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Forest Service announces snowmobile crossing decision, Sierra Nevada red fox involved

October 11, 2011

Jeanne Higgins, Humboldt-Toiyabe Forest Supervisor, released her decision for the snowmobile crossing location for the Pacific Crest Trail, just south of Sonora Pass near Bridgeport, California late last week. The Forest Service issued an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Decision Notice/Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Crossing Project this week.

Higgins selected Alternative 4 as described in the EA. The EA describes three action alternatives and a no-action alternative.

“The selected alternative was chosen because it meets the project’s purpose and need, and is responsive to public comments, interests, concerns, and ideas expressed during scoping,” said Higgins.

“After thoroughly reviewing the EA, I chose the crossing that minimizes snowmobilers’ exposure to avalanche risk, provides legal access to Highway 108 near Sonora Pass, and provides the opportunity for the agency to adjust management as more information becomes known about the Sierra Nevada red fox,” she said.

The selected alternative is the same snowmobile crossing and route as the agency proposed during scoping, which is the process used to gather public input. Alternative 4, however, includes adaptive management, based on the annual monitoring of snowmobile use and its effects on the Pacific Crest Trail experience, avalanche exposure, and wildlife, particularly the Sierra Nevada red fox.

In addition, the decision amends the Toiyabe Forest Plan to allow for motorized use along the designated snowmobile crossing route in an area otherwise managed under a “Wilderness” prescription that prohibits motorized use.

The Omnibus Public Land Act of 2009 (Act), directed the Forest Service to create a motorized winter crossing of the Pacific Crest Trail in accordance with the National Trails System Act and applicable environmental and public safety laws. The Act states that the crossing will not interfere with the nature and purposes of the Pacific Crest Trail or harm the surrounding landscape.

In August 2010, a Sierra Nevada red fox was discovered during routine photo monitoring in the Pacific Crest Trail Crossing area. Two more sightings were recorded in the following weeks. Prior to the discovery of the Sonora Pass population, the only other Sierra Nevada red fox population was located near Lassen Peak, 200 miles north of Sonora Pass.

“We don’t know much about the effects of recreation use on the Sierra Nevada red fox,” said Sherri Lisius, Bridgeport Ranger District wildlife biologist. Lisius explained that the decision provides a designated crossing for snowmobilers, while the agency monitors potential effects to the red fox and other wildlife species and responds accordingly.

The Forest Service initiated a 30-day public comment period in June of 2010, to gather input from the public and interested individuals and groups on a proposed action. In March of 2011, a second comment period was initiated for two reasons: 1) A Forest Plan amendment was required for action alternatives 2 and 4 to allow motorized use on the designated crossing corridor, and, 2) the Sierra Nevada red fox was discovered in the PCT Crossing Area after the initial comment period.

Copies of the EA, Decision Notice/FONSI may be obtained from the Bridgeport Ranger District office in Bridgeport, California, or on-line at http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/htnf/pctcrossing.

The Pacific Crest Trail Crossing decision is subject to appeal in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations. Individuals or groups that submitted written comments or otherwise expressed interest in this particular action during the comment period have standing to appeal this decision. Appeals must be filed within 45 days following the date of publication of the legal notice of this decision in the Reno Gazette-Journal, the newspaper of record.

Learn more about the decision or the Forest Service appeal process by contacting Jeanne Higgins at 775-355-5304, or Mike Crawley, Bridgeport District Ranger, at 760-272-7374.

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