USFS - Tahoe/Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit NF Patrol District
I appreciate that the TNF supports both OHV and OSV programs, and further appreciate the complexity of maintaining year-round officers and equipment that this entails. With that in mind, I have been disappointed to see how little of the Forest is left to cross-over uses such as OHVs used over the snow, in the docs TNF has prepared for the Route Designation / Travel Management process… this makes me question winter funding for these programs. I do support continuation of winter funding for OSVs like snowmobiles, but expect to lobby for decreased funding if the current trend continues of ‘managing away’ (a.k.a. ‘closing) roads to use by wheeled vehicles over the snow. Leaving a few scant roads open to wheeled vehicles to use in the winter is a travesty that has received too little attention in Travel Management. Paved roads can be managed for wheeled over-the-snow access in tandem with traditional OSV access – users simply need educated to Share the Road, much as bicyclists and cars share the paved roads in the Forest. Alternately, if the Forest can’t see their way to mandating a road-sharing system, certain areas need set aside primarily for wheeled over-the-snow travel. There’s a balance to be found somewhere short of the current extreme, where nearly every road is designated as legal for OSVs, and wheeled over-the-snow users are outlawed. I challenge TNF and LTBMU to drive better balance for these users.
I’m most involved with 4x4 OHV recreation, but I am increasingly concerned about the loss of high-quality single-track motorcycle experiences on all public land, and especially in the TNF. I hope that the enforcement efforts documented in this grant proposal will be matched with an ongoing effort to include trails (especially single-track) that were missed during Route Designation. All Forests have repeatedly emphasized throughout the Route Designation process that the FEIS and ROD are not the end, but rather, are the beginning of a continued management process that will include annual consideration and review of routes for addition into the Forests’ System of Roads and Trails. Other Forests have fallen short of this commitment for annual review, but I hope that TNF will deliver to their commitments.
I am excited to see Rattlesnake Road, Gold Valley, Fordyce Jeep Trail, and Rubicon Jeep Trail prioritized for OHV-related enforcement efforts. In specific context to the Rubicon Trail, I have not yet seen much LEO presence from TNF forest protection officers and LEOs on the trail, but I look forward to it. As enforcement has become more meaningful on the west side of the Rubicon Trail, illegal use has put more pressure on the east side of the trail, since these users have come to expect little law enforcement there. Generally, I have not seen much OHV enforcement on the actual Jeep trails and would hope that this will change as a result of funding this grant – indeed, much of my support is contingent upon it. Some LEOs believe that a highly-modified 4x4 vehicle is critical for enforcing OHV routes, but time and time again we find that officers on foot bring provide the best education and enforcement, followed a distant second by officers on motorcycles or quads. Frankly, I think that 4x4s insulate the officers when they are on the trail and impair their ability to contact, engage, and be most effective. One set of priorities that I don’t think are particularly of value is the stated intention to patrol meadows, cultural area, and restoration sites – unless these are receiving active abuse, I think these resources could best be focused on patrolling the area OHV trails, and in so doing, they’d be in the area to educate/enforce as necessary for any OHV violations on these sites. It makes little sense to me to prioritize enforcement on empty, unmarked, untrafficked sites, otherwise.
I support emphasis on engaging enforcement through education, working with local user groups, and hope to see this continue and expand. Informational open houses at major trailheads would work particularly well – depending on the season, a hot cup of coffee or a cold bottle of water are great icebreakers between TNF staff and users, and with so many rules in flux as a result of Route Designation, informal forums like trailhead discussions will be invaluable to communicating rules changes to the users, most of whom would like to be legal, it’s just that the system is so difficult to understand that it is hard to be fully legal when the rules are in such flux. This sort of visible appearance at trailheads not only helps with educating on changes in rules, but sends a visibly message to criminals that Forest staff is meaningfully present on the trails. This would be especially welcome at the campgrounds, parking, and staging areas that feed Fordyce Trail from Interstate 80. A lengthy string of break-ins continues every year, showing no signs of stopping, and no enforcement agency has stepped up to meaningfully intervene. I’d like to see the Tahoe National Forest step up and lead with enforcement on this issue. Local club meetings are another great way to get education out, and prioritizing attendance by a TNF representative will pay huge dividends in user awareness and buy-in. Please reach out to local clubs in the next years!
Most of the Direct Expense Line Items look fair, but I am concerned about funding for non-LEO positions, especially those that appear to not impact OHV/OSV use. North Tahoe Backcountry Ski Patrol, Avalanche Forecasters, and etc. should be disallowed unless they can be clearly explained to positively affect OHV/OSV usage. I suspect that the Backcountry Ski Patrol would be displeased that there efforts were being used to support nearly $40K worth of match to OHV/OSV grants! I made this comment last year and it was not meaningfully addressed then, and here it is again now… please explain or remove non-OHV positions from the grant request.
That said, I am generally encouraged by documentation of volunteer matching and heartily encourage Forest management to do even more of this. Many thousands of undocumented hours are spent on the Forest every year by volunteers, and if the Forest works harder to formally document these, it draws them closer to the volunteers and helps with the match to OHMVR. This is truly a win-win-win proposition, since it binds federal, state, and local resources together to work on the trail resources that they all value.
This is a modest grant with specific commits and budgets, and I’m looking forward to seeing TNF LEOs on the trail this year. With the caveats and concerns mentioned above, I am providing limited support this law enforcement grant, even as I hope that these will work well with trail users, displaying appropriate levels of both social and professional interaction. I understand that registration, and insurance (in the case of street-registered vehicles) are necessary, but I hope that TNF enforcement efforts will give higher-priority to enforcing against drunk driving and resource damage.
Thank you for considering my comments. [Randy Burleson - 4/4/11]