Some angry Inyo-Mono people now privately say they see a “sage brush rebellion” about to erupt. It’s all about back country road closures under what’s called the Inyo National Forest 2009 Motorized Travel Management decision. ( See Forest Service Implementation Plan below story.)
Callers to the newsroom told us some people are removing road barriers and said numerous roads have been closed around Mammoth Lakes as well as some in the Coyote area above Bishop, in addition to other places.
Forest officials say that in response to the “tremendous growth in off-highway vehicle recreation on public lands,” they began a planning process to develop a “sustainable system of routes” and protection for natural and cultural resources. Marty Hornick, forest trails coordinator for the Inyo Forest, said that the 3,000 miles of roads on the Inyo were reduced by 700 miles after a series of public meetings and field trips.
A Forest Service hand-out says the 2009 decision added over 1,000 miles of new motorized trails and roads to the Forest and slated 700 miles for closure – 200 of those miles in Inyo and about 400 miles in Mono with the rest scattered in other counties. Barriers, gates, signs and monitoring have gone into effect. The Forest says signs and barriers have been placed at over 1100 intersections of “unauthorized routes.” There are maps that show legal routes throughout the Eastern Sierra.
Asked about reports of removal of barriers, Hornick said that surveys show 60 to 80% of road barriers are still in place. But the Coyote area shows 60 to 80% of the road barriers have been torn out. He said some roads are blocked by rocks and brush but others are closed off with lumber barricades. He admitted that “People have been pulling them out or crushing them.” Hornick also said that a few closure are “being reconsidered.”
Some reports said that people have torn down and taken cameras placed on barricaded roads. Hornick said he did not think cameras have been used so far this year, but he did say law enforcement would investigate evidence at vandalism scenes.
Asked if he had heard of the rebellion over the road closures and complaints about Friends of the Inyo working to put up road barriers, Hornick said he had heard rumors of “Enemies of the Inyo”. He said there are some “passionate voices trying to rally against the Forest Service.”
Hornick confirmed that the Travel Management Plan was mandated by the Chief of the Forest Service, and that this movement started in the Nixon administration.
To reports of vandalized road closures in the Mammoth area, Hornick said that he had no knowledge of that. He did want to make it clear that the barriers are not meant to keep mountain bikers out, just motorcycles and ATVs. Hornick also confirmed that the group, Friends of the Inyo did receive a $600,000 state grant to work under Forest Service direction to put up closures and to rehabilitate and restore damaged routes.
Hornick said, “If people think we are in violation of the 2009 road decision, they should tell us.” A Forest Service hand-out says that road and trail maintenance continues on around 2200 miles of OHV-legal routes. The implementation plan below spells out more details and gives phone numbers for comments and concerns.
Travel Management Implementation on the Inyo National Forest
~~ An Update for 2012 ~~
Over the last two years the Forest Service has been physically implementing a variety of actions that were directed in the Inyo National Forest 2009 Motorized Travel Management decision. The intent of this handout is to update you on the status of the implementation and the plans for 2012.
The planning process for Motorized Travel Management began on national forests across the country about eight years ago, in response to the tremendous growth in off-highway vehicle recreation on public lands. The planning process and subsequent decisions carried out the direction contained in the 2005 National Travel Management Rule. The goal of motorized travel management is to develop and maintain a sustainable system of routes that provide an array of opportunities for access and recreation, as well as protection for natural and cultural resources.
The public was actively engaged every step of the way during Travel Management planning here on the Inyo NF, attending meetings and field trips and providing valuable input into the process. The 2009 decision added over 1,000 miles of new motorized trails and roads to the Forest’s system, while approximately 700 miles of unauthorized routes were slated for closure. This resulted in a system of over 2,350 miles of designated roads and motorized trails on the Forest, with about 2,200 miles available to Off-Highway Vehicles.
Front-country areas of the Inyo NF offer great opportunity for high quality recreation experiences. Through the development and maintenance of designated motorized routes there are a multitude of opportunities for motorized recreation as well as motorized access to a wide array of non-motorized recreational activities such as fishing, hunting, climbing, mountain biking and hiking.
How is the Inyo NF Implementing the 2009 Travel Management Decision?
“Implementation” consists of many different types of actions.
