Forest Service officials are investigating an incident in which someone used an excavator to carve a road into a non-motorized area of Forest Service land.
Local officials were made aware of the alleged road-building when a citizen notified the Inyo National Forest on Sunday, June 26 that an individual was using heavy equipment to widen a single-track trail in the Pine Creek Canyon area.
Due to an ongoing investigation, the Forest Service is withholding many details about the case. Inyo National Forest Public Information Officer Nancy Upham did confirm that a subject who was disturbing resources on Forest Service land with an excavator was located and asked to stop his work.
The location of the “resource disturbance” is not on designated wilderness land, but was on a non-motorized trail reserved for equine and foot travel, Upham said.
No citations have been issued pending an investigation.
“It’s not as simple as citing someone for using a motorized vehicle on non-motorized land,” she Upham said. “We owe it to everyone to investigate this before we issue any citations.”
Motorized travel on Forest Service land has been a contentious topic in Inyo County for decades, with local miners being denied motorized access to their claims as national forests and wilderness areas continue to expand in the Eastern Sierra.
Many prospectors and even members of the Inyo County Board of Supervisors have claimed that the Forest Service has used motorized travel restrictions to block prospectors from extracting ore from their claims by preventing them from using motorized vehicles on Forest Service property to access their mines.
Currently, there are several mines west of Bishop that may only be accessed via foot, horseback or helicopter.
One local resident who wished to remain anonymous said he witnessed the alleged road being built, saying it was a prospector attempting to create a road to his claim.
The Forest Service would not confirm or deny that statement, saying only the incident is still under investigation.
“From the Forest Service standpoint right now, this is under investigation,” Upham said. “An excavator was on a portion of Pine Creek trail, which is a non-motorized, hiking or equestrian trail.”
Upham said the excavator created approximately a mile-and-a-half of resource damage, turning what was once a single-track trail into what could potentially be used as a road for motorized travel. Part of the investigation, she added, will be to determine how much damage was done by the excavator.
Upham said the investigation is expected to take at least a couple weeks, at which time more details about the case will be made available.
Should the Forest Service decide to pursue the case, all evidence gathered during the investigation will be turned over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.