The Forest Service, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and California Tahoe Conservancy are proposing a massive “forest health” project on public lands upslope of Lake Tahoe’s west shore. Stretching north from Fallen Leaf Lake to the Truckee River, the Lake Tahoe West Restoration project proposes 19,500 acres of forest “thinning” (i.e. logging), including 16,500 acres of mechanical and 3,000 acres of aerial or hand thinning. To facilitate mechanical thinning, permanent roads may be constructed in Backcountry Management Areas (BMAs) set aside by the Forest Service for non-motorized recreation.
The BMAs are popular destinations for backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and hiking. Within the BMAs, are two Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs), including portions of the Pyramid IRA along the eastern boundary of the Desolation Wilderness and a potential eastern addition to the Granite Chief Wilderness. IRAs are among the wildest remaining landscapes in our National Forests and are a high-priority for protection by conservationists. The proposed road building and logging in IRAs would violate the Forest Service’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a Clinton-era mandate meant to protect these wild places from most logging, road buildings, and other development.
Much of the Lake Tahoe Basin was clear cut in the 1800s to supply timber to Nevada’s silver mines and the transcontinental railroad. The largely young and crowded forest that replaced the basin’s natural, majestic old-growth groves has created a huge fire hazard – a danger exacerbated by the Basin’s extensive urban development and a seasonal influx of millions of visitors. For example, an illegal campfire started the 2007 Angora fire in the southern portion of the Lake Tahoe Basin, which burned 3,100 acres and destroyed 242 residences and 67 commercial structures.
Thinning of Lake Tahoe’s young and crowded forests and restoration of its degraded watersheds is needed. The Lake Tahoe West Project includes much-needed thinning in the wildland urban interface and restoration of several streams. But the project also proposes logging and roadbuilding in higher elevation roadless areas adjacent to existing wilderness. This contravenes the project’s own “resilience assessment”, which noted that “Higher elevations and wilderness are more resilient to most disturbances, whereas canyons and lower elevations are especially vulnerable to impacts associated with fire, drought, and climate change.” The assessment concluded that “Restoration activities focused in these (lower elevation) areas may maximize landscape resilience.”
On the chopping block is the Stanford Rock BMA (which is adjacent to the existing Granite Chief Wilderness and includes the Granite Chief IRA). This backcountry area encompasses a ridge between Blackwood and Ward Creeks and includes Stanford Rock and the 8,878 foot-high Twin Peaks on the Sierra Nevada crest. A popular destination for backcountry skiing, mountain biking, and hiking, this area is also home to some remnant old-growth forests and several sensitive wildlife species, including California spotted owl, pine marten, and northern goshawk. and the BMA that rings the Desolation Wilderness (and includes portions of the Pyramid IRA).
Another BMA/IRA threatened by the mechanical thinning and road building in the Lake Tahoe West project are roadless lands adjacent to the eastern boundary of the Desolation Wilderness. The entire area provides a dramatic scenic backdrop to Lake Tahoe. The proposed logging/road building would occur along several streams that drain the Desolation Wilderness, including Cascade Creek, the headwaters of Rubicon Creek, Meeks Creek, and General Creek. The project would adversely impact the Meeks Bay-Genieve Lake Trail, which is heavily trafficked by backpackers entering the Desolation Wilderness and day hikers visiting scenic Meeks Creek Falls.
CalWild proposed most of the Stanford Rock BMA as an addition to the Granite Chief Wilderness during the development of the Lake Tahoe Basin Forest Plan in 2012. But the 2017 final plan recommended not one acre of wilderness. Instead, the Forest Service established BMAs, which, according to Regional Forester Randy Moore’s decision approving the Lake Tahoe Basin Plan, would “perpetuate the long term roadless character of these lands.” When CalWild objected to the final plan, the Forest Service rejected our concern that administrative protection of roadless areas provided by BMAs may result “irrevocable” loss of future consideration for Wilderness. Now the Lake Tahoe West project is proposing logging and the construction of permanent roads in roadless lands that should be added to the Granite Chief and Desolation Wilderness areas.
