Tahoe Forest supervisor halts Echo Lakes fuels project | TahoeDailyTribune.com

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Tahoe Forest supervisor halts Echo Lakes fuels project

The plaintiff in a 2013 lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service challenging a fuel reduction project at Upper Echo Lake has declared partial victory, although the case remains ongoing.

Dennis Murphy, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, said in a news release issued by his attorney that the Forest Service will abandoned its Upper Echo Lakes Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project because of the suit.

Included in the news release was a July 20, 2015 memo signed by Jeff Marsolais, Forest Supervisor for Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, to regional forester Randy Moore.

"I have chosen to withdraw the November 15, 2012, decision made by my predecessor, to implement the Upper Echo Lake Fuels Reduction Project," Marsolais wrote in the memo. "No further activity will occur on this project."

The lawsuit contended the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Protection Act when it cut down trees and created slash piles, increasing the fire risk, when the project was halted in October 2013.

Paul Weiland, Murphy's attorney, said the memo is obviously a step in the right direction and speaks volumes. However, the litigation remains ongoing.

Cheva Gabor, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said she could not comment on Murphy's statements because of the litigation.

"We have to let litigation play out in court," Gabor said. She did confirm the memo was authentic.

The project, which was briefly launched in the fall of 2013, called for the logging of hundreds of trees around Upper Echo Lake. The Forest Service, according to the project's Nov. 5, 2012 memo, states it was necessary to reduce the risk of wildfires.

The effort was halted at 40 percent completion when the federal government shutdown between Oct. 1 and 16.

When the Forest Service began cutting pine trees down, it created slash piles it intended to burn rather than remove.

"At a time when the Forest Service is facing widespread wildfire risk in the West, its decision to cut at all at Upper and Lower Echo Lakes was irresponsible," Murphy, the plaintiff, said in the news release. "And, its decision to now walk away from the area having increased surface fuel loads, which now pose a risk to lives, property, and the local ecosystem, is inexplicable."

Murphy's family has owned a seasonal residence on Upper Echo Lake for more than 80 years.

Weiland said the piles are still there.

"They still have to clean up the mess they made," Weiland said. "It doesn't make sense to just leave that there. What they have done is actually increase the risk of wildfires."

Weiland said the lawsuit hadn't been preferred but was the only way to make the federal agency listen.

"What we would like them to do is find a way to remove the piles some other way and we would be happy to work with them," Weiland said.