SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CA – The U.S. Forest Service on June 1 released their draft plan for managing the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU), 150,000 acres of public lands surrounding Lake Tahoe. This land management plan, also known as a forest plan, provides direction for what activities will be conducted and how the natural resources of the national forest will be managed for at least the next two decades. The current Lake Tahoe Basin forest plan has not been updated since 1988.
“This is an opportunity to protect the Lake Tahoe region’s forests and rivers, so they can be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren,” said Sarah Matsumoto, Senior Representative with the Sierra Club. “Much has changed in the Tahoe region over the past 24 years, and it’s time to take a 21st century approach to forest planning. Many eyes will be watching the Lake Tahoe Basin forest plan process, as it will be the first out of the gate for forest planning throughout the Sierra region. It is also positioned to set precedent for a series of upcoming forest plans in the Sierra, stretching from Sequoia National Forest in the south all the way to the Oregon border.”
People flock from all over California, the nation and world to visit the spectacular Lake Tahoe region. The natural beauty of the landscape – including forests, rivers, and extensive trail systems – is a key economic driver for this recreation-based tourism destination. The Lake has more than 3 million tourist visits annually bringing in more than $1 billion to the local economy, with about $140 million of that going to state and local taxes. The forest plan will cover most of the Lake’s watershed, and thus Forest Service decisions could help or hurt the effort to keep Tahoe blue.
“It is critical that the Lake Tahoe forest plan manage the basin’s forests and streams to protect the crystal clear waters for which Tahoe is famous, as well as its wildlife and recreational opportunities that draw so many visitors to the region,” said Pamela Flick, California Program Coordinator with Defenders of Wildlife. “The important benefits provided by public lands must be the cornerstone of a plan that will guide management of this landscape for the next two decades.”
With spectacular wildflower displays, abundant wildlife, clear, cool streams and wilderness getaways, Lake Tahoe is a gem of the Sierra region. These lands are also crucial to the recovery of rare and endangered fish and wildlife in the region, such as the Lahontan cutthroat trout and the Northern goshawk.
A key component that conservationists hope will be in the plan is a recommendation to protect the upper Truckee River and its tributaries in the Meiss Meadows area as a Wild and Scenic River. “The upper Truckee supports rare Lahontan cutthroat trout and Sierra yellow-legged frogs,” said Steve Evans, Wild Rivers Consultant for Friends of the River and the California Wilderness Coalition. “Protecting the outstanding wildlife and ecological values of the river will also ensure continued hiking, fishing, hunting, and other popular recreational activities,” he said.
National forests throughout the Sierra Nevada are in need of ecological restoration. The Comprehensive Evaluation Report recently conducted by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit acknowledges the ecologically unhealthy tree density within the basin, currently 184% of historic conditions, most of which is comprised of trees less than 16 inches in diameter.
“Removal of large trees does not reduce the fuel load problem, it exacerbates it,” stated Craig Thomas, Executive Director of Sierra Forest Legacy. “Addressing the real problem when it comes to the ecological health of our forests and the wildfire threat will go a long way toward showing the public that the Forest Service is serious about solving this problem – and that includes the reintroduction of fire at appropriate scales.”
The Lake Tahoe Basin plan will be the first Sierra forest plan to meaningfully address the impacts of climate change. “While aspects of the science are still uncertain, we expect climate change to affect management issues such as water retention, fire frequency, and wildlife corridors. For example, the Forest Service needs to plan for animals to be moving to higher elevations over time, making protected corridors for that movement a high priority