Forest Service to address commission |

Forest Service to address commission

by Sheila Gardner

When you hear “Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit,” do you think “jewel of the Sierra,” or, “Uh-oh, bureaucracy at work”?

Juan Palma, director of the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, is hoping that recently proposed legislation to raise the status of public land at Lake Tahoe to a national forest will give the area new respect.

Douglas County commissioners, however, fear the change in designation is just another layer of bureaucracy. So far, the county stands alone in its concern.

Palma is scheduled to address commissioners about the proposed legislation which he says will not give the government additional control over land at the Lake.

“This bill gives the U.S. Forest Service no more authority over the land than it has now. It will not in any fashion give the TRPA any more authority. In my personal opinion, I believe we have enough authority to manage the land and don’t need any more,” Palma said.

The federal legislation earmarks $20 million annually for 10 years for implementation of projects on an Environmental Recreation Priority List and $10 million annually for erosion control programs.

“There are three parts of this bill and number one to me is the designation of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit as the Lake Tahoe National Scenic Forest and Restoration Area,” Palma said. “That’s a name that has been created after a lot of community involvement. It’s not something that has been crafted in a back room.

“The other thing is, the name doesn’t exist anywhere else. There is baggage with other existing names such as national forest or national recreation area all by itself or national scenic area all by itself,” Palma said. “‘Lake Tahoe’ is a very special name. This name is about our mission: to restore healthy watersheds and to provide high quality recreation. That is a challenge.”

Palma clarified that the funding that accompanies the new legislation is authorized rather than allocated.

“It simply gives you the authority to go through the procedure to get the money,” Palma said.

“The third part of the bill is really exciting,” he said. “There is $10 million that would be authorized for local political entities such as Douglas County to put together a plan for restoration projects they would like to do.”

Palma described the new legislation as an updated version of the Burton-Santini Act.

“In so many ways, we do so much of this already. We just transferred several lots to Douglas County in the last few months,” Palma said.

n Who pays? One issue he expects commissioners will want to address Thursday is upkeep.

“The question from the county becomes, ‘We build these things. Ten years from now, who maintains them?’ That becomes a very legitimate question.

“In some instances, the logic is, ‘We want the the facility, but we want the money to come from somewhere else.’ This process is where the county can talk to the senators and we have room to raise those issues. The fact that we are dealing with two states makes the process a little more complex.”

Commissioners first expressed their concern about the proposed legislation at a June 3 meeting, the day before California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and Richard Bryan introduced the measure at a joint news conference in San Francisco.

So far, the Douglas County contingent has brought up the most concerns about whether the bill would add more restrictions to an area that some believe is already clogged with bureaucracy.

Palma insisted that the bill would not bring more regulations to Lake Tahoe.

“This hearing process allows for issues to be raised now and resolved. It is not a new concept, we have been doing it for a long time,” he said.

Palma is hopeful that the bill will give the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit the status he feels it deserves as a national forest.

“We will be equal to any other national forest. We were created in 1973 simply by a handshake. They took a piece of the Toiyabe, the Tahoe and the ElDorado national forests and created the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. This would give us the identity that we have long needed to make us an equal partner to the other 120 national forests across the United States.”

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit encompasses 162,000 acres compared to Toiyabe National Forest, which is 5 million acres.

“For me, that is very critical because Lake Tahoe may be small in size, but there are so many critical issues,” Palma said. “We are the jewel of the Sierra.”

County Commissioner Don Miner said he remained unconvinced that the legislation is necessary.

“If it’s just a name change, why do they need to do it? If it’s change for change sake, we’ve been to that dance,” Miner said.

“The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has been operating all these years. How have we been suffering by that deficiency? What impact has that deficit caused at the Lake by being the stepchild? If anyone has access to these answers, it should be Mr. Palma.”

Miner cited the stalled negotiations in the transfer of the Dreyfus property at Lake Tahoe into private ownership and the condition of the forest are issues he wants addressed.

n Extreme danger. “Our forest is in extreme danger, 70 to 80 percent of the trees are dead or dying in some areas. Where is the Forest Service? Where are they in protecting our national forest?” Miner asked.

Commissioner Steve Weissinger said he is concerned the legislation would affect property rights for Douglas County residents who live at the Lake.

“This bill is full of generalities and non-specifics,” Weissinger said. “If some information could come forward that will clarify things, I will welcome that. The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has been in operation for 26 years. What’s such a priority to change that? If I can get some clarification on some of those generalities, my tone might be different. Once a bill becomes law, though, it’s hard to change.”

Weissinger said he wasn’t sure how much clout Douglas County has in Washington, D.C.

“I hate to say it, but probably we have little impact. However, we can go on record that based on generalities, as the Board of County Commissioners, we did not support it,” Weissinger said.

Thursday’s commission meeting begins at 1:30 p.m. at the Douglas County administration building at Stateline. The Forest Service presentation is scheduled near the end of the 29-item agenda.