Forest Goes High Tech to Maximize Riding Opportunities and Protect Trails

remote soil moisture sensing station in forest

The Tahoe National Forest is teaming up with the Forest Service’s San Dimas Technology and Development Center and the California State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division to explore using remote soil moisture sensing and video technology on some of the Forest’s OHV trails. Combined with techniques in soil moisture/soil strength relationship development, the technology has the potential to maximize riding opportunities while better protecting trails, soil and stream resources.

Under the recently released Tahoe National Forest Motor Vehicle Use Maps, the OHV trails are closed to use for fixed periods that comprise the “wet season” (mostly January 1 through March 31, or January 1 through April 23). Under this system of fixed dates, Forest Orders may also be used to close the trail systems earlier and or later depending on moisture levels and need, but there is no provision for relaxing the main closure period. This system of fixed closure dates can limit riding opportunities. For example, during a drier winter, soil conditions may actually be optimal for riding on trail systems that are located around 5,000 feet or lower at times during the closed season.

If the Forest Service can obtain reliable remote soil moisture measuring information coupled with data on soil moisture and soil strength for a trail system, there is potential for developing an OHV trail open/close system based on actual ground conditions and scientific data. This would likely result in expanding riding opportunities while better protecting the trails from damage and reducing erosion.

One remote soil moisture monitoring station has already been installed at the Sugar Pine OHV Trail System and the Tahoe NF is currently installing a second remote monitoring test site at the Burlington Motorcycle Trail System near the Chalk Bluff Staging Area. The Tahoe National Forest hopes to have both systems operational this summer for testing in the fall. Establishing an OHV trail open/close system based on this remote sensing technology may still be a few years out.