On June 17th, 2013, then Eldorado National Forest Supervisor, Kathryn Hardy issued her Record of Decision (ROD) on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS). As posted on this website (June 17th), 42 trails in the Eldorado NF were closed due to a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity and others in Federal Court found that the Eldorado NF was negligent in its travel planning in relation to where trails cross wet meadows. Subsequently, all but 18 meadows were found to not be in conflict with S&G 100 (the regulation/specification concerning these wet meadows).
These trails include Deer Valley/Clover Valley, Barrett Lake, Strawberry Pass, Emigrant, and others that are used, because of their proximity to our present membership, very heavily. This puts an awful burden on the Rubicon Trail as it is the viable alternate.
Supervisor Hardy selected Alternative 3 of the 4 alternatives proposed in the SDEIS, which left the remaining trails closed until mitigation efforts are concluded (on a trail-by-trail basis). N4WDA supported Alternative 1, which left the trails open while mitigation efforts moved forward.
On July 26th, N4WDA sent a letter to the days NF appealing this decision appealing several points in the ROD. These included:
- An alternative 5 was studied which was never made available to those who commented on the SDEIS.
- The Deer Valley/Clover Valley trail was listed as medium in recreational value, whereas, it is probably the most used trail in the Eldorado NF.
- The ROD mentioned the need to study the impact of the Yellow-Legged Frog and the Yosemite Toad as to whether their habitats might be an issue in the reopening of these trails (another issue not discussed in the SDEIS).
On August 7th, a meeting of the appellants was held at the Eldorado NF Headquarters in Placerville, CA. Don Spuhler, N4WDA Secretary was in attendance. Of the appellants, 10 were OHV-oriented, either representing groups or themselves; several were known preservationists; several county governments were included; and the remainder were of unknown sympathy.
On August 8th, the new Eldorado NF Supervisor, Laurence Crabtree, issued an Informal Disposition Agreement which all of the appellants were asked to sign, thereby removing the appeals. This agreement varied greatly from the discussion at the Placerville meeting, obviously being influenced by the Forest Service lawyers in their desire to keep things from returning to court.
Over the next 45 days this agreement was amended several times, but never addressed our primary goals. N4WDA asked for the following to be added to the agreement:
- A drop-dead date for the completion of the mitigation efforts for each trail. If this date was not met, the trail would reopen while the mitigation efforts continued.
- The Forest Service would meet with interested appellants at the site of the alleged violation of S&G 100 to explain the hydrologists report and to discuss whether volunteer labor from our OHV organizations might be utilized to save time and money and to convince us to support grant applications for mitigation funds.
- Remove a requirement that each of the 42 trails be evaluated twice yearly to determine if environmental damage has been occurring.
Of our three suggestions, the only concession was that after the mitigation efforts were designed, “where appropriate, corrective actions will be implemented with the help of the OHV community, the Environmental community and other volunteers under the direction of the Forest Service”.
As time ran out for the appeal, many emails were traded among the OHV community, and, it became readily apparent that if we did not sign off on the appeals, it would only further delay the reopening of the trails.
A subsequent email from the Eldorado NF verified that all appellants had signed off on the agreement.
All in all, a very small win for the OHV community, but a very large opportunity to have learned about the process.
We can now presume that these trails will reopen, one at a time, in at least three more years and, if funding is a problem, longer than that…..