TRPA will stay with old-growth rule another year
KINGS BEACH – While acknowledging a law against felling trees of 30 or more inches in diameter is far from perfect, Lake Tahoe planners Wednesday endorsed the idea of extending the rule for another year.
The extension is supposed to give a volunteer organization called the Forest Health Consensus Group enough time to come up with a better, more comprehensive plan for managing Tahoe’s old-growth forests.
“I think it needs to be kept in place to protect what we’ve got,” Steve Chilton, chief of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s environmental compliance division, told the agency’s Advisory Planning Commission.
The Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency is scheduled to make a final decision on the proposal on April 26.
An estimated 55 percent of the Tahoe Basin was old-growth forest prior to the Comstock logging of the 1800s. Today about 5 percent of undisturbed old-growth remains.
Two years ago TRPA adopted the 30-inch rule to protect old-growth trees. The 30-inch number was arbitrary but agreed upon for a temporary rule while officials could come up with a better rule. Tahoe trees that size likely are at least 150 years old.
There was more than an hour of discussion at the advisory commission’s meeting Wednesday, the crux of which surrounded whether private property owners should be exempt from the rule.
It’s not economically feasible for private land owners to thin the timber stands on their land, thus helping forest health and decreasing wildfire danger, without being able to harvest trees of all sizes, said J.B. Lekumberry, whose family owns 2,300 acres, the largest parcel of privately owned land in the basin.
Lekumberry, who is a member of the Forest Health Consensus Group, told the board that big pieces of land are tax burdens, and owners must be able to make a profit from the property in order to keep it. And he added that harvesting trees of various sizes would help promote a healthy forest, leaving trees not quite big enough to be old-growth alone to grow larger.
Keeping the 30-inch rule in place encourages land owners to harvest a lot of trees in the 25-to-29-inch range, leaving fewer trees that can become old-growth trees.
“There needs to be more flexibility,” Lekumberry told the board. “Putting in a 30-inch rule is just going to shoot the private land owner down.”
Dave Roberts, assistant executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe and also a member of the consensus group, supported the one-year extension, saying that whatever the final ordinance is it must allow for TRPA to easily enforce it.
“Until we develop that kind of language, the 30-inch tree rule is simply the best way to regulate that,” Roberts said. “It’s a stopgap; it’s not an end-all.”
Leo Poppoff, an advisory board member, supported the extension but expressed concern that too much emphasis would be placed on using consensus while coming up with the final ordinance and not enough use of science. He also expressed disbelief that the consensus group would come up with an agreed-upon proposal even with the year extension.
“I would hate to see this kind of arbitrary ordinance go on and on, year after year,” Poppoff said.
Thirty-inch trees can be felled at Tahoe, but loggers need express tree-by-tree permission from TRPA foresters. The agency fined a Grass Valley, Calif., timber company $160,000 last month for allegedly removing 49 old-growth trees without permission. The company, Menasha Corp., has said it will fight the civil penalty in federal court.
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