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Liberty Project rejected

B.H. Bose

A 2,300-acre logging project has been liberated – for now – from the U.S. Forest Service’s timber sales list.

After concluding that a more comprehensive plan was needed to manage spotted owl habitat, the forest supervisor with the Tahoe National Forest opted to reject the “Liberty Project.”

“The forest supervisor issued guidelines on old growth, riparian zones, and others on May 1,” said Julie Lydick, a natural resources staff officer with the Tahoe National Forest. “One of the guidelines was adaptive management for spotted owls. There is a large portion of adaptive spotted owl habitat, and we still need to come up with a consistent management strategy for the habitat.”

The area in question is between Truckee and Sierraville, on the Sierraville District of the Tahoe National Forest. It is west of Highway 89, above Independence Lake.

Officials with the Forest Service hope to initiate a management plan that will allow for fuel removal while not disrupting the foraging habitat of the spotted owl.

“We will take another look to see what practices meet both the needs of the spotted owl and fuel treatment,” Lydick said.

Numerous environmental organizations, scientists, public members, and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Board opposed the project.

“There is a lot of concern over late-succession trees and water quality,” said Craig Thomas, a member of the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, an affiliated group of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign. “A lot of agencies appealed this project, including University professors at (U.C.) Davis and the Lahontan board, which we were very impressed with.”

According to Thomas, the project would alter water quality in the Little Truckee River and disrupt area wildlife.

“This is a major victory for clean water in Tahoe,” he said.

While the project has been rejected for now, and several agencies have appealed to the forest service, the probability of some thinning and timber removal is still pretty high.

“We will certainly work with the people who have appealed the project, but we will need to create defensible fuel space,” Lydick said. “Something will be done soon, because there is hazardous fuel, such as infested dead and dying trees, that need to be removed.”

The “Liberty Project” was to remove much of that excess fuel, Lydick said. In the 2,300-acre region, there was to be one- to two-acre “open” areas. Similar to the TRPA ordinance for the Tahoe Basin, Lydick said trees of 30 inches or greater in diameter at breast height would not have been cut (although dead trees of that size that were deemed a fire hazard would be). Rather these “open” areas would be thinned and cleared, to create zones to help fire fighting.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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