Solitude Canyon Comment Letter Submitted
Mammoth Lakes trail proponents are requesting approval of an entirely new trail in steep rugged Solitude Canyon without standard environmental review and comment periods through a “categorical exclusion.” We at Friends of the Inyo wrote a strong comment letter to the US Forest Service, detailing the reasons that use of a CE is inappropriate in this situation and urging the Forest Service to engage in appropriate studies and allow for public engagement regarding this controversial project.
In our letter, along with six cosigners, we rejected the argument that this new trail qualified for an exemption to environmental assessment. Collaborators on this comment letter included the the Sierra Club, the Sierra Club Range of Light Group, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Forest Legacy, CalWild and the Katzudika Tribe.
This canyon holds a special significance for Friends of the Inyo, who fought for and won its protection in the late 80’s/early 90’s from a proposal for development of a ski area. Our diverse coalition joins the many members who also submitted comments of their own to protect Solitude Canyon. This canyon’s status as an “Inventoried Roadless Area” clearly prohibits the proposed action to allow development based on a Categorical Exclusion.
Highlights from the Letter Include:
- Co-Signers: The Sierra Club, The Sierra Club Range of Light Group, Mono Lake Kutzadika Tribe, California Wilderness Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Forest Legacy
- A CE does not provide adequate opportunity for public engagement or environmental studies.
- An Environmental Assessment, which will not be performed pursuant to a CE, is required to discover the true likely impact of this proposal and allow the public time to comment and consider alternatives.
- This project does not follow the community’s planning or priorities. The Sherwins Area Recreation Plan identifies the idea of a Solitude-Sherwins Trail as needing “further study.” The proposed trail ignores many other high priority projects identified in the plan.
- The likely significant unavoidable impacts on wildlife and wildlife habitat is one reason that this project, which will require major trail construction is inappropriate for a CE. Species identified in the Sherwins EIS as likely to be impacted include Mammoth’s local Mule deer herd, the Sierra Marten and the imperiled Sierra Nevada Red Fox.
- Sensitive plant species and rare plant communities identified in the Sherwin EIS could be damaged by trail construction and use.
- The geology of the area includes steep slopes with talus and boulders creating a high potential for landslides. Construction and armoring a trail with these characteristics requires methods inappropriate for a categorical exclusion.
- The proposal is not consistent with the Inyo National Forest Management Plan.
- The scoping letter is inaccurate and Inadequate to describe the project and inform the public of its risks.