders, particularly dirtbikers.U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton earlier this week denied the plaintiff's original request to close all trails, leaving 2,200 miles open.Routes previously designated "unclassified" are now closed. These trails are interspersed throughout the entire forest. The popular Rock Creek trail will remain open. The Forest Service has 30 days to propose how it will meet the requirements of the court.The agency did not see having funds to enforce the closure."Not with our current budget," said Frank Mosbacher, public affairs officer for the national forest.Both conservationists and off-road vehicle groups hailed the ruling as a victory.Jeff Flowers, an off-roader in South Shore, was not as thrilled at the decision. He thinks the off-road vehicle recreationists are fighting a losing battle, but the repercussions might not be what opponents expected."They're going to put (off highway vehicles) into such a small area, then they will really see an environmental impact," said Flowers. He thinks it's being defined as an environmental debate, but it's really a user group conflict.Karen Schambach, a volunteer for Sierra Nevada Conservation, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said the judge closed the most egregious of user-created trails, which her group believes causes environmental degradation. The Forest Service is at fault for not managing the trails, she said."They have this use, which most people consider a legitimate use of the forest, including me, but they have to manage it," Schambach said.Another plaintiff was the Center for Biological Diversity, which was concerned about a number of sensitive, threatened and endangered plant and wildlife species in the forest.The lawsuit asked the Forest Service to close all trails, and recreation groups like the Blue Ribbon Coalition stepped in to petition that it not close any. The decision was viewed as a good compromise.Brian Hawthorne, public lands director for Blue Ribbon, said they support an environmental analysis, and believe that more trails will be reopened as a result."We're not opposed to analysis," said Hawthorne. "Then we have a system that's sustainable and won't be shut down. We encourage a planning process with full public input, no shortcutting."The decision changes the way in which the Forest Service designates routes as open."The judge said that you've got to complete (National Environmental Policy Act review) before you designate the routes," said Frank Mosbacher, public affairs officer for Eldorado National Forest. The forest had been leaving routes open until an impact statement indicated they should be closed.Trail closures are listed on their Web site: