With the decision to approve Heavenly Mountain Resort's master plan amendment facing the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Governing Board today, the debate continues about the age and status of trees that could be cut down to accommodate a new lift at the ski area's North Bowl.
A statement issued by the Sierra Nevada Alliance and the Tahoe Area Sierra Club on Monday called the removal of the trees " which they described as "ancient" " an outrage. However, the groups also failed to detail what qualities makes the stand "old-growth" and "ancient."
Monday's statement begins with the assertion that if the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Governing Board approves Heavenly's Master Plan Amendment today, "Trees 300-500 years old will be cut down to make room for a faster ski lift."
Although trees within this age range are indeed threatened with removal under the current TRPA staff recommended Alternative 4, their prevalence and classification as "old-growth" is disputed by the U.S. Forest Service.
"I've walked all of the North Bowl," said David Fournier, vegetation planner with the Forest Service. "I would say that the number of trees in that age bracket are few, the majority are in the middle of their life cycle."
Fournier estimated that most of the red fir trees in the disputed stand are between 200 and 250 years old.
Aside from some stray showers today that will add to the nearly four feet of lake level snow from the latest series of storms, temperatures will climb steadily through the weekend.
The National Weather Service calls for showers to continue today but with a high pressure system that will settle over the area by the weekend making for great ski and snowboard conditions.
"We're looking at temperatures by the weekend in the 40s at the lake and 50s in the valley," said forecaster Rudy Cruz.
Weather Service Co-op forecaster Simon Smith reports that Monday's storm alone amounted to 28 inches of snow at lake level. "When added together, all three storms brought about four feet in town, and about six feet above 7,000 feet," Smith said.
Road crews took advantage of Monday's brief respite of sunshine to plow the major arterial roads. At one point during the height of Monday's system, all three major arteries into the Lake Tahoe region " Highways 50, 88 and Interstate 80 " were closed because of white-out conditions.
After a few postponements due to inclement weather, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association state skiing championships will take place Thursday at Alpine Meadows. Six teams " two from the Tahoe Basin Ski League and two from the Northern 4A's High Desert League and Sierra League " and several dozen individuals from nonqualifying teams will compete in a slalom and giant slalom.
The South Tahoe girls' Alpine team finished second in the Tahoe Basin Ski League and each team member will earn starts in today's slalom at 10 a.m. On the boys' side, James Denney, Chris Whatford and Derek Holmgren all qualified as individuals, though there is a chance Erich Baumann and Jake Daum could earn starts as alternates, so they will join their teammates.
The Whittell boys and girls didn't qualify as a team but will send members to Alpine Meadows in case they also earn starts as alternates. Truckee is considered the
favorite in both the girls' and boys' team races.
"Truckee is real good, but our girls came in second to Truckee and beat them a couple of times," said STHS Alpine coach Todd McIntyre. "If our girls come in and do well, they have a shot, but I don't know anything about the Reno-area schools.
"For the boys, Derek is a really strong skier and I can't imagine the other leagues having anybody better than the Incline boys. Incline has some pretty solid skiers, but our boys have done well against them."
Both the slalom and giant slalom races will be one-run events, with the giant slalom scheduled to start after the slalom.
North Tahoe is the defending girls' state champion and Galena the defending boys' state champion.