Forest Service announces acquisition plan |

Forest Service announces acquisition plan

The U.S. Forest Service will again target environmentally sensitive land in the Tahoe Basin for acquisition in 1998, according to the agency’s regional forester.

Pacific Southwest Regional Forester G. Lynn Sprague announced that purchases authorized by the 1980 Santini-Burton Act will primarily be in watersheds described as critical by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The Forest Service received $900,000 for fiscal year 1998 from a land and water conservation fund, but is still waiting for another $1 million promised by President Clinton during the Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum.

“This is an area where they may still be scrounging for money,” said Linda Massey, spokeswoman for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

Even so, the money already received guarantees the continuation of a program that has been responsible for the public acquisition of more than 11,000 acres of basin property, but was left without funds for two years by Republican budget-cutters.

Since 1982, the Forest Service has purchased 3,484 parcels of sensitive land in the Tahoe Basin for a combined price tag of $98 million. Land owners have donated another 201 parcels, covering 408 acres, worth an additional $2.95 million.

The program is aimed at reducing development in stream zones and wetlands, and was responsible for stopping such development in the 1960s and 1970s that environmental regulators believe led to the decline in Lake Tahoe’s clarity.

After seizing a majority in both houses in 1994, congressional Republicans froze spending for the Tahoe lands program, deleting all funding from the 1995 and 1996 budgets. The Forest Service was able to buy a few options and properties with a small amount of carryover money.

Last year, a bipartisan coalition from the California and Nevada delegations managed to restore the program by inserting $1 million in new funds in the 1997 budget.

Even when more money from the presidential summit becomes available, the Forest Service has identified far more property for acquisition than it can afford to buy.

This year’s list contains 86 parcels covering 441 acres.

The Santini-Burton program has come under fire in recent years from some Tahoe residents, who say the Forest Service has done an inadequate job of maintaining urban lots purchased with Santini-Burton funds. Poor maintenance increased the chance of fire, the critics said.

The Forest Service has promised to increase its rate of maintenance work with $2.5 million in annual funding expected to be made available because of the presidential forum.

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