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Feds balk at state’s red tape

Tim Omarzu
Eileen JoyceDavid Michael, forest trails program manager for the Tahoe National Forest, thumbs through a grant proposal at TNF's offices in Nevada City. The proposal fills a large binder, while in past years it had been much smaller.
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If you’re a snowmobile rider who likes playing on the Tahoe National Forest’s 234 miles of groomed trails, heads up:

TNF officials say the state grant program that pays about $620,000 annually for snowmobile trails (and off-highway vehicle trails) has gotten so complicated over the past couple years and requires so much paperwork, that’s it’s almost not worth the effort.

“This process has become an extremely onerous task, barely within the organizational limits of our ability to accomplish,” wrote TNF Supervisor Steve Eubanks in a November letter.

“It is ambiguous, unnecessarily complex, confusing and time-consuming. The schedules … are often impossible to meet,” said Eubanks’ letter to the Forest Service’s Region 5 Office, which oversees Sierra Nevada forests.

The paperwork got more difficult in 1999, after environmentalists sued the state over its Off Highway Vehicle Grant program.

More commonly known as the “Green Sticker” program, it uses OHV registration fees and gas taxes to fund OHV trail maintenance and construction. More than $275 million has been spent since 1975.

A coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the California Wilderness Coalition, alleged numerous problems with the program in a 1999 report titled “California Off-Highway Vehicles: In the Money and Out of Control.”

Among the report’s recommendations, which the state adopted after environmentalists sued in 1999, were:

— Federal agencies receiving state grants be held to the same environmental standards that apply to state lands. In other words, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would be required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

— That federal agencies getting OHV grants prepare monitoring reports for wildlife and soil erosion.

Karen Schambach, who wrote the report, said those are things that, by law, should have been required of federal agencies all along.

“They’ve gotten the money all these years without having to meet their responsibilities,” she said. “The Forest Service has an obligation to manage off-road vehicles in an environmentally sensitive way.”

But TNF officials complain that the wildlife monitoring the state recommended doesn’t prove anything. For example, the state has TNF officials setting out pieces of chicken near snowmobile routes that trigger a camera when grabbed by an animal, such as a pine marten.

“It just proves that if you put out chicken wings and a camera, you can probably get pictures of a marten,” said Judy Tartaglia, TNF deputy supervisor.

Paul Spitler, an environmentalist who sits on the state OHV Commission, said the state never required the TNF to do such monitoring, only suggested it.

“If the Tahoe National Forest has a better protocol for monitoring, they should use it,” he said.

However, Spitler and Schambach agreed the new requirement could use some fine-tuning.

Jerry Johnson, assistant deputy director of the state OHV grant program, said his office is taking steps to simplify things. The OHV program held a multi-day training session for grant applicants in November. Johnson’s office also is preparing a sample application to which applicants can refer.

Eubanks thinks the “Forest Service and state can sit down and work through this.”

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