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Upper Truckee may be wild

Patrick McCartney

Tahoe Basin residents love their rivers.

In a study of possible Eastern Sierra rivers that could be designated as wild or scenic, the U.S. Forest Service has announced that the public supports giving the Upper Truckee and Truckee rivers special status.

Now, the Forest Service will conduct an environmental study of the proposed designations, said Phil Horning, who coordinates the program for the Tahoe National Forest.

“In many cases, the letter writer had a second house or another connection to Lake Tahoe,” Horning said. “Many of the letter writers expressed a strong feeling to preserve the values of these rivers.”

The Wild and Scenic River Study summarized public response to a proposal to make a seven-mile stretch of the Upper Truckee and eight miles of Sagehen Creek scenic rivers.

But those who responded during the comment period asked the Forest Service to give the Upper Truckee the more exclusive status of a wild river, and also urged the naming of the Truckee River between Tahoe City and Truckee a scenic river.

The portion of the Upper Truckee under study are the relatively undisturbed headwaters above Christmas Valley.

The Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit will now have to decide whether or not to pursue a designation of wild for the stretch of the Upper Truckee between the south end of Christmas Valley and the headwaters.

“We are taking a second look at the Upper Truckee’s eligibility in response to the public comment,” said Lisa O’Daly, a community planner with the Lake Tahoe unit.

Horning said the designations would not affect property rights along the Upper Truckee, since it is completely within national forest land. Designations such as wild, scenic or recreational are intended to preserve the status quo, he said.

A designation of wild would bar any new roads, and should not be awarded to a river where there are many roads, logging projects or large campgrounds. A scenic designation would allow more roads, campgrounds and logging, but they would be low-keyed.

Recreational rivers can be intensely logged and have a major highway or major campground nearby.

When applied to the Sierra Nevada, the national Wild and Scenic River Act does not apply to the same type of rivers in other parts of the country, Horning said.

“The East Sierra rivers are a little different,” he said. “Traditionally, wild or scenic rivers are great rivers that are good for rafting and so forth. But you can jump over Sagehen Creek. Here, a wild or scenic river can be a stream that has resource values, interesting native fish or ecosystem value.”

The Wild and Scenic Rivers program began more than seven years ago, and the report released this week evaluated public comment offered in 1994 to the Forest Service initiative. In all, eight Eastern Sierra rivers were considered eligible for special status: Upper Truckee River, Truckee River, Little Truckee River, Independence Creek, Sagehen Creek, Cold Stream and Alder Creek.

Of those, the Forest Service proposed naming the Upper Truckee and Sagehen scenic waters, but the public suggested the Upper Truckee be upgraded from scenic to wild and overwhelmingly supported the Truckee River from Tahoe City to Truckee as a scenic river.

One hitch in naming the Truckee from Tahoe City to the town of Truckee a scenic river is the opposition of the city of Truckee, Horning said. He added that a designation on that stretch of the river would have little value, because of agreements with the Pyramid tribe and downstream water users over water rights.

“That stretch of river is one of the most adjudicated rivers in the world, and our ability to manage it as a wild and scenic river would be very limited,” Horning said.


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