Groups objecting to Lake Tahoe Basin forest plan |

Groups objecting to Lake Tahoe Basin forest plan

by Tom Lotshaw

A coalition of environmental groups is challenging aspects of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit’s Forest Plan, arguing it doesn’t do enough to protect wildlife or sensitive habitats.

Groups raising objections include Sierra Forest Legacy, Sierra Club, Friends of the River, California Wilderness Coalition, Snowlands Network, Winter Wildlands Alliance, Sierra Nevada Alliance and Earthjustice.

“The draft plan reduces protections for sensitive species and habitat, lacks clear standards and rigorous broad-scale monitoring, arbitrarily rejected increased wilderness and Wild and Scenic River recommendations, failed to consider appropriate over-snow recreation limitations and did not provide an accurate, detailed and scientifically sound (National Environmental Policy Act) analysis,” the groups state in a 99-page objection letter.

Released in November, the forest plan will guide management decisions on about 150,000 acres of National Forest land around the Lake Tahoe Basin for the next 15 years.

A window to file objections to the forest plan closed Jan. 22.

The U.S. Forest Service now has 90 days to review and respond to the objections. The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit declined to comment on them Friday.

Some objections relate to the California spotted owl and Pacific marten.

The groups argue the forest plan does not adequately analyze its impacts on them, and would fail to protect or restore their habitat or maintain viable populations of the animals.

The groups challenge the Forest Service’s rejection of a proposed conservation strategy and argue the Forest Service should have done more to review 25-year-old restrictions on over-snow vehicle use and the impacts those vehicles are having in the forest.

They also are objecting to a provision they argue gives USFS more leeway to cut down trees larger than 30 inches in diameter for things such as safety, equipment operability, insect or disease control, promotion of preferred species or to support meadow and stream restoration projects.

As written, the provision gives nearly unlimited discretion to cut down the large trees, said Craig Thomas, conservation director for Sierra Forest Legacy. The trees can provide rare and valuable habitat for wildlife and that should be considered as part of the provision as decisions are made about cutting them down, he said.

Steve Evans, a consultant for Friends of the River, said the group is raising an objection that USFS did not properly consider Wild and Scenic River requests for tributaries of the Upper Truckee River watershed.

Some of the tributaries support Lahontan cutthroat trout and other rare wildlife and have other outstanding recreational values, Evans said, adding that the decision to reject the requests was made with no chance for public participation.

“We’re very disappointed in that and we’re asking them to step back and rethink that.”

In their objection letter the environmental groups praise the forest plan for adding 3,600 acres to the Stanford Creek Backcountry. But they are challenging the forest plan’s lack of new wilderness designations, arguing that the ecological protection of important areas is taking a backseat to recreation demands.

Several forest plan alternatives included wilderness designations, but none of those designations made it into the final plan.

Areas considered for wilderness designation include acreage in the Meiss Country, additions to the Granite Chief Wilderness, the Freel Roadless Area, the Pyramid area east of the Desolation Wilderness, Hell Hole and Trimmer Peak.

“Balancing biking, snowmobiling, hiking, off-road vehicle use and other uses to create a balance of winners and losers is a political decision. Whether the various users are happy is really secondary to the issue of preserving these forests and protecting the watershed of the Lake Tahoe Basin,” the groups write in their objection letter.

“Without protection of wilderness status, these candidate wilderness areas will degrade from overuse during the 15-year life of the plan until they are no longer wilderness appropriate.”