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Wilderness Fly-Overs Monitor Snowmobilers

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The Forest Service today announced that last Sunday, February 16, the Stanislaus National Forest commenced its winter program to conduct series of aerial monitoring flights over snow-covered, protected Wilderness areas to detect snowmobile (OSV) intrusions. The winter aerial monitoring program is designed to detect prohibited use of snowmobiles in federally designated Wilderness areas, including the Emigrant, Mokelumne, and Carson Iceberg Wildernesses.

€œI would like to remind the public that there are many excellent opportunities for permitted over-snow motorized recreation on the Stanislaus National Forest. To protect Wilderness values, snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles are not allowed in Wilderness areas,€ said Forest Supervisor Tom Quinn. He pointed out that, in order to protect fragile wilderness values, the 1964 Wilderness Act prohibits the use of motorized vehicles and mechanical vehicles, including bicycles, in federally designated Wilderness.

Forest officials are utilizing the over-flights as a monitoring tool on several national Forests throughout the state. The flights will help managers to better determine if Forests are experiencing problems with motorized Wilderness trespass, or if there is a need for increased Wilderness boundary signing and enforcement of regulations. The patrols will fly at random intervals, weather permitting, and conclude at the end of the 2003 winter season.

This aerial Wilderness monitoring effort responds to complaints received from the public throughout California regarding illegal use of over snow vehicles (OSVs) within Wilderness area boundaries. The State of California provides OSV grant funding for the aerial monitoring and increased law enforcement to ensure compliance with federal law and Wilderness regulations.

Forest Service snowmobile patrols, working in partnership with local County Sheriffs, have issued three Wilderness trespass violation notices so far this winter. Individuals found operating OSVs within Wilderness areas face substantial fines and penalties ranging from $500, to as high as $5,000 and/or six months in jail. Forest officials, however, are quick to note that the majority of snow mobile enthusiasts are responsible outdoor recreationalists, who enjoy their winter sport and carefully comply with regulations designed to protect fragile Wilderness values.

Each year more than 10,000 snowmobilers and 25,000 other winter sports enthusiasts safely enjoy the Forest€™s splendid winter recreation. The Forest offers a vast number of permitted opportunities for the OSV user including more than 60 miles of groomed trails, as well as many more miles of un-groomed trail and open cross-country riding areas. Maps and handouts detailing these opportunities are available at OSV Trailheads and Ranger District offices.

Before heading out, winter OSV enthusiasts are encouraged to call or stop in at the Summit and Calaveras Ranger Stations for the latest on snow pack, snow conditions, expected storms, avalanche danger, and Sierra Nevada weather predictions. Information can be obtained at the Calaveras District Ranger Station in Hathaway Pines by calling (209) 795-1381, and the Summit District Ranger Station in Pinecrest by calling (209) 965-3434.