Agency hopes to rein in back-yard livestock |

Agency hopes to rein in back-yard livestock

Patrick McCartney

Tahoe Basin residents who keep horses or other livestock in their back yards should make efforts to prevent the animals from fouling streams and wetlands, say regulators with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

But a proposed change in the TRPA’s grazing rules that would spell out how residential wranglers must maintain pastures and corrals has upset some animal owners. They fear the new rules represent a first step by the TRPA toward banning all livestock from the Tahoe Basin.

“Livestock could be banned if people do not meet the restrictions …,” said Shirley Taylor, who keeps three horses at the historic Celio Ranch in Upper Lake Valley.

Joe Pepi, a TRPA senior planner in charge of revising the agency’s grazing rules, said the new ordinance would spell out what is already required under the agency’s water-quality rules. Measures to reduce erosion and contamination of streams and wetlands are known as Best Management Practices.

“It is not a first step toward banning livestock from the basin,” Pepi said. “As long as you can meet the BMP requirements and protect the water quality, you can keep your livestock.”

Commercial grazers and stables have been required to meet the same standards since 1992, Pepi said. But the agency has not been vigilant in enforcing the provisions, or in notifying domestic livestock owners of the rules, he added.

Among the requirements is livestock owners move any corral at least 100 feet away from a stream zone. The provision could present a problem for livestock owners in wetland areas like Christmas Valley, but the TRPA may decide to allow some exceptions if the owners mitigate the impacts, Pepi said.

Others, like the Zephyr Cove Stables, have already moved their corrals back from adjacent wetlands. As its landlord, the Forest Service requested the Zephyr Cove Stables to relocate the corral, said Louise McGill.

The restrictions on corrals near stream zones has made finding suitable land for a new corral more difficult, said Dwight Borges of Borges Sleigh, Hay & Carriage Rides.

“Every piece of land that’s available I look at. I was going to purchase some land for a stable and found that most of it was in a stream environment zone,” Borges said.

The rules also require people to remove manure in corrals, something the city of South Lake Tahoe already requires.

“If you don’t pick it up, in six months it’s a real mess,” Pepi said. “We spend a lot of money treating human waste. With these rules, we’re saying we should be as concerned about where animal waste goes.”

Not everyone is convinced the rules are necessary. Some livestock owners say horses and cattle are part of Lake Tahoe’s history, and have not proven to be a problem to the lake’s water quality.

“There used to be about 4,000 head of cattle and 300 to 500 head of horses, but there was no pollution until all the people showed up,” said Harold Ebright, who has operated the Cascade Stables since 1935.

Although the rules for domestic livestock would not affect his stables, Ebright said he is suspicious of the new regulations.

“I’ve heard the TRPA would like all grazing animals to be restricted,” Ebright said.

But Pepi denies that the agency is contemplating any such action.

“We’re not trying to ban them, but we are saying this is the list of (improvements) we want you to do,” Pepi said. “It’s the same thing you do for a house or business.”

Pepi said he hopes to have the new rules ready to go before the agency’s governing board meeting in the fall, and has scheduled another meeting with livestock owners for early August to refine the proposal.

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