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Beware of ‘wild, scenic’ status

by Christy Chalmers

Giving the Carson River wild and scenic status would be like applying handcuffs and keeping the key, one local official says.

“It’s kind of like putting the handcuffs on forever. You don’t know what the effects are at all,” said Jacques Etchegoyhen, a Douglas County commissioner and member of the Carson Water Subconservancy District board. “I’ve been an avid user of wild and scenic rivers, but I think you have to be really careful and make sure it’s an appropriate thing to do before you do it.”

Etchegoyhen and nine other Subconservancy board members voted Wednesday to send a letter to the U.S. Forest Service formally requesting local participation in any efforts to review the Carson for possible designation as a wild and scenic river. The only dissenting vote was from Kay Bennett, a Carson City supervisor.

Wild and scenic designations are intended to protect pristine waterways from development and other activities that could compromise their condition. But the designation can also mean an end, or denial, of any project that would alter the river, even if the change would be beneficial.

The letter approved Wednesday cites a provision with a forest management plan that mentions possible wild and scenic status for the river, which has two forks that originate in Alpine County, Calif., before merging in the Carson Valley. The wild and scenic status would most likely affect the east and west branches above the Carson Valley.

Douglas officials say they want more information on the impacts of a wild and scenic designation.

“My theory is when you have a profound lack of public information, your best route is to say ‘keep it the way it is,'” said Etchegoyhen. “I’m not dead set against it, but with the information I have today, I sure am because I don’t have much information. I sure hope the public is involved with this.”

Bernie Curtis, also a Douglas commissioner and Subconservancy board member, said he doesn’t like the specter of federal control over a river that’s owned by the state.

“We’re really working hard on the river, and I don’t think we need the Forest Service placing additional restrictions on the river,” he said. “We have a lot of things to get done and we need to be able to get in there without one more layer of bureaucracy being involved.”

The Subconservancy district covers the Carson River watershed areas of Carson City, Douglas, Lyon and Churchill counties and is sponsoring various groups that are studying river-related issues.

District Manager Ed James thinks the wild and scenic issue would be more efficiently addressed by one of those groups. The Subconservancy District will be overseeing efforts to develop a watershed management plan for the entire river, and James prefers to focus on the river as a whole instead of treating it as an element of a forest.