Mammoth Lakes trail developers are proposing to build an entirely new trail in Solitude Canyon, an inventoried roadless area known to be critical to wildlife. Proponents seek to move forward with this project pursuant to a Categorical Exclusion (CE). The CE process provides very little opportunity for public input and requires very little in the way of wildlife or ecosystem studies.
Controversy over development in remote and rugged Solitude Canyon has been ongoing since 1986 when developers introduced a proposal for the Sherwin ski area. Based on Solitude’s importance to local wildlife, a conservation coalition including Friends of the Inyo successfully organized a campaign to save Solitude Canyon and the ski resort was never built.
A CE would make for a quick process that provides for very little public engagement and very little assessment on impacts to wildlife. In accordance with a CE, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement (EIS) is required. As such, this project threatens habitat and wildlife, and seeks to deny the community the ability to meaningfully engage.
Species that could be significantly negatively impacted include the Mono county Mule deer herd, Sierra Marten, Sierra Nevada Red Fox, and 91 species of birds. The Mono County mule deer face declining numbers and trail development and use would add stress to their migration. The EIS performed at the time of the Sherwin Ski Area proposal in 1990 showed that this herd has no alternative to Solitude Canyon which they use twice per year. The EIS also identified rarely occurring plant communities in the area which may be especially vulnerable to heavy construction, erosion, and landslides from construction of a steep winding trail. Finally, Solitude is a North facing canyon. As such, it provides a cooler microclimate as a refuge for alpine species and plants.
The proposed trail development in Solitude was included in a scoping notice with a completely different trail maintenance project to upgrade and maintain existing, heavily used, trails near Lake Mary. This maintenance project is supported by Friends of the Inyo and our coalition, and is appropriate to proceed pursuant to a CE. These two projects should be separated to allow for construction on this non-controversial portion of the proposed project to begin immediately, while adequately protecting Solitude Canyon’s wildlife and ecosystem.
FOI has engaged with the project proponents and the Forest Service regarding the impropriety of seeking to build a trail in Solitude Canyon pursuant to a CE. We have also alerted our members and supporters and asked them to tell the Forest Service that the proposed project should be split. This would ensure that this new trail in Solitude Canyon is properly analyzed through appropriate environmental studies and assessments, and that opportunities are provided for the public to engage and consider alternatives.
In collaboration with six other groups, we also submitted a detailed 15-page Comment Letter to document the scientific, legal, and procedural arguments against use of a CE in this situation.
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Solitude Canyon | Revised Proposed Action On November 8, 2020 the Inyo National Forest released a Revised Proposed Action for the project. The Forest will bring forward the Lakes Basin portion of the proposal, while removing the Solitude Canyon trail from consideration. The District Ranger cited concerns by State agencies and Forest Service specialists about Mule Deer, as well as issues raised by the public. Over 2,000 public comments were received on the proposal. A final decision memo regarding the remaining portion of trail near Lake Mary will be released soon.
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…