Snowmobile Alliance of Western States Cutting through deceptions & misperceptions to protect YOUR RIGHT to ride!

1May/06Off

ALERT: Tony Grove – Franklin Basin Winter Recreation Project

SAWS Action Alert

Comment Deadline: May 15, 2006 

Send comments to:

    Rob Cruz, Logan District Ranger
    1500 East Highway 89
    Logan, UT 84321

    Phone: 435-755-3620

    E-mail: comments-intermtn-wasatch-cache-logan@fs.fed.us

Detailed information, including a scoping map, is available here:
http://www.fs.fed.us/r4/wcnf/projects/proposed/index.shtml

The Wasatch-Cache National Forest has decided there is a need for more management of motorized and non-motorized winter recreation in the Tony Grove-Franklin Basin area of the forest.  The problem is they forgot to include motorized recreation when considering the needs of all of the forest users.  The Forest Service is proposing to close to snowmobile use the Twin Creek drainage and Bunchgrass Creek drainage, as well as the area around the Hells Kitchen yurt.

This means that the Forest Service needs to hear from SNOWMOBILERS TODAY!  In your letter, make sure to include your name and address; that your comments are regarding the Tony Grove – Franklin Basin Winter Recreation Projects; and ask that your name be added to the project mailing list.

At the end of this alert is a letter to the Forest Service from the Utah Snowmobile Association (USA).  SAWS strongly urges that you read the letter in its entirety before drafting your comments to the Forest Service.  This USA letter is the reason this alert has been prepared.  Please thank USA for their efforts on snowmobilers’ behalf, and if you are a Utah snowmobiler and are not a USA member, please join them so they can continue to benefit snowmobilers.

Some talking points in your letter should include: 

  • The entire over-the-snow connecting trail between Franklin Basin and the Tony Grove parking lot should accommodate the state groomer.  This will assure regular grooming of this corridor and provide a clearer boundary as well as provide a corridor through for the big game winter range.  This will also increase safety by allowing more room for snowmobiles to pass other snowmobiles or skiers.
  • Tell the Forest Service how often you and your family have snowmobiled in the Tony Grove - Franklin Basin area.  Include the number of outings per year, group size, how many years, etc.
  • Tell the Forest Service how much it means to you and your family, to be able to snowmobile in the Tony Grove Franklin Basin area.
  • Snowmobiler safety is an important issue.  Make this clear.
  • Big game winter range is an important issue.  Make sure the Forest Service knows that you are not inclined to disturb this habitat. Also point out that many studies have shown that wildlife is more frightened and flees greater distances when startled by non-motorized recreationists that they do not hear approaching.
  • Clearly defined boundaries that follow natural features and are easy to observe is an important issue.
  • Historical and varied snowmobile access & egress from the snowmobile trailheads is an important issue.
  • Incremental closures over the years have resulted in over half of the Logan Ranger District being closed to snowmobiles while the snowmobiling public continues to grow. The Logan Ranger District needs to provide more snowmobiling opportunities, not fewer.
  • The 2003 closure created confusing and difficult to observe boundaries.
  • The 2003 closure caused safety and access problems for snowmobilers.
  • The 2003 closure affected access to areas where you've enjoyed snowmobiling for many years (say where and how long you’ve snowmobiled in or through those areas).
  • Along the lower part of the Tony Grove Road, the boundary must be adjusted to open the area east and north of the road so snowmobiles from the parking loop can access the groomed trail over snow rather than on the plowed road.
  • Boundaries could be further simplified, improving snowmobiler compliance, reducing management burden, and making enforcement easier, while still protecting big game winter range by opening everything north of the proposed southern boundary, using the proposed western boundary, and using the over-the-snow connecting trail as the eastern boundary. Even with this, about half of the Logan Ranger District (approximately 141,000 acres out of 275,000 acres) is closed to snowmobiles, and all of it is open to skiers and other non-motorized winter recreationists.

For this alert, SAWS is utilizing information received from Utah SAWS members, Utah Snowmobile Association and Top of Utah Snowmobile Association.

Please forward this to anyone that rides a snowmobile, regardless of where they ride. Ask them to write the Forest Service.  The Forest Service needs to know that snowmobilers are not willing to be ignored.

Thank you all for your interest in and dedication to protecting YOUR right to ride.

Scott
Snowmobile Alliance of Western States

Protecting the right to ride for the owners of 303,604 registered snowmobiles (2005) in the western United States.

Copyright © 2006 Snowmobile Alliance of Western States. All Rights Reserved.

