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Wild, scenic river status debated

by Christy Chalmers

The Carson River may be wild and scenic, but a regional management group doesn’t want the U.S. Forest Service saying so without first getting local agreement.

Ed James, general manager for the Carson Water Subconservancy District, has drafted a letter asking the Forest Service not to take any action on designating the Carson as a wild and scenic river. The district board will consider sending the letter tonight during its meeting in Fallon.

The district includes the Carson River watershed areas in Carson City, Douglas, Lyon and Churchill counties.

James said the proposed letter was spurred by a forestry management plan now under consideration. The plan includes a possible wild and scenic tag for the Carson’s east and west forks, which originate in Alpine County, Calif., before merging in the Carson Valley.

Wild and scenic designations are intended to protect pristine waterways from development and other activities that could compromise their condition. Officials worry that could mean an end to any project that would alter the river, even if the change would benefit downstream users.

James instead wants the Forest Service to join Subconservancy efforts to craft a watershed resource plan for the Carson, an approach he says would focus entirely on the river instead of treating the river as one element of a forest.

“What we want to do is make sure the local people at the local level have input on this,” he said. “Our goal is to come to a local level where we do this and work together as a team and see what’s in the best interest of Alpine County and Douglas County and the watershed as a whole.

“The group could come back and recommend wild and scenic designation,” he added. “We (the Subconservancy) may still oppose it, but as we look at the watershed as a whole, the group may decide that’s the best thing for it.”

The proposed letter lists more ominous-sounding reasons for opposing a wild and scenic designation, such as concerns that inclusion in that category is irreversible without an act of Congress, and could severely restrict development of river resources.

“The CWSD board has significant concerns regarding the limitations on long-term flexibility that would occur if the proposed designations are granted,” the letter says. “In particular, we feel that the objectives you seek to meet through the wild and scenic designation can be accomplished on a local level, without the need for federal legislation.”

The letter concludes with an invitation to Forest Service officials to join the Subconservancy-sponsored working groups that are studying river issues.

The Subconservancy last discussed wild and scenic status in November 1997. At the time, board members wanted to hold a public meeting to gather comments. They also wanted more information on the impacts of wild and scenic status.

If the letter is approved, it will be sent to local, state and federal officials in addition to the Forest Service.

The Subconservancy board will meet at 6:30 p.m. at 155 N. Taylor in Fallon. The board is planning a tour of Churchill County, which became a member of the district in June, before the meeting.