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Snowmobilers and outdoor enthusiasts packed the small conference room at the Beckwourth Ranger District last Tuesday morning to comment on winter access at Lake Davis.
Voices were raised and barbs exchanged, but Lisa Sedlacek, the plan’s project manager, kept the group on topic.
This was the third public meeting to discuss motorized and non-motorized travel as well as wildlife concerns around the lake during the winter months. Sedlacek presented a new map that proposed groomed trails, staging areas, trails dedicated to non-motorized travel and, perhaps the most controversial, an area west of the lake that would be closed to all motorized traffic. That area was slated for restrictions due to wildlife concerns, principally to protect the nesting areas of three pairs of bald eagles.
The meeting was designed to collect public comment about the proposed plan, though some in the audience said they thought that the Forest Service had already made its decision.
Trent Saxton, a resident who resides at Lake Davis, and perhaps the most outspoken commenter of the morning, peppered the Forest Service representatives with questions about bald eagles and then shared his own research. He suggested that rather than close the entire area, 100-yard perimeters should be established around the nests to protect them.
He then held up images captured by his security camera. They showed military jets flying low over the lake, which he claimed would be far more disruptive to the eagles. “I’m trying to stay somewhat calm while I say, “You’ve lost your frickin’ minds…’”
Plumas County Supervisor Terry Swofford said he thought the bald eagles were just being used as an excuse to close the meadow. “Snowshoers and skiers disturb them more (than snowmobiles),” he said. “I see this as another means of controlling people and I’m absolutely opposed to doing this.”
Swofford went on to compare what was happening with the eagles at Lake Davis to what happened with the spotted owl. “I see it like the spotted owl that closed our timber industry,” he said. “We went from one of the richest counties to one of the poorest.”
Sedlacek asked the audience, “If we eliminated the hash marks (referring to the meadow closure area) would that be OK?”
“Yes, we’d all go home,” Saxton said.
But it wasn’t to be that simple.
There were those in and out of the audience who favored closing the meadow. Sedlacek read excerpts from several letters she had received, including one from a Portola resident who wrote that they liked snow-covered meadows in pristine condition and “don’t let the snowmobilers mess it up.”
Bob Rowen, a Reno resident and vice president of Snow Lands Network, who attended the meeting, said that “setting aside some area for a quiet, peaceful ski,” could expand the area’s tourism base with skiers.
“An infusion of cash could come from outside the area,” he said, and added that he thought the input “was heavily weighted toward local sentiment.” His organization “promotes opportunities for quality, human-powered winter recreation and protecting winter wonderlands.”
But there were other parts of the map to discuss in addition to the west side meadow.
Local veterinarian Martin Schafer was one of many in the audience who favored making no changes to the lake’s winter access and wasn’t a proponent of grooming the trails. He said that he had been riding snowmobiles in the area for 20 years and has witnessed a decline in the number of users. “The area is used less and less,” he said. “Why don’t we just wait and see.”
He also expressed concern that the meetings weren’t well advertised and weren’t at a desirable time. “Ten a.m. on a Tuesday morning. How many working people can be here?” he asked.
Schafer drew support from 35-year local resident Joseph Gottas, who said, “I’m with Martin Schafer. I don’t think we should have any more restrictions.” His remark drew applause from the audience.
Some attendees agreed that they didn’t want groomed trails such as those at Gold Lake, which one man described as “a zoo.”
While many local riders didn’t want groomed trails, Jeanne Graham of J&J Grizzly Store and Camping Resort said that they were an important draw for tourists. “This county is going to die if we don’t get people in here. It’s economics.”
“Personally, I’d like to see fewer people up here, but I get what you’re saying,” admitted Schafer. But he suggested that marking the trails better and in a more clear manner would suffice. “There’s nothing about a groomed trail that makes it better,” he said.
Still others said that having a groomed trail could provide better access for more inexperienced snowmobilers. Saxton said that perhaps a groomed trail would be appropriate on the east side, but he didn’t think that it required the expense of a groomer.
Sedlacek said she was trying to get consensus on what should be done, but both the county’s public works director, Bob Perreault, and the deputy forest supervisor, Laurence Crabtree, said that the project would have to follow the environmental process.
“The NEPA process is not a democratic process,” Perreault said. “Consensus in the room won’t buy you anything.”
He explained that an analysis of options would need to be presented to the public for comment, but that the decision-makers would have the final say. He said that he expected a coordinated effort with the county.
Crabtree said that the process “would stay connected with the county,” and a couple of alternatives would be proposed, analyzed and then put out for the public to review.
When pressed for a timeline, Sedlacek said that there wasn’t one. She would collect the comments and then the forest supervisor would advise her on how to proceed.
Comments may be mailed to Lisa Sedlacek, Project Manager, Plumas National Forest, Beckwourth Ranger District, P.O. Box 7, Blairsden, CA 96103; dropped off at the ranger station at 23 Mohawk Road in Blairsden; faxed to 836-0493 or emailed to email@example.com.
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