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Tahoe leading way in U.S. Forest Service changes

by Andy Bourelle

What kind of progress has been made in preserving Lake Tahoe since the 1997 Presidential Summit at Lake Tahoe? From the point of view of the U.S. Forest Service – as much as possible.

“We’re doing as much as we can,” said Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor Juan Palma. “There’s a lot of work to be done, and I have to believe we’re doing all we can.”

Palma said the 1997 presidential summit has strengthened the work between the “federal family” making preservation efforts more efficient and cutting down on the duplication of efforts.

“It was happening before, but now we all have a focal goal, which is the clarity of the lake. All of us have a common goal.”

Palma said the critical third branch of the trio of committees charged with implementing the directives should be formed by early October. The other two groups, the Lake Tahoe Basin Executive Committee and the Federal Tahoe Regional Executives, have been meeting regularly for nearly a year. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman currently has the 51 applications which were received during the 15-day nomination process earlier this year, from which Glickman is to choose the members for the Lake Tahoe Basin Federal Advisory Committee.

Up to 20 people can comprise the committee, and members will represent a wide range of areas, including gaming, science and research, local and national environment, ski resorts, states of California and Nevada, the Washoe Tribe, transportation and more.

Palma said officials are trying to create an infrastructure to preserve the lake, despite possible changes in the federal, state and local decision-making process.

“What we don’t want to happen at Tahoe is that the president came, the president left and it’s all done,” he said. “We want to create an infrastructure that will remain in place, regardless.”

The Federal Advisory Committee Act – known as FACA – allows the citizens’ advisory committee to give input and advice to federal officials, who normally cannot take public comment without the opportunity to be opened to all the public.

The role of the U.S. Forest Service is changing, Palma said, and Lake Tahoe is serving as an example for the United States.

In previous eras, the U.S. Forest Service has focused on one issue, such as high timber production. Now the forest service is in what Palma described as the “ecosystem time,” where every part of forest – air, water, wildlife and more – are important.

How the scientific aspects of the forest affect social factors such as transportation and recreation also are accounted for.

Some of the preservation projects currently under way by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit include:

n As part of the North Shore Roads project, near North Star-at-Tahoe on Mt. Watson Road $800,000 worth of road improvements are cutting down erosion.

“It’s not for a smoother ride,” said Colin West, engineering and recreation staff officer. “It’s to preserve water quality.”

Because an environmental assessment statement was completed in 1996 for the North Shore, the forest service were able to “jump right in” to the roads project after the 1997 presidential summit.

Old logging roads, many of which are no longer used, are being improved, destroyed and turned into biking and hiking trails or camouflaged with slash to keep people from using them. Improvements include armoring – or rock lining – ditches, adding rolling dips, incorporating water bars and even changing the slope of roads slightly.

n As part of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit’s goal of thinning about 3,000 acres of forest a year through mechanical treatments and prescribed burns, a 60-acre project of thinning the trees on Pioneer Trail is under way.

About 20 percent of the basin’s trees are dead, and the forests are overcrowded, where trees compete against the same nutrients and sunlight. Thinning the trees helps the forest health and cuts down on the risk of a catastrophic wildfire.

The trees in the pre-Comstock forests in the Lake Tahoe Basin were 20 to 30 feet apart, and Forester Angela Parker said the current goal is to have trees about 10 to 15 feet apart.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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