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President targets old logging roads

Patrick McCartney

When loggers invaded the Tahoe Basin during the era of the Comstock Lode, they built hundreds of miles of dirt roads to haul timber to the mines of Nevada.

Today, 361 miles of mostly unsurfaced roads crisscross the basin’s slopes.

On Saturday, President Clinton announced a plan for the U.S. Forest Service to obliterate 95 miles of dirt roads in the basin, about a quarter of all the old logging roads.

The cost to close and revegetate the roads would cost an estimate $1.1 million, about $11,850 per mile, according to Bob McDowell, a forest planning staff officer with the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

“This will be a big shot in the arm, because we are always limited in appropriated funds,” McDowell said Monday.

The purpose of the program is to reduce soil erosion and the amount of compacted dirt.

Yet, the program should not disrupt the activities of off-road enthusiasts, since most of the roads to be destroyed are duplicative of others, or seldom-used spurs, McDowell said.

“The kinds of roads we will obliterate are the roads that don’t go anywhere – old logging roads and landing areas,” he said.

Representatives of Tahoe off-road groups were unavailable for comment Tuesday.

But Bill Dart of the American Motorcyclist Association was supportive of Forest Service plans to obliterate and close 39 miles of old roads on Lake Tahoe’s North Shore, saying enough roads would remain for recreation.

McDowell said the program will spare roads considered important for fire fighting, forest management and recreational access.

The Forest Service has already destroyed some of the old roads to comply with an agreement with state water-quality regulators.

“The ultimate goal is to re-contour some roads, to make the road bed disappear,” McDowell said. “But more commonly, we’re talking about roads on flatter, gentler terrain, where we drag a plow-like device called a sub-soiler behind a tractor.”

The sub-soiler lifts the road bed, churning up the soil to a depth of a foot and a half. The process significantly reduces soil compaction, which means moisture can infiltrate the soil instead of running off the hard surface, carrying sediment with it.

After plowing up the roads, the Forest Service will reseed the surface with a mixture of native grasses and plants approved by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. Over some of the surface, limbs and logs will be scattered to speed up the healing process, McDowell added.

And lastly, the Forest Service will build barriers at the junction of the obliterated roads with other roads to prevent recreational users from using them.

Along with the obliteration program, the Forest Service plans to reduce erosion from the remaining dirt roads by implementing what are called Best Management Practices. That will largely mean installing rip rap near stream courses and laying down gravel or a chip seal near stream crossings to minimize sediment from being carried away.


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