The Motor Vehicle Use Map or “MVUM” – Implementation began early in 2010 with the publication of the MVUM. The MVUM is the legal document that is published annually designating a system of roads and trails that are open to motor vehicles. A new version will be released for the 2012 summer season.
Mitigations – Several of the routes that were added to the national forest motorized system require some form of “mitigation”, or treatment, to reduce the adverse effects of roads and trails on natural and cultural resources. Mitigations may include creek crossing stabilization, surface hardening, drainage, barricading, seasonal closures (gates), signage and monitoring. Many of these mitigations, once performed, allow previously unauthorized routes to be added to the MVUM and be opened to motorized vehicles.
Maintenance and Identification of Roads & Trails – A desired outcome of implementation is to make the legal motorized system routes clearly identifiable and navigable by all motorized users. To achieve this, over the last two years and over the next two years, the Inyo NF is focusing on the maintenance of system roads and trails, the signing of open routes, and the blocking and/or disguising of routes that were not added to the system and therefore are now illegal for motor vehicle use. Making route information readily available to users is a high priority for us.
Who is Doing the Implementing?
Work is being accomplished by a wide array of Forest Service personnel with substantial help from volunteers and local groups such as a local Youth Conservation Corps, Student Conservation Association, and others, assisting with implementation. A local stewardship group, “Friends of the Inyo”, obtained a grant from the CA Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division to assist with restoration work as directed in the Travel Management decision. This group, as well as the Eastern Sierra Four-Wheel-Drive Club and others, have helped manage the route system by placing signs, repairing roads and trails and restoring roads under the direction and oversight of Forest Service staff.
Implementation Efforts to Date
Since 2010, several categories of activities have been conducted as part of implementing the Travel Management decision on the Inyo National Forest.
Mitigations – Over 60 specified prescribed “mitigation” treatments of roads, trails, or adjacent resources including:
15 barriers to confine use to travel ways to protect adjacent resources
3 gates for seasonal access
23 signs for resource protection
3 meadow stabilization/repairs
8 creek crossings/fords
new water bars/drainage on 10 roads and trails
hardened surfacing (aggregate) applied to 2 roads
Routes added post-mitigation – 31 roads and trails, totaling 20 miles, have been opened for motorized use and added to the Transportation System based on completion of “pre-designation” mitigations. The 2009 decision designated these routes, contingent upon the completion of specific work. Mitigations which can stabilize and open additional routes continue to be a high priority for the Forest.
Identification of the Designated System, and closure of unauthorized routes – Signs and barriers have been placed at over 1100 intersections of unauthorized routes to reduce confusion about which roads and trails are legal for motorized use. Some unauthorized routes have been disguised through the placement of brush and rock, and loosening of compacted soils.
Nearly 1,000 route marker signs have been placed on system roads and trails, helping people navigate the designated system, and find their way to recreational destinations. Publication of the 2010 and 2012 Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) which show legal travel routes have been printed and distributed from Forest offices and visitor centers.
User Information – Two high quality maps were developed in partnership with the California Trail Users Coalition (CTUC) and the Forest Service, through funding by the CA OHMVR division. These show legal routes throughout the Eastern Sierra, as well as recreational sites, topographic and reference information, difficulty levels of some trails, and highlighted routes. Text includes descriptions of key recreational opportunities, safety and Tread Lightly information, and contacts for emergencies and local agencies. These maps are available at local Forest Service offices and visitor centers at no charge.
Ongoing Maintenance Efforts – Road and trail maintenance continues on approximately 2,200 miles of OHV-legal routes. These are maintained for high-clearance and trail vehicles so management and maintenance are focused on keeping the routes stable, open to the designated use, and preventing resource damage. Obstacles have been removed, waterbars and culverts cleared, signs replaced, and dense overgrowth cut back.
Monitoring and Reporting – Monitoring for route and resource conditions continues. Each year, 20-30% of the motorized transportation system is being formally monitored for compliance with soil conservation plan standards. Informal and random patrols and monitoring for vehicle trespass and compliance occur on the vast majority of the system every year.
Planning for intensive restoration of unauthorized routes – Various on-going planning efforts are focused on complete restoration of closed routes in locations where adverse resource effects will continue even with no motorized use. Proposed activities are being analyzed under the National Environmental Planning Act (NEPA) and include public involvement.
