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Feds and locals pursue executive agenda

Patrick McCartney

Senior officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture have taken the lead in coordinating the federal response to President Clinton’s call for assistance of Lake Tahoe’s troubled environment.

As parent agency of the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Agriculture oversees more than three-fourths of the Tahoe Basin that is publicly owned.

At the same time, federal and local agencies within the Tahoe Basin are beginning to sort out the role they will play once Clinton is briefed in 90 days on what the federal government should do to help restore Lake Tahoe.

During the Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum on July 25-26, Clinton pledged to increase federal spending at Lake Tahoe from $24 million to $50 million over the next two years. His executive order also called for the creation of an interagency, Cabinet-level committee to coordinate the federal role in the Tahoe Basin.

Last week, senior federal administrators agreed to pursue twin strategies over the next two months before reporting back to the president, said Tom Tuchmann, the USDA’s western director and a principal organizer of the presidential forum.

On one hand, the Tahoe Federal Interagency Partnership will continue to develop its relationships with Tahoe Basin agencies and individuals, including the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the broad-based local steering committee, which helped plan the presidential visit.

On the other hand, the federal committee will prepare agreements to formalize the relationships among the federal, state and local governments and the Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada.

“We want to make sure that whatever we do is institutionalized for the long term,” Tuchmann said. “The plan is to get our internal act together, to set up intra-government coordination and to make sure the public is involved.”

Tuchmann said those assigned to the partnership committee will clarify each federal department’s role in the Tahoe Basin over the next two weeks, with the first options drafted later this month and finalized in October.

While the federal response is proceeding on one track, local agencies are working independently to identify their responsibilities in the coordinated effort to improve the lake’s water quality and restore forest health. Already, the national interest has made a difference, said Jerry Wells, the TRPA’s deputy executive director.

“Whereas before we had to search for grants, (federal agencies) are now calling us, telling us what grants to apply for,” Wells said at a meeting of the TRPA’s advisory planning commission.

Wells said the TRPA wants to retain the local steering committee, whose dozen members reflect the basin’s various public and private interests, as a way of funneling the region’s interests into the federal pipeline.

As senior department officials organize the national response to Lake Tahoe, the Forest Service’s local office – the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit – is in the process of identifying its goals in restoring Lake Tahoe’s environment, said Juan Palma, the forest supervisor.

“We want a strategy to identify what our goals are and how we are going to achieve that goal,” Palma said. “What I want is to finish the package, put it on the table, and say, ‘Here’s what we need and here’s what help we need.'”


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