For a brief moment Wednesday, the basin’s private landowners were given hope. Their pleas to be exempt from new cutting regulations of old-growth trees were heard and discussed by the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
But in a matter of minutes a motion to absolve those landowners from the new cutting prohibition was defeated by two votes.
Governing Board members unanimously passed amendments to the TRPA’s vegetation threshold, code, and goals and policies concerning the management of public and private old-growth forests in the basin.
In an effort to restore 55 percent of the basin’s forest to an old-growth condition, the bistate regulatory board banned cutting trees more than 30 inches in diameter in the westside forest and greater than 24 inches in the eastside.
Approval of the plan was a policy milestone for the old-growth issue, which provoked years of consensus-focused debate and discussion among environmentalists, private landowners and public lands managers.
Private landowners expressed their concerns with the economic strain they believe the new regulations will place upon them.
The landowners are already subject to cut restrictions by the TRPA and California and Nevada departments of forestry.
J.B. Lukemberry, owner of the largest private land holding in the basin, said those regulations have already limited his cutting capabilities drastically.
“To get an exemption would allow me or our land manager to decide whether we can cut that 30-inch tree or not,” Lukemberry said. “That gives me the alternative to consider my economic viability.”
Lukemberry’s concerns were echoed by the Governing Board.
Board member Larry Sevison acknowledged the difficulty private landowners may encounter when managing for old-growth thresholds compared to public forests.
Private landowners depend on cutting larger, more profitable trees to keep their forests financially afloat, when public forests are subsidized by taxpayer dollars.
As the board discussed exempting private landowners from the regulations, League to Save Lake Tahoe and Sierra Club officials opposed private landowners’ getting special treatment.
The new code allows private landowners to cut old-growth trees larger than 30 or 24 inches as long as they can prove the land is being managed to obtain old-growth thresholds.
This was the only portion of the regulations in which consensus wasn’t reached. The environmental agencies thought it was too lenient and the private land owners too stringent.
But League spokesman Dave Roberts said although the board approved the plan the issue is far from over.
“The effort to come up with a comprehensive set of regulations should be complimented,” Roberts said. “But we’re not happy with this plan. Lots of groups aren’t happy with this as far as complete satisfaction. But that’s ultimately the result with consensus.”
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