Enforcement and Compliance – Illegal off-route travel is being documented, resource damage is being treated, and tracks are being obliterated. Educational efforts, signage, and blocking of unauthorized routes continue in order to reduce the need for law enforcement action. Vandalism of closures and signs has occurred, as well as illegal driving off of the designated system. This damage is costly to restore or replace, needlessly wasting taxpayer funds and diverting efforts that could be made to improving OHV management. Law enforcement efforts will be stepped up to address violations, especially in areas where vandalism is frequent.
Implementation Focus for 2012
During this third year of travel management implementation on the Inyo NF the focus will be on completing mitigations, blocking unauthorized routes, maintaining roads to standards, signing system routes and planning for the restoration of unauthorized routes where resource conditions or issues warrant further action. In 2012, Forest Service staff will also be monitoring system roads, evaluating resource, road and trail conditions and making recommendations for future actions to improve the route system and mitigate resource concerns.
On the Mammoth and Mono Lake Ranger Districts, emphasis will be given to the signing of system roads, blocking and disguising of unauthorized routes and completion of mitigations in several areas east of Highway 395. The Glass Mountains, Sagehen Summit and Bald Mountain areas are primary focus areas. The Districts will also be re-visiting work areas on the west side of Highway 395 to complete implementation efforts, improve wayfinding and evaluate past implementation efforts. Maintenance is scheduled to occur on the Lookout and Crater Mountain loops, in addition to several other roads.
On the White Mountain and Mt. Whitney Ranger Districts, priority areas for signing, blocking and disguising unauthorized routes and completion of mitigations include Casa Diablo, Tom’s Place, Glass Mountain, and the Westgard Pass area. Mitigation implementation will focus on low complexity mitigations such as signs for resource protection that open routes to public use upon completion. Maintenance of closures and signs will occur throughout the Districts with emphasis on past focus areas such as Coyote Flat and Mazourka. Route maintenance and patrols will also occur throughout the Districts with increased efforts planned for the Monache and Coyote areas.
Ongoing Changes to the System and Emerging Issues
While the Forest does not intend to revise substantial elements of the 2009 decision, Travel Management is a dynamic and continuing process, allowing for changes in the Transportation System when necessary, and as appropriate planning efforts are completed.
In the process of implementing the 2009 decision, Forest Service crews, partners and the public have discovered that inadvertent errors were made in the Travel Management decision. The most common errors stem from inadequate field information about the condition of the routes. In cases where multiple routes accessed the same point, the best or most-used route may not have been designated. Mapping and typographical errors have also resulted in some discontinuous routes or other confusing factors. These issues are being addressed and resolved on an ongoing basis and will be noted in errata to the Motorized Travel Management decision and in site-specific decision documents. The changes will be reflected in the MVUM during updates.
During the initial 2002-2005 inventory process, certain smaller profile routes were missed, and were not analyzed for inclusion in the system. The Forest Service is committed to determining the status, condition and need for these routes and has requested funding through grants from the CA OHMVR Division to conduct further analysis to improve the motorized travel network.
Physical closures of unauthorized routes have occasionally affected non-motorized travelers who can still legally use the routes. While most closures are relatively simple barriers that can be stepped over or bypassed by hikers or mountain bikes, some restoration and disguising methods make travel difficult for short sections. The Forest Service is addressing and correcting these on a site-by-site basis to allow for appropriate non-motorized use
Your Comments, Observations and Suggestions are Welcomed and Encouraged
Throughout the implementation process, the Forest Service, our partners and the public will continue to identify locations where inadvertent errors were made, places where non-motorized users may be impacted, and new opportunities to improve the motorized and non-motorized recreation opportunities. As a forest user, we encourage you to report your observations, provide feedback and comments and offer suggestions. Your input should be directed to:
Jon Kazmierski, Recreation Officer for the Mammoth and Mono Lake Ranger Districts, 760-924-5503, firstname.lastname@example.org, PO Box 148, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
Nick Ettema, OHV Leader for White Mountain and Mt. Whitney Ranger Districts, 760-876-6211, email@example.com, PO Box 8, Lone Pine, CA, 93545
Marty Hornick, Trails Program Manager for the Inyo National Forest Service, 760-873-2461, firstname.lastname@example.org, 351 Pacu Lane, Suite 200, Bishop, CA 93514