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Seeking Balance with the Tahoe NF Winter Travel Plan

I wrote this piece to build a bridge. I sincerely hope a plan can be drafted and implemented that works for the greater backcountry community.

From the RGJ:

As a 16-year Tahoe local, I’ve always enjoyed catching up with people after a memorable day in the backcountry. It has never mattered if they were ski touring the same peak as I was, Nordic skiing in a completely different zone or accessing their turns with a mechanized assist. The shared community stoke was all that mattered.

With the USFS currently working on the first-ever winter travel plan for the Tahoe National Forest, I have high hopes that both mechanized and nonmechanized user groups can work together to advocate for the best possible outcome for all winter backcountry users in the area.

I have spoken to members of the snowmobile community in recent weeks, and it genuinely astonishes me that some folks believe that the human-powered winter recreation community — made up of individuals as well as organizations like the Winter Wildlands Alliance and Tahoe Backcountry Alliance — are against the use of snowmobiles on public lands. I can’t speak for every single person, but collectively that is not our stance. We understand people enjoy the backcountry in different ways, and while we are clearly advocates for protecting the rights of people to access public lands under human power, the mechanized community deserves the same opportunity. That is why this USFS winter travel plan is such a critical piece to rally around for all stakeholders.

In paying close attention and listening to the concerns of snowmobilers who are worried about losing access, the position from the human-powered community at large has been to focus on minimizing conflict in areas where both human-powered recreation and OHV activity overlap. After studying USFS maps and consulting with users on both sides, the north side of Castle Peak as well as the road along Sardine Lakes in the Sierra Buttes are areas we would like to see designated as human-powered in the new plan. It seems many in the mechanized community are open to these modifications, but after the well-attended gatherings on the subject earlier this month in Truckee, it is clear that the maps and boundaries being used must be edited to fit the exact desires of both parties.

From a localized perspective, hearing that Blackwood Canyon access was one area under analysis by this winter travel plan was interesting because I know how valued that area is in the snowmobile community. We’re not looking to take that area or access to it away.

In fact, we’re not coming at this from the perspective of taking. What we are looking for is a balance that alleviates and minimizes conflict. Just as federal and state regulations have increasingly altered where over-snow vehicles can and cannot go, I also have seen backcountry ski runs lost to commercial development, pollution, crowding (because of newer and better over-snow vehicle technology) and, increasingly, climate change over the past several years.

In Tahoe, with vested stakeholders from both sides working towards a solution, we can help push, adopt and implement a plan that works for all who enjoy the uniqueness of the Tahoe backcountry. While my position is certainly informed by a stance aligned with the human power community, I am not in anyway advocating for an us-versus-them mentality. I think that outdated perspective should be thrown out the door and those who truly care about the Tahoe backcountry should make their voices heard so there are authentic community voices steering this process.

It is going to take some work to pull off, but just like breaking trail, the rewards at the end of the day will be more than worth the effort.

For videos and more coverage on this issue click here to access the RGJ published piece