Public input sought prior to forest road closure decision |

Public input sought prior to forest road closure decision

by Andy Bourelle

The U.S. Forest Service manages about 78 percent of the land in the Lake Tahoe Basin. And on that property, about 418 miles of roads exist, ranging from two-lane paved roads to dirt roads where drivers need four-wheel drive.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit officials are planning to change that – restoring some roads, turning others into hiking and mountain biking trails and destroying many of them.

Because roads – especially unmanaged dirt roads – can lead to erosion problems and ultimately hurt the clarity of Lake Tahoe, the Forest Service has been developing an Access and Travel Management Plan. The plan is to take into account which roads pose the greatest risk to water quality as well as which ones are most often used.

Public workshops were held last year, and another round of workshops started Monday. The final meeting is scheduled tonight on the North Shore.

“Our policy is we will continue to have dialogue with the public,” said Mike Derrig, hydrologist for the Forest Service. “There’s always something new that can come up. We don’t want to cut (public comment) off.”

About 275 miles of the existing roads are system roads, which means they are regularly used and maintained by the Forest Service. The rest is made up of non-system roads, roads that have been “user-created.” They could be old logging roads or roads that exist only because people drive four-wheel-drive vehicles on them.

Derrig said the Forest Service tentatively plans to decommission – essentially destroy – 138 miles of non-system roads. About 28 miles of system and non-system roads will be turned into trails, and about 20 miles of non-system roads will be upgraded.

The plan is good news for Lake Tahoe’s clarity, some believe.

“I think the recommendations are good,” Dave Roberts of the League to Save Lake Tahoe said at Monday’s meeting.

Not everyone agrees, however.

“I’m not totally familiar with all this yet, but I’m basically against any restricting of use of public land,” Steve Morris, a Sacramento resident and member of the Lake Tahoe Hi Lo’s 4-Wheel Drive Club, said at the meeting. “Public lands are owned by us; we should be allowed to use them.”

Members of the club indicated at the meeting that education about the proper use of the roads would be better than closing them.

“Everyone has their way of enjoying nature. Some people like to walk through nature. Some people like to four-wheel drive through nature,” said Sal Sunzeri, a South Lake Tahoe resident and member of the Lake Tahoe Hi Lo’s. “Water quality of Lake Tahoe is a big concern of ours. (We offer clinics on how to ride properly) to educate people, to minimize erosion, to minimize the silt going into Lake Tahoe,” he added.

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