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Guest view: Send a message on airport tree-cutting

Michael Donahoe

The City of South Lake Tahoe’s cutting down of 387 trees near the airport is so outrageous it’s hard to know how to respond. We don’t have all the facts yet, but the facts we do have are extremely disturbing.

The California Department of Forestry issued a tree-cutting permit to the city on March 2 allowing the city to cut down up to 100 small (10-inch diameter or less) trees this year.

The city cut down 387 trees, 154 of them larger than 10 inches diameter.

The tree-cutting permit stipulated that “Only trees marked in paint and approved by a forester may be cut.”

There were no paint marks on the cut trees.

Some of the cut trees are within spitting distance of the Upper Truckee River Ð a major source of the clarity-destroying sediments entering Lake Tahoe.

Millions of dollars of taxpayer money are being spent on stabilizing the stream banks of the Upper Truckee. What a waste of money if the city is going to turn around and de-stabilize nearby stream banks by cutting down trees along the same Upper Truckee River.

A Lahontan permit was also required, but not obtained.

The bulk of the trees were cut down by city employees on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. (Why did the city wait for that day when the tree-cutting permit was issued almost three months earlier? So much for imminent safety concerns. Was the city hoping no one would be around to notice? Or were they making sure that if people did notice there would be no way to contact a city official or TRPA to stop this outrage? Or is the city so flush with money they need to burn up some of it on holiday pay for employees?)

On Tuesday, May 30, TRPA verbally asked the city to halt all tree-cutting. The city continued to cut trees down until TRPA issued a written cease-and-desist order on Friday, June 2.

The facts so far are extremely disturbing and point to a much more blatant disregard for our environment and TRPA regulations than the recent case of tree poisoning that TRPA rightly dealt with so forcefully.

TRPA needs to be no less forceful in dealing with this matter.

And the people of South Lake Tahoe need to decide if this kind of behavior is acceptable.

Events like these don’t happen in a vacuum. They signal a serious lack of leadership. City workers are not likely to stick their necks out and risk their jobs without either explicit or implicit messages from their bosses that such behavior is OK. (The fact that city leaders did not quickly condemn what was done speaks volumes.) How unfortunate that those who should be building bridges and leading the way to saving Lake Tahoe are doing just the opposite. I hope people can see that major changes are needed. Our lake is at stake here. So are our communities.

– Michael Donahoe is Tahoe Area Sierra Club Conservation Co-chair.


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