Forest workshops could be confusing at first |

Forest workshops could be confusing at first

Preliminary scoping meetings hosted next month by the U.S. Forest Service to gauge public opinion on plans to protect 50 million acres of forest nationwide – 45,000 acres in the Lake Tahoe Basin – likely will draw in a full spectrum of comments: opposition, support and confusion.

“We’re very early in the process. The whole point of doing this is to get the public input before we start working on a draft (environmental impact statement),” said Matt Mathes, spokesman for the Forest Service’s regional office in Vallejo, Calif. “The public input is going to be a critical part of this. But it won’t be the only part. We have to look at the science of what the land can stand.”

Meetings in Sacramento and in all 18 of California’s national forests are planned for Dec. 1. The location for Tahoe’s meeting has not been announced.

Calling national forests “places of renewal of the human spirit,” President Clinton last month announced steps to protect 50 million acres of federally owned roadless areas from development. About 3.5 million acres of land in California could be affected. About 45,000 of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit’s 250,000 acres could be affected.

The Forest Service is in its initial scoping process, which ends Dec. 20, and then the agency will write a draft EIS, which will be followed by another public comment period. A final decision likely will be reached about this time next year.

What Clinton has proposed is giving existing roadless areas a higher level of protection. However, the restrictions on using the land will not be as strict as those for federally designated wilderness areas, where mountain biking, off-road vehicle use and snowmobiling are prohibited.

What kind of impact the proposal could have on those recreational activities as well as Christmas tree cutting, cattle grazing, helicopter logging and others has yet to be determined. And Mathes said that is where much of the public comment will come in.

“It’s much more helpful if people come in with constructive suggestions or advice, as opposed to saying, ‘I like roadless areas’ or ‘I don’t like roadless areas.’ We can’t really do anything with that,” Mathes said. “People should give us as much solid, constructive advice or observations as they can – as opposed to casting a yay or nay vote.”

Alpine County has indicated its concern for the proposal, with officials afraid it could potentially limit use on as much as 20 percent of the county’s land, 96 percent of which is publicly owned.

“There will be significant social, economic and environmental consequences,” states the county’s comments to the proposal. “… The economies of rural communities, many of which are already reeling from the results of recent forest management decisions, may be severely impacted.”

The county along with the Lake Tahoe Snowmobile Association want an extension to the current public comment period.

“The way they’re handling this is ridiculous,” said JacLyn Howard, president of the Snowmobile Association.

Others, however, support the president’s intent.

“Roads are the largest contributor to the degradation of aquatic and riparian areas,” said Laurel Ames, executive director of the South Lake Tahoe-based Sierra Nevada Alliance. “Protecting roadless areas is protecting water quality. Since the Sierra provides 65 percent of the water in California, it’s a very good idea to protect it rather than pay to treat it later.

“We’re very supportive of protecting roadless areas primarily because of water quality implications.”

Ryan Henson, conservation associate for the California Wilderness Coalition, said he doesn’t expect the proposal to stop mining, logging and activities such as that but said it was a good proposal.

“We think it’s a great step,” he said. “This is far short of comprehensive protection (such as a wilderness designation), but the fact that it proposes at least some kind of protection for most, or all, of the National Forest roadless areas is pretty impressive.”

optional breakout

How much area could proposal impact?

location size of national forest size of potentially affected areas

Lake Tahoe Basin 250,000 acres 45,000 acres

El Dorado National Forest 677,500 acres 66,500 acres

Tahoe National Forest 836,000 acres 150,000 acres

California 20 million acres 3.5 million acres

United States 191 million acres 50 million acres

other optional breakout

What: Lake Tahoe Basin roadless areas workshop

When: Dec. 1, 7 to 9 p.m.

Where: To be announced

other optional breakout

The areas in the Tahoe Basin that could be affected include:

n 15,600 acres of land around Freel Peak, which abuts land also on the list in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

n 6,665 acres around East Shore’s Lincoln Creek, the basin’s only eligible parcel in Nevada.

n 14,500 acres in the Meiss Meadows area of South Shore, which includes the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River.

n 7,900 acres in a strip bordering Desolation Wilderness.

n 1,790 acres bordering the Granite Chief Wilderness.

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