The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
The WildeBeat edition 23: Drawing Lines in the Snow
This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.
Going up to the backcountry for some winter recreation might get you in the middle of a turf war. Listen next, to Drawing Lines in the Snow, on The WildeBeat.
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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
This is program number twenty three.
I'm Steve Sergeant.
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STEVE: How do you picture getting into the backcountry in the winter?
Try this: You're kicking and gliding along on your cross-country skis. The only noise is the scraping of your skis on the snowy trail, and your heavy breathing. The air is fresh, and the scenery around you is so still, so calm.
Or try this: Your revving up that snowmobile engine to get to the top of the hill. The engine screams and the wind blows hard on your face while the scenery blurs by. You crest the hill and stop to take in the expansive view.
If you picked one of these scenes over the other, then you've chosen sides. I'm talking about two sides in a conflict that seems to arise in winter recreation areas all over. Only about a tenth of California's land area gets snow. That means a lot of people are trying to enjoy different kinds of winter recreation in the same limited areas.
Eric Jung publishes the local newspaper in Bear Valley, California.
ERIC JUNG: This was one area where the passions overruled the logic... It comes down to noise, and the attitude of some people about whether noise ruins your experience of the wilderness; of getting out into the forest. Some people like the noise and like the power, but some people don't like it. The biggest difference between the cross-country skier out in the woods and the snowmobiler is that the snowmobiler you can hear from a mile or two or five miles away, depending on line-of-sight and terrain. The cross country skier there may be ten of them within a hundred yards away from you, and you'd never know it.
STEVE: Bruce Paris is the vice-president of the Bear Valley Snowmobile Club.
BRUCE PARIS: People will set up a route and go to that location, have lunch, meet... Either drive out together, in a safety-in-numbers approach, and then just experience the wilderness from that perspective.
STEVE: Bruce is using the term wilderness loosely here. the two designated wilderness areas near Bear Valley are actually off-limits to motorized recreation.
Paul Petersen is the owner of the Bear Valley Cross Country Ski Company. It's a trail system concession across the highway from Bear Valley.
PAUL PETERSEN: I think the majority of backcountry travelers that have paid an aerobic penalty to climb a ridge or to go up a hill would much prefer to not hear the whine of a two-stroke motor, the summiting of the same ridge by somebody that has done it via motor. So for most people it truly does ruin their experience to have a snowmobile enter the same area.
STEVE: Gary Willard is the president of the Bear Valley Snowmobile Club.
GARY WILLARD: If you were to put Bear Valley in the center of a twenty five square mile square, over 70% of the land is currently allocated to non-motorized uses. That's about twelve thousand acres. And primarily this includes the Bear Valley Ski Resort, the Bear Valley Cross-Country area, wilderness designations, and near-natural designations. There's about five thousand acres that snowmobiles are allowed on. And of those 5,000 acres, non-motorized uses are also allowed. So non-motorized users have actually a hundred percent of the use, and snowmobiles only have about thirty percent of the use.
STEVE: Aaron Johnson operates Mountain Adventure Seminars, a backcountry ski school and guide service.
AARON JOHNSON: Once you leave, within just a short distance, depending on which way you go, there's no speed limits. And to me this is a very dangerous scenario for a skier, or a snowshoer, or a snow player. To be out there, and to have large machines traveling at sometimes very high speeds and there's no rules or regulations. It's literally, sometimes it feels like the wild, wild, west.
STEVE: So the snowmobilers want to go everywhere they can, and the skiers and snowshoers want to get as far from the machines as they can. But in Bear Valley, nowhere is quite far enough. So the factions in the village developed a real us-versus-them mentality.
We're talking about national forest land here. And so the forest service is in the middle of all of this. Patty Clarey is the acting district ranger for the Calaveras District of the Stanislaus National Forest.
PATTY CLAREY: If you're a cross-country skier and you've worked all day to get to a certain peak, or to ski a certain bowl. You have an expectation of not being interrupted by motorized use. And if you're a snowmobiler, there's a certain expectation of what you want from a backcountry experience. Certainly a lot of them want the solitude, they want to go see beautiful vistas, and as far as their experience they want to be able to do hill climbs, they want challenging terrain, they want an experience that challenges them mentally and physically to get out and see what they can do.
STEVE: Nine years ago, the forest service produced a winter recreation map. The maps shows the boundaries of motorized and non-motorized use areas. The forest service hoped that this map would minimize the conflicts. Unfortunately, it didn't completely work out that way.
PATTY CLAREY: The boundaries that make sense in the summer, often don't make sense in the winter. Because on the ground, it's very, very difficult to tell where you are in the winter unless you can locate a ridge-top or a drainage.
STEVE: Sometimes snowmobiles wound up where they weren't supposed to, and skiers complained. Sometimes skiers would complain about snowmobiles even though they were where they were supposed to be, because nobody was sure of the boundaries.
So, the forest service needs a new map.
They encouraged the Bear Valley residents to propose some ideas.
A group got together to see if they could agree on some suggestions. The group included representatives of the local residents, businesses, the snowmobile club, an environmental group, and a skiers advocacy group. They all took the risk that the meeting might inflame their differences.
BRUCE PARIS: I was greatly buoyed by this most recent meeting where everybody got the opportunity, sit down, and say what they wanted to say, rather than everybody whispering or making assumptions about one position or the other.
AARON JOHNSON: What I'm really striving for and hoping for in the forest here, is that the different user groups are able to co-exist respectfully.
PATTY CLAREY: What we're hoping is to do a better job of providing services to the public. We're re-eavaluating the current motorized and non-motorized opportunities as they exist in today in our land management plan, and saying, is there a way we can do this better?
STEVE: John Buckley is Executive Director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center.
JOHN BUCKLEY: We're concerned that wild areas and wildlife will be lost in the dispute between the motorized and non-motorized recreational interest. The high crest zone areas often are the last refuge of rare species such as the wolverine, the sierra nevada red fox, the marten, and potentially even the fisher."
PATTY CLAREY: One of the things that I would like them to think about, is that we need to find a way for them to share the land. The forest service is a multiple-use agency. That doesn't mean multiple use on every acre. I'd like folks to come up here and think about ways we can reduce conflicts between users.
ERIC JUNG: I think we're a lot closer to solutions than people might have recognized.
STEVE: The forest service hopes that the Bear Valley process can become a model for resolving similar conflicts in other recreation areas. We'll be taking a deeper look at specific issues in future editions. We'll follow how the process works out.
You can find out more about the Bear Valley area, and about the various groups mentioned in this story, on our web site.
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We're taking a break, so our next regular edition will be on January fifth. But please check back for a special update before then.
The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to ensure future editions of The WildeBeat. Send your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.
This has been The WildeBeat, program number twenty three. Thank you for listening.
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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.