Other concerns about the Lake Tahoe West Project include:
Impacts on Lake Tahoe Clarity – Except for the Truckee River corridor, the entire project area encompasses watersheds functioning at risk. These watersheds already produce substantial sediment that contributes to the loss of clarity of Lake Tahoe, one of only two Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW) designated in California. Degradation of water quality in ONRWs is prohibited by the Clean Water Act. Blackwood creek is the highest per-acre contributor of fine sediments and nutrients to Lake Tahoe and Ward Creek is the third highest contributor of runoff to the Lake. And yet, the project proposes extensive mechanical treatment in these watersheds.
Impacts to Sensitive Species & Habitat – The northern portion of the Lake Tahoe West Project (including the Stanford Rock BMA) includes rare stands of “late seral” (old growth) forests. This provides habitat for a number of sensitive species, including California spotted owl, northern goshawk, and pine marten.
Impacts to Backcountry Recreation – As previously mentioned, the BMAs/IRAs in the project area provide outstanding backcountry recreation opportunities, including backcountry skiing, mountain biking, hiking, and backpacking. The project area include segments of the Pacific Crest Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, Meeks Bay-Geneive Lake Trail, and others. Due to the popularity of the Lake Tahoe area as a recreation destination, opportunities for backcountry recreation in a remote setting are becoming more rare. The project will degrade the natural settings and semi-primitive recreation opportunities.
EIS Required – The project proponents are proposing to analyze the impacts of their project with a simple Environmental Assessment (a less comprehensive level of analysis). But a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) (the highest level of analysis under federal law) is required when development is proposed in a roadless areas and when that development requires a “significant” amendment to the existing Forest Plan (such as allowing logging and new roads in BMAs). In addition, possible adverse impacts to Lake Tahoe’s water quality, backcountry recreation, and sensitive species and their habitat also warrant an EIS.
Less Intrusive Treatment – As an alternative to the destructive logging and roadbuilding proposed in the BMAs/IRAs, the Forest Service need look no farther than the Caples Creek Ecological Restoration Project on the adjacent Eldorado National Forest. This 8,000-acre project reintroduced prescribed fire (fires lit by Forest Service personnel and managed for purposes of restoration) to restore forest ecosystems in the Caples Creek Roadless Area, without logging or road building. The area was recommended by the Forest Service for wilderness protection in 1989 and it is managed by the agency to protect its wilderness qualities.
The deadline for public scoping comments on the Lake Tahoe West Project is Tuesday, May 26, 2020. This is your opportunity to raise concerns about the irrevocable loss of roadless and backcountry qualities in BMAs/IRAs from logging and road building, as well as insist that the Forest Service and its partner agencies assess the impacts on watersheds and Lake Tahoe clarity, sensitive species and habitat, backcountry recreation, and alternative treatments in a full EIS.
Please email your scoping comments TODAY to all three agency representatives. Feel free to use the sample email below and add any personal thoughts or experience you may have in enjoying Lake Tahoe’s few remaining wild places. Again, the deadline for email comments is Tuesday, May 26, 2020.
Brian Garrett Christine Aralia Shannon Friedman
USDA Forest Service California Tahoe Conservancy Tahoe Regional Planning Agency
Brian.firstname.lastname@example.org Christine.email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr. Garrett, Ms. Aralia, and Ms. Friedman:
Thank you for soliciting public scoping comments concerning the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Project.
I urge that the scope of this proposed project be altered to eliminate mechanical thinning and permanent road construction from existing Backcountry Management Areas (BMAs), including the Stanford Rock BMA adjacent to the Granite Chief Wilderness. The BMAs targeted by the project are popular destinations for backcountry skiers, mountain bikers, hikers, and backpackers. I strongly oppose the project proposal to amend the Lake Tahoe Basin Forest Plan to allow road building and logging in BMAs. Also, no logging or road building should be allowed in Inventoried Roadless Areas per the Roadless Area Conservation Rule.
While I support thinning to reduce wildfire fuels and improve forest health in the Lake Tahoe Basin’s wildland urban interface, it must be done in a manner to ensure that the project will not increase sedimentation into and reduce the clarity of Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe is an Outstanding Natural Resource Water under the Clean Water Act – no degradation of water quality is allowed.
Given the potential adverse impacts to nationally significant resources, I urge that a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) be used to assess the impacts of this project on BMAs, IRAs, backcountry recreation, wildlife and habitat, and Lake Tahoe’s water quality.
Please advise when the draft EIS for this project is available for public review and comment.
(name, address, email)