RENO, Nev. (AP) — The sorry state of the snowpack in the Sierra has forced a ban on snowmobiling at a popular recreation area near the California-Nevada line until further notice.
It’s one of the earliest seasonal closings ever at the Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
Officials said 2018 would be its shortest season on record if the area doesn’t reopen.
The area typically opens to snowmobiles when the snow depth reaches 24 inches (61 centimeters) at Leavitt Lake Road and California State Route 108. It’s closed when the snowpack decreases to 12 inches (31 centimeters).
The depth requirements prevent machines from damaging the ground or harming wildlife, such as the threatened Yosemite toad, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported .
“They require a 2-foot snow base in order not to be smooshed,” said Adrianne Thatcher, recreation staff officer for the Bridgeport Ranger District in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
Higher in the area at Leavitt Lake the snow is deeper but still well below what’s typical for mid-February.
The Leavitt Lake Snotel snow measuring device shows the snowpack is 48 percent of the median level. It’s the fourth-lowest reading for the date since 1990. The lowest reading was in 1991 and the next two lowest were 2012 and 2014.
Parts of the area with snow coverage are still open to skiing and snowshoeing and it could reopen to snowmobiles if storms boost the snowpack back to 24 inches, Thatcher said.
While snowpack is consistent with near-record drought conditions, many of the region’s urban water users will remain insulated from potential drought by virtue of record precipitation during the winter of 2016-17 that filled storage reservoirs.
Conditions also are consistent with scientific observations on human-induced global warming. Research shows the warming is driving the Sierra snowline higher and increasing the percentage of winter precipitation that falls as rain instead of snow.