Tahoe National Forest Opens the Doors to More Off-Roaders

Jeep stuck in meadow of Tahoe National Forest, California. Photo by Laura Clarke, Courtesy of USFS.

Tahoe National Forest, just northwest of California’s Lake Tahoe, is a place that refreshes the soul. Rugged beauty, quiet backcountry trails and the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains all create a peaceful experience for visitors to cherish.

Unfortunately, off-road vehicles are taking a toll on this spectacular forest, which hosts the Granite Chief Wilderness Area and parts of the Pacific Crest Trail. In recent years, the roar of dirt bikes, ATVs and other off-road vehicles have broken the tranquility of the forest, disturbing visitors and wildlife, creating soil erosion and water pollution.

To get a handle on unmanaged off-roading, the Tahoe National Forest, like most forests in the country, initiated a comprehensive planning effort to determine where these vehicles will be permitted to travel. In September, the forest unveiled its environmental impact study and proposal. The news wasn’t good.

Instead of choosing to manage the existing 2,800 miles of roads and trails to provide for quiet recreation opportunities on the Tahoe, their proposal would allow dirt bikes, ATVs and other off-road vehicles on most of the forest — including designated roadless areas like West Yuba, Castle Peak and Grouse Lakes — leading to more visitor conflicts and increases in noise, air and water pollution.

The agency’s proposed course of action is fiscally unaffordable, environmentally irresponsible, and numb to the concerns of quiet recreationists.

Even worse, the forest’s proposed plan sets an unrealistic example for the eleven other national forests in California that will soon release their own proposals for dealing with off-road vehicles.

The vast majority of visitors come to the Tahoe to enjoy quiet forms of recreation. They come for the tranquility of the backcountry trails that wind through Ponderosa pines and the spectacular, quiet views from places like Mount Lola. So, it’s only reasonable that the Tahoe protect large areas of the forest for those of us who hike, backpack, camp, fish and otherwise visit the forest to experience the natural landscape without the noise and pollution caused by off-road vehicles.

For over two years, we have been working with the Tahoe National Forest to develop a proposal that preserves more quiet areas and protects the forest from damaging off-road vehicles. While the forest has refused to listen to reasonable concerns, we will continue to push them and are hopeful they will get back on track and develop an ecologically, fiscally, and socially responsible proposal.