Agency adopts new standards for noise, fish |

Agency adopts new standards for noise, fish

Patrick McCartney

KINGS BEACH – In adopting a five-year evaluation of the Tahoe Basin environment Wednesday, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s governing board approved three new standards.

Citing new information gathered since the last Threshold Evaluation in 1991, the bistate agency’s board adopted new fish habitat maps in Lake Tahoe and its tributaries, and adjusted noise standards for the wilderness and developed areas.

The board also approved a first-ever definition for old-growth forest in the Tahoe Basin.

The changes in noise standards and fish habitat maps reflect additional research on the standards adopted in 1982. In the case of the noise threshold, the board dropped previous standards that were unrealistic, said the agency’s Rick Angelocci.

The 24-hour decibel readings are weighted, with nighttime noises given greater importance than daytime noise levels. To reflect actual noise levels measured over the last five years, the board agreed to lower the standard for commercial areas from 65 to 60 decibels, and raise the standard for hotel/motel areas from 55 to 60 decibels, and for wilderness and critical wildlife areas from 25 decibels to 45 decibels.

“The standard for roadless areas of 25 decibels is virtually impossible to reach,” Angelocci said.

Based on noise monitoring in wilderness areas by the National Park Service, Angelocci said the 25-decibel standard was unrealistic. The National Park Service has reported background noise levels of about 45 decibels in undisturbed areas, he added.

Board member Steve Wynn said the noise standard for wilderness areas should reflect the natural environment.

“With the sounds of Mother Nature, it doesn’t matter what the noise levels are,” Wynn said. “They are what they are. If you don’t want people to bring ghetto-blasters into the wild, then you say ‘don’t bring ghetto-blasters into the wilderness.’ You don’t rely on this threshold.”

Opposing the change in the wilderness noise standard, Jeff Cutler of the League to Save Lake Tahoe said the change was not justified by noise monitoring of the Tahoe wilderness. He suggested the existing standard may have been unrealistic only because of the weighting given to nighttime noise.

“You may be trying to solve a problem that only exists on paper,” Cutler said.

Changes to fish-habitat maps were proposed after field studies re-rated many of the streams in the basin as fish habitat. Similarly, the board adopted a new fish habitat map for Lake Tahoe that increased the area of known prime habitat from 2,776 acres in 1982 to 3,495 acres.

The board also struck down language from the 1982 Threshold Study that described the presence of piers and buoys as representing a threat to the lake’s fishery. More recent studies have showed no negative impacts from most piers, and a positive effect from rock piers.

And the board fulfilled a goal set by the 1991 evaluation study in adopting a definition for old-growth forest in the Tahoe Basin.

The new threshold calls for the “promotion and perpetuation of late successional/old growth forests,” and favors the retention of trees with a diameter greater than 30 inches.

Steve Chilton, who oversaw the changes to the vegetation threshold, said ancient forest stands have an importance that outweighs the strictly scientific.

“In my mind, a tree that’s been there for 800 years not only has a genetic value, but also has some spiritual value,” Chilton said.

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