Group Claims Forest Service Fails To Limit Snowmobilers

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The leader of the successful effort to ban snowmobiles from parts of a Sierra meadow above Lake Tahoe says the Forest Service is failing to rein in trespassers who drive the machines into wilderness areas near Mount Rose.

"It's still a problem. We're very concerned," said Gail Ferrell of the Snowlands Network, a nonprofit advocacy group representing backcountry skiers and other muscle-powered recreationists.

Forest Service officials maintain the separation of snowmobiles from quieter forms of winter recreation at Tahoe Meadows appears to be working well three years after the regulations were put in place.

"Are there challenges up there? You bet," said Gary Schiff, chief of the agency's Carson ranger district.

"But you talk to the average person up there and they love it," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

In 2001, the Forest Service banned snowmobiles from much of the four square miles of meadows near the Mount Rose summit southwest of Reno. They did so at the urging of Ferrell and others who claimed the machines posed a danger and ruined the backcountry experience of skiers, snowshoers and others.

Snowmobiles still are allowed on the northwest corner of Tahoe Meadows, where they can access steep terrain to the north.

With a $40,000 grant, the Forest Service doubled the time rangers patrolled the area during the past winter. They were helped by volunteer snowmobile patrol members with the North Tahoe Snow Travelers.

Two $100 citations were issued by rangers to a pair of snowmobile riders who drove into the closed drainage of Galena Creek. But Ferrell insists the trespassing problem is widespread, particularly into the Mount Rose Wilderness.

"Why aren't they seeing what we're seeing?" she asked. "It's been continuing wilderness trespass."

Larry Anderson, the ranger who led the patrolling program, said most snowmobilers who illegally enter the Mount Rose Wilderness don't do so from Tahoe Meadows but from points west of the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Officials from the Forest Service's Lake Tahoe unit reported they wrote four citations last winter to snowmobilers for entering the Mount Rose Wilderness and issued many more warnings.

Citations were down substantially from the winter of 2003, when Tahoe rangers issued 43 citations for wilderness trespass, most into the Mount Rose Wilderness.

The system in Tahoe Meadows, Anderson insists, "works out really well."