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Off-roaders lose 1,000 miles of trail in new Eldorado plan

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Off-roaders lose 1,000 miles of trail in new Eldorado plan

Postby ERIC » Wed Apr 30, 2008 7:30 am

Off-roaders lose 1,000 miles of trail in new Eldorado plan

Posted on Tue, Apr. 29, 2008
By MATT WEISER
McClatchy Newspapers


Off-road enthusiasts will have about 1,000 fewer miles of trails to motor across in the Eldorado National Forest next year.

The Eldorado covers nearly 790,000 acres on the southern flank of Lake Tahoe.

It is one of the most heavily used national forests in America and has seen growing conflict over off-road vehicles in areas also used by hikers and other non-motorized visitors.

Forest managers Tuesday designated an official network of off-road vehicle routes within the forest in hopes of minimizing conflicts and protecting the environment. The action comes after a three-year planning process, triggered by a lawsuit filed by environmentalists in 2002.

The Eldorado plan helped launch a national effort to manage off-roading in federal forests. All U.S. forests are now required to complete such plans. The Eldorado plan is the first for the huge Sierra Nevada region.

Getting there was contentious. More than 6,000 people posted comments during the off-road mapping process.

"What people will have out there is a system of routes they know they can ride on," said forest spokesman Frank Mosbacher. "It does enhance the conservation of the forest environment. It increases the likelihood you'll have more quiet recreation."

The plan appears to be a mixed bag for both environmentalists and off-road enthusiasts.

Off-roaders will have access to 1,847 miles of roads and trails throughout the forest, compared with 2,868 previously. Closures include 526 miles of trails carved out by users.

That's 1,021 fewer miles for motorized vehicles. But it's not as bad as an option considered earlier, which would have closed 300 more miles. The chosen plan contains the fewest closed miles of the options reviewed.

"I think they tried to find a balance," said Don Amador, Western representative for the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a leading off-roaders group. "I hope we can get to a point where both the off-roaders and environmental community can support the plan and get some good trail projects, as well as some restoration."

Other forest visitors are glad to see more separation of uses. Hikers, horseback riders, skiers and other visitors can still use routes being closed to vehicles.

Environmental groups praise a rule within the plan that closes all off-roading routes between January and March to reduce erosion and trail damage.

Another new rule forbids parking more than one car-length off any designated route. Previously, off-roaders could drive off-trail to a campsite. Now they'll have to park and carry in gear.

Critics think the winter closure should be longer than three months and would rather see more roads closed.

"We think there's still too many routes," said Karen Schambach of the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, which filed the lawsuit. "If you look at the maps, it still looks like a bowl of spaghetti. But it's a start."

Schambach criticized one route that will allow vehicles on a narrow trail into the scenic Rubicon River canyon.

Other routes, she said, will allow vehicles to cross meadows. She said these decisions conflict with the forest's overall management plan.

Forest Service officials said the routes were retained because closure would have eliminated nearly all off-road vehicle access to the high country. Forest managers in Eldorado now must amend their land-use plan to allow for these routes.

Mosbacher said the Eldorado off-road plan will evolve.

"This is a starting point. A beginning," he said. "We have our basic system in place, and we will engage in monitoring and public involvement to determine whether a route should be added or closed."

Winter closures could begin earlier, for instance, depending on conditions. And Eldorado forest officials will issue new route maps each year to reflect actual trail conditions.

One loophole is the world- famous Rubicon Trail, the trans-Sierra route between Lake Tahoe and Georgetown. It lies within the Eldorado National Forest, but is managed by El Dorado County. It is not governed by the federal government's new off-road plan.

The county, however, suspended work on its management plan for the Rubicon recently to contain costs during a budget crisis, said Jordan Postlewait, the county's manager of airports, parks and grounds.

This means that vehicle use in the surrounding forest will now be more carefully controlled, but the Rubicon Trail will remain largely unregulated.

Trail closures in the Eldorado will begin in 2009, allowing time for a required 90-day appeal process and for the public to adjust to the closures.
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ERIC
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