The forest keeper
The U.S. Forest Service has selected Jeff Marsolais as the new forest supervisor for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, which oversees 78 percent of the area around Lake Tahoe or more than 150,000 acres of land.
Formerly LTBMU’s deputy forest supervisor, Marsolais has managed several projects and initiatives in the Lake Tahoe Basin and served as special assistant to the regional forester in 2014.
He has worked for the Forest Service since the mid-1990s and holds a bachelor’s degree in Natural Resources and Recreation Planning and a master’s degree in Natural Resources from Humboldt State University.
The Tahoe Daily Tribune recently spoke with Marsolais about his new position, as well as several issues related to forest management in the Tahoe Basin.
Q: Let’s start with the basics: What does a forest supervisor do?
A: I’m responsible for the administration of the National Forest System lands here in the Lake Tahoe Basin. That is everything from the operations of the campgrounds, facilities and permits to wild land fire response. Also, on the other end of the spectrum, I’m responsible for the close coordination with all of the other agency leaders and stakeholders, from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to the local fire districts.
Q: You’ve served on seven different National Forests in the Pacific Southwest and Intermountain regions before coming to the LTBMU three years ago. What is your approach going to be to your new position as supervisor for the Lake Tahoe Basin and will it be different than if you were supervisor elsewhere?
A: My approach will be to continue the strong, collaborative efforts that the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has been known for. In a place like Lake Tahoe, no one agency or entity can accomplish their mission without the all-hands approach. So I fully intend to continue and expand that collaboration between agencies and stakeholders to not only meet the expectations of the public and the congress, but also to keep the bar very high for the protection of sensitive resources, and the management and wise use of the national forests. I think it’s an important trait that every forest supervisor has to include in the way they approach the job. I think with the multiple jurisdictions and high profile issues here, it really is a higher focus. This is just a place you can’t choose to not collaborate on solutions.
Q: How has your previous experience helped prepare you for this job?
A: Over my career I’ve had the privilege of doing a lot of different assignments. Even my seasonal work, when I was a recreation technician or I worked in fire, all those things have shaped the way I look at the work I’m doing today. I’ve been working in national forests and doing a lot of different national forest-level work virtually all of my career, and much of it is very applicable. So I think I’ve seen a lot of the issues on the ground.
One of the key things I learned early on in my career is the importance of listening to the unique situations and taking advantage of the learning opportunities. Listening and learning at Lake Tahoe is key. I was the deputy forest supervisor here for several years, and I actually know some of the unique situations that exist here and are models for other places in the country. So I feel like I’m ahead of the curve on some of the important nuances that make Lake Tahoe a little different than some places.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge to the LTBMU?
A: I think the biggest challenge is continuing to make the important improvements that have been funded through a variety of partnerships and mechanisms over the last few years. Looking at fuels as one example, we’ve done some tremendous work around fuels to protect communities, but our work is not done. So continuing to move forward progressively to apply landscape treatments to not just protect communities, but also create more resilient forests, that’s a big challenge. And the funding that has been available recently has not been what it has previously.
I would also say looking at the notion of sustainability in terms of visitation and what people’s needs are on the landscape. That’s an important conversation to continue — sustainably managing all the various interests on the landscape. And there are many here.
Q: Snowmobiling and cross-country skiers are often at odds here in regards to sharing public land. How do you view that relationship, and do you see access to snowmobiling changing in the LTBMU in the near future?
A: That’s a really good question, and it’s one we’ve been developing a collaborative approach to resolving for quite a few years now. As far back as 2010, the LTBMU has been working to build a collaborative effort to really look at cross-country and motorized snow use. We’ve actually brought the National Collaboration Cadre out here a couple times, which is an entity within the Forest Service that helps establish collaboratives. And if a collaborative community alternative can be proposed that represents the myriad of interests, we’re certainly willing, and I’m certainly willing as a leader, to consider that and bring that into a formal NEPA process as a way to move forward and find a better balance.
Q: Do you see the LTBMU continuing to support mountain bike projects, like it did with Corral Trail in South Lake Tahoe, and how much of a priority do you consider those types of projects?
A: I think the notion of working with various entities to plan sustainable trails and provide world-class recreation in Lake Tahoe that serves and protects sensitive resources — which is largely the way we’ve been doing trail planning here in recent years — is a focus and continued area of emphasis that I would like to see us continue to collaborate on.
In the context of the big summer uses decision that we just put a final EIS (environmental impact statement) and a draft record of decision on, there is a big trail that is proposed as part of the Heavenly to Stateline connection called the Panorama Trail. And I can tell you from personal first-hand engagement, it’s not just a collaboration between the ski area and the Forest Service, but a collaboration between the ski area, the Forest Service, the state of Nevada, state parks, the California Tahoe Conservancy, the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, TAMBA and other stakeholders to really develop a proposal that not just met any one party’s needs, but all party’s needs. It’s a pretty exciting thing when you can pull a group like that together and talk about the opportunities of a new trail and how we can collectively manage it. So those are the kinds of things I do think will be a focus in the future.
Q: How do you view the Forest Service’s role in Tahoe’s economy as a whole? Is the Forest service obligated to help support the economy?
A: Clearly. Yes. I think with 75 percent of the land base that surrounds the lake, we have a big stake in managing the very setting and attributes that create much of the economic and community vitality. It’s a little different than some national forests, where our role is less about providing commodities and goods, and more in the setting and services and the healthy ecosystems that attract the many visitors that come up here to Lake Tahoe. We have a special role that we take very seriously, and I personally think there are some great opportunities that lay in front of us that lead to quality recreation programs and visitor services, that then support economic and local community vitality.
Q: The Forest Service provides so many jobs up here. What is the outlook for funding in the next several years, and how will it impact the LTBMU’s workforce?
A: Some things we don’t know and some things we do know. We know that the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, and the funding that was associated with that — not just for the Forest Service, but for all the federal agencies up here in Lake Tahoe — is waning. And as it is, we are completing projects, many of which were designed six to eight years ago, maybe even a decade back, but we are completing many of those projects and closing that supplemental funding to complete the deliverables. So that’s a known fact. We’ve got lots of agencies that have also been making substantial efforts at making improvements over the years as well. And I’ll tell you, many of the agencies have been along with the Forest Service looking at the opportunities that lay ahead. Some of the things we’ve been talking about are how can we look to collaborate and identify funding? How can we use state level grants or Prop 1 funding to continue the good work head?
I think many agencies have been looking at this not just as a single stove pipe concerned only in the staffing in our buildings, but also how do we as a group of agencies, who have the public’s trust to make improvements up here in Lake Tahoe to protect these lands — how do we do that collectively? It’s actually an exciting time because it gives us a chance to talk through how to package up projects. And overtime, I think because of Tahoe and the collaboration and the market improvement we need to make and the clear need that lay in front of us, I think we’ll be successful.
Q: What would you like to say you’ve accomplished after finishing your time as supervisor someday?
A: I’d like to say the time that I spend here furthers our multiple-agency, multiple-stakeholder approach and furthers the restoration activities of the Lake Tahoe Basin. But at the same time really builds a conversation around sustainably managing these lands over the long-term. That means everything from transportation to public access and visitation and making sure Lake Tahoe can remain that gem that it is and remains on the path to continued improvement.