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Tahoe forest supervisor to retire

Patrick McCartney

Robert Harris, who has guided the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit since 1988, has announced his retirement.

Harris, 57, will step down from his post as supervising forester at the end of March.

After serving in the Forest Service for 30 years, and having an interest in Lake Tahoe for 21 of those years, Harris said he is leaving on a high note.

“It’s been a great experience. It’s been a real high for me,” said Harris, who plans to maintain part-time residences at Lake Tahoe and Folsom, Calif., where his wife, Carolyn, is a land surveyor.

During his tenure with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Harris has seen the basin’s national forest pummeled by drought and bug infestation. In response, his office has introduced a series of large-scale projects aimed at restoring the health of the basin’s forests through thinning, salvage logging and controlled fires.

The intent of the projects is to restore the forests to a condition that resembles the forests Europeans encountered at Lake Tahoe in the 19th century, before clear-cut logging and fire suppression dramatically changed it.

Harris has also managed the agency during a time of fiscal uncertainty for the federal government. In 1993, the Forest Service reduced the funds available for the Lake Tahoe unit, resulting in the loss of 23 of the agency’s 105 permanent employees.

Yet, Harris said the overriding experience of his time at Lake Tahoe is the increasing cooperation among competing interests in the basin.

“Most of the cooperation has come in the last eight years,” he said, pointing to regional coalitions for economic development, transportation and recreational facilities.

But most challenging, he added, has been managing a forest that is in the back yards of a large urban population. In tackling the sensitive issues that have surfaced, Harris said he has tried to make sure the public has had the chance to help shape the agency’s plans. It’s an effort that has earned him high marks among those who have been occasional critics of his agency’s forest management practices.

“I think Bob worked hard to see that everybody was heard in the process,” said Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “There were many disagreements on the East Shore and North Shore tracts, but Bob made sure everyone had their say and was listened to.”

Harris arrived at the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit in the fall of 1988, succeeding Ralph Cisco. Before then, he served as the assistant director of engineering at the Forest Service’s regional office in San Francisco, and worked in Nevada City for more than eight years as the forest engineer for that Forest Service unit.

During a stint as the assistant forest engineer in Placerville at the start of his career, Harris had a hand in designing the waterworks at the Stream Profile Chamber in South Lake Tahoe.


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