Eldorado 4×4 roads remain closed; final decision expected next week
Forty-two Eldorado National Forest roads and trails — including many popular 4×4 routes — remain closed, but that could change by fall.
Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton handed down a court order to extend the seasonal closure of more than three dozen roads to motorized use in the national forest. The roads include Blue Lakes and the Carson Emigrant Trail, according to a previous report.
A lawsuit by the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation alleged that the U.S. Forest Service didn’t show how motorized use affects meadow hydrology, and successfully requested that the roads be closed until further analysis was completed.
“Any of the routes going through meadows need to be closed or rerouted. Meadows don’t function with roads running through them,” CSNC President Karen Shambach said Friday.
Whether some or all of those routes will remain closed could be decided next week.
The Forest Service expects to release the final supplemental environmental impact statement regarding the closures Friday, Eldorado National Forest spokesman Frank Mosbacher said.
The draft statement outlines four alternatives for designation of the 42 roads and trails, from reopening each of the routes for vehicles to implementing meadow-protection measures. Alternative three, listed as the service’s preferred plan, proposes mitigation measures on 18 of the routes before they open to public motorized use. The remaining 24 roads would be designated for four-wheeler use, according to the draft statement.
A 45-day appeal period will start after Forest Supervisor Kathy Hardy makes the final decision next week. If the CSNC doesn’t agree with the proposal, Shambach said the organization will file an appeal.
Even if everything goes smoothly, Mosbacher said roads slated for motorized use won’t open until the fall, at which time the routes could enter another seasonal closure depending on the weather. Routes that open would also have to be listed on the motor vehicles use map, he said.
The CSNC has opposed the Eldorado National Forest travel management plan since it was published in 2008. The specialists didn’t analyze the impact the routes had on the fragile meadows, Shambach said. The center has sued the Forest Service over several aspects of the plan, according to a previous report.
“We’re hoping it will protect meadows. There are certainly some routes that could be opened, but there are others that need to be closed,” Shambach said. “With climate change, meadows have become more important than ever for water storage.”