Permission is granted to distribute this information in whole or in part, as long as Snowmobile Alliance of Western States (SAWS) is acknowledged as the source. If you are not yet a member of SAWS and you would like receive these alerts, please sign up on our web site at http://www.snowmobile-alliance.org/

 ######### Letter from the Utah Snowmobile Association #########

Rob Cruz
Logan Ranger District
1500 East Highway 89
Logan, Utah 84321

Re: Scoping Document – Tony Grove-Franklin Basin Winter Recreation

Dear Rob:

The Utah Snowmobile Association (“USA”) is providing you with the following comments regarding scoping for the proposal to identify winter motorized closures in the Tony Grove – Franklin Basin areas and construction of an over-the-snow trail between the respective parking areas.  First, we would like to “Thank” the Forest Service for the effort and foresight in conducting the Mediation/Arbitration process that was undertaken in 2005 and the resulting decision.  Although challenged by other special interest groups that were at the table, we believe the application of the snowmobile/multiple-use proposal accepted on July 22, 2005, (utilized, for the most part, during the 2005-2006 winter season), reasonably addressed snowmobiler concerns and provided ample opportunity to backcountry skiers desiring a winter recreation experience.

USA generally supports the proposal identified in the section “What is being proposed?” within the Scoping Document, except for needed adjustments discussed below.  Our support comes with trying very hard to find a balance among winter motorized and non-motorized desired experiences that will also make sense on-the-ground and provide for a self-monitoring compliance effort due to easily discernable boundaries.

Preliminary Issues

The Scoping Document has identified seven preliminary issues, six of which relate totally to skier and/or environmental concerns, and none of which attempt to address potential issues for the snowmobile public.  While we agree the seven issues exist, there needs to be further analysis to comply with the full intent of the March 2003 Record of Decision, since snowmobilers are certainly “local users” who are to be a part of the boundary determination.  Additional issues that need to be considered are:

  • Deficiency in snowmobile opportunity
  • Snowmobile access and egress from trailheads
  • Snowmobiler safety
  • Clearly defined boundaries
  • Design for over-the-snow connecting trail

Deficiency in Snowmobile Opportunity

Aggregate closures over the years on the Logan Ranger District that have impacted snowmobile access have resulted in an ever-shrinking area, while the participation in such recreation has increased significantly.  Statistics available from the state of Utah show there were 12,645 registered snowmobile owners statewide in 1986, compared to 34,499 at the end of 2004, a 173% increase over this 19-year period.  While not every registered owner is going to show up on the Logan Ranger District, it is clear the usage level by snowmobilers within the District has experienced a similar percentage change.  Over half of the entire District is being closed to snowmobile access (about 141,000 acres out of the total 275,000 acres), contrary to the trend in desired experience.  This is occurring while the entire District, including “Wilderness” is available to satisfy the desired experience of backcountry skiers.  In an era of such constraint and scrutiny, the snowmobile public is trying desperately to at least “hang on to” the traditional acreage that has been available to them, while actively pursuing trade-offs to accommodate the demands of non-motorized winter users.  Consistent with the direction from Deputy Under Secretary David Tenny in his memorandum of April 4, 2005, it is important to “ensure that all users have ample and safe motorized and non-motorized access to the fullest possible range of winter recreation opportunities on the forest.”  It is not unreasonable to expect other winter forest users to share slightly less than half of the District.

Snowmobile Access and Egress from Trailheads –

The presence and dominance of snowmobile use out of the Tony Grove and Franklin Basin trailheads has been clearly evident for more than three decades.  The variety of the terrain, existence of a groomed focal point, quality of snow conditions, diversity for a wide range of rider skill levels, opportunity to avoid avalanches (i.e. safe riding conditions), incredible beauty, plowed routes to the trailheads, plowed off-highway parking and perfect setting for family and small group outings are all important factors to the snowmobiler, which in fact exist at these two trailheads.  The fulfillment of these desired experiences and/or conditions need to be fully analyzed in the outcome of scoping.

Snowmobiler Safety –

One of the issues important to snowmobilers, which was also addressed within the Mediation/Arbitration process, is the impact of boundary decisions on the overall safety of snowmobilers riding in the Tony Grove – Franklin Basin areas.  Changing weather conditions are a given in the backcountry and it is critical to have legitimate exit routes from winter motorized areas to reach the trailheads safely.  It is paramount that safety be given a high priority in scoping for this project.  Riders need consideration for the ability to avoid extreme avalanche danger and find route opportunities that allow for safe return to a trailhead when sunny days quickly change to low visibility, whiteout, conditions.  It is very clear the 2003 Record of Decision caused the potential for significant safety concerns for the snowmobiling public that certainly need to be mitigated.

Clearly Defined Boundaries –

It is important to the success of a winter recreation plan to have clearly defined boundaries in the differentiation of motorized and non-motorized areas that follow natural features (such as drainages and ridgelines).  We believe it is impossible to get buy-in and achieve self-compliance on non-motorized boundaries unless they are easily observable and strike a reasonable balance.  The initial boundaries reflected in the 2003 Record of Decision were very confusing, nearly impossible to observe (particularly under changing winter conditions) and would likely force bad judgment decisions during stormy weather and under extreme avalanche danger conditions.

