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Old-growth law continues

Lake Tahoe leaders Wednesday agreed to extend for one more year an admittedly flawed, temporary ordinance protecting old-growth trees.

That extension is supposed to give a volunteer organization called the Forest Health Consensus Group enough time to come up with a better, more comprehensive plan for managing Tahoe’s old-growth forests.

The interim ordinance, which prohibits the felling of trees 30 or more inches in diameter without permission from the agency, is a way to protect the basin’s scarce old trees while the better rule is established, said Steve Chilton, a senior environmental planner for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.



“It takes 150-plus years to grow trees of that size; it takes only a few minutes to cut them down,” Chilton said to the agency’s governing board Wednesday.

An estimated 55 percent of the Tahoe Basin was old-growth forest prior to the Comstock logging of the 1800s. Today only about 5 percent of undisturbed old-growth remains.



TRPA adopted the 30-inch rule to protect old-growth trees two years ago. The 30-inch number was arbitrary but agreed upon for a temporary rule.

There was less than an hour of discussion Wednesday. However, private land owners in the past have expressed dissatisfaction with the rule.

“There are some unhappy people out there, primarily private land owners, regarding this very heavy-handed ordinance,” said Shirley Taylor, owner of South Shore’s Celio Ranch.

It is not economically feasible for private land owners to thin the timber stands on their land, thus helping forest health and decreasing wildfire danger, without being able to harvest trees of all sizes, private property owners have claimed.

Land owners have said the policy could actually threaten forest health by forcing loggers to remove trees just a little less in diameter than the 30-inch cutoff, never allowing those trees to mature. A proper harvesting strategy, they claim, would allow removal of a mixture of tree sizes, including some greater than 30 inches.

Chilton said he doesn’t believe the rule will lead to more logging of trees in the 20-inch range. The agency can guard against that in harvest plans, and he said he doubts a professional forester looking at a timber stand before a harvest would allow that to happen.

“That is not good forestry practice, and I doubt any professional forester would do it,” Chilton said.

The 14-voting-member governing board passed the ordinance unanimously.

The Forest Health Consensus Group and TRPA staff plan to have the new, permanent ordinance ready for review by TRPA’s governing board by early next year.

“It will be a more comprehensive ordinance that recognizes the value of old-growth trees but also resolves the private land issue,” Chilton said.

Private land represents only a fraction of the area affected by the ordinance, with most of it managed by either the Forest Service or the states of Nevada and California.

TRPA fined a Grass Valley, Calif., timber company $160,000 last month for allegedly removing 49 old-growth trees without permission on land belonging to the Tahoe City Public Utility District. The company, Menasha Corp., has said it will fight the civil penalty in federal court.


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