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Old-growth standard to receive fine-tuning

Patrick McCartney

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency unveiled a new environmental standard for old-growth forests in the Tahoe Basin on Wednesday, but the U.S. Forest Service said it wants to see more details of how the standard would work.

The product of two years of discussion by the agency’s Forest Health Consensus Group, a working committee of private and public interests, the old-growth threshold will be returned to the group for more work before it is presented again.

That was the decision of the TRPA Advisory Planning Commission after its review of the new standard.



In proposing a new environmental threshold for old-growth forests, the agency’s staff followed the direction set by the TRPA board during its 1991 review of the basin’s environment.

The agency’s Steve Chilton presented the proposed threshold to the advisory panel, and explained that the proposed language reflected two years of debate among parties that sometimes disagreed. The standard calls for the “promotion and perpetuation of late successional/old growth forests” in the Tahoe Basin, but does not include a numerical goal for the number of acres.



In its definition of old growth, the agency suggested that it is characterized by the presence of four trees per acre with diameters of 30 inches or more. A forest stand could also be designated as old growth if it exhibits signs of the kind of decadence seen in old-growth forests.

The proposed standard also calls for the management of core old-growth areas, and wildlife conditions typical of late-successional forests, including the preservation of wildlife corridors.

But two days before Wednesday’s meeting, the Forest Service informed the TRPA that the proposal needed more detailed goals and policies before it could sign off on the new standard. The Forest Service’s support is essential, since it manages about three-fourths of the Tahoe Basin’s 200,000 acres of forest.

“Right now, the Forest Service is undecided whether or not we can live with it,” said Joe Oden, the assistant forest planner for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

After the meeting, Oden said the Forest Service staff had reservations about the lack of specificity in the threshold, and its implications for forest management in the basin.

Oden said Forest Service staff is concerned about what the standard really means, how it would be applied and how one would determine if one is complying with the threshold.

He added that the proposed standard of four large trees per acre may not be selective enough.

“This threshold could apply to almost anywhere in the basin,” Oden said. “The notion of four trees of 30-inches or more per acre is a very common situation in the basin, including private parcels, cemeteries and recreational facilities.”

Oden said the inclusion of wildlife habitat is also a concern of the Forest Service.

“What do you do with that?” he asked. “We could have corridors every which way in the basin.”

Chilton argued that the proposed standard was the best that could be achieved through the consensus process, and that it was no more general than some other thresholds were initially before subsequent research added specific goals and policies. He said the goal was necessarily vague because no one knows how much of the basin’s forest could develop into old-growth stands.

“I don’t know how much more tweaking can be done to the threshold without other (members of the consensus group) leaving the room,” Chilton said.


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