With respect to boundary analysis it is important to revisit the area along the lower portion of the Tony Grove Road on both the east and north sides.  This lower area should be open to snowmobiles to accommodate getting to and from the groomed connecting snowmobile trail and prevent riders from being forced into the plowed road.

Design for Over-the-Snow Connecting Trail –

USA fully supports the development of an over-the-snow connecting trail between the Franklin Basin and Tony Grove parking areas.  However, we firmly believe the full length of the trail should be designed to specifications of 16 to 20 feet wide to accommodate the use of standard grooming equipment.  The safety bottleneck created with the configuration of an 8-foot wide section from White Pine to Tony Grove needs to be avoided.  We also see the need to explore partnering with the State to provide the grooming of the full connector trail in conjunction with their current grooming effort on the traditional Franklin Basin and Tony Grove groomed trails.  Our support for the connecting trail was previously documented in a letter to you dated November 23, 2005.  In that letter, we identified the following positive attributes.

  • A wider trail that accommodates grooming is most likely to diffuse skier-snowmobiler conflicts because it would tend to keep snowmobiles on a designated route through a non-motorized area.  This is highly consistent with the specific direction indicated by the Deputy Under Secretary for Natural Resources.
  • Again, the connector trail will likely provide the least disruption to any potential wintering wildlife.
  • The connector trail provides an important exit option from allowed motorized areas in the event of hazardous changes in weather conditions or avoidance of avalanche danger.
  • Significant volunteer effort and resources are available to assist in bringing the connector trail to reality.
  • A wider trail alternative is important to safety when considering the potential traffic among both snowmobilers and skiers.  The wider the trail, the less possibility for accidents and injury.
  • We believe the benefits of a wider trail considerably out-weight the minimal impact of taking out a few extra trees and/or bucking up downed logs.
  • Safety for the grooming equipment and operator becomes an issue if the trail is too narrow.  

In conjunction with construction of the Franklin Basin – Tony Grove connector trail we believe that consideration needs to be given for defining a winter motorized “setback” or “trail corridor” that provides for a slight deviation from the standard trail width.  We suggest a corridor of 50 feet.  The logic for this consideration is to recognize the need to provide for ample space for snowmobiles to pull over and stop safely (particularly important for reassembling groups) and allowing for avoidance of natural obstacles or room to avoid non-motorized users.  Without a reasonable deviation, well-intended users would automatically become “violators” and potentially incite the conflict generating agenda of motorized adversaries.

Alternatives

In addition to the proposal in the Scoping Document and the required consideration of a “No Action” alternative, there may be another realistic possibility that should be analyzed.  We know it is important to establish alternatives that cover a reasonable range of possibilities to fulfill the objective of establishing boundaries for motorized and non-motorized recreation under this project.  Within this objective, we also contend that important criteria should be: simplification of boundaries, improved snowmobiler compliance, reduction of administrative and management burden, making enforcement easier, protection of habitat for possible wintering big game, accommodation of motorized and non-motorized desired experiences and mitigation of safety concerns.  Accordingly, another alternative that meets these criteria would be to open snowmobile access to everything north of the proposed southern boundary, keep the proposed western boundary and use the over-the-snow connecting trail for the eastern boundary.  We believe this boundary configuration, coupled with simply plowing existing parking lot locations that are adjacent to non-motorized areas (i.e. designate “For Skier Parking Only”), would still reflect about half of the Logan Ranger District as closed to snowmobiles and allow for ample non-motorized experiences.

Conclusion

The competition for “exclusive use” of the Logan Ranger District for winter recreation, although understandable, is very much contrary to the objective that our public lands should be “managed with a sustainable, multiple use philosophy.”  USA believes that snowmobilers are willing to accept reasonable access restrictions, but there comes a point in the management process where it has to be understood that users have to “share” our public lands.  Our Utah riders and other snowmobile visitors view the privilege for winter access as a way of life that enhances quality by providing fun, mental, physical and social benefits.  We see these values as equal in importance to opposing beliefs and remain committed to finding a reasonable balance for the pursuit of our form of recreation.  We want to stay involved in the balance of the “Tony Grove – Franklin Basin Winter Recreation” project and would be glad to provide you with any further detail or clarification of our perspective.  Please use the contact identified on this letterhead.  We thank you for this opportunity to comment and hope you will give appropriate consideration to our views.

                                                                        Sincerely,

                                                                        Curtis C. Kennedy
                                                                        Utah Snowmobile Association
                                                                        Director – Public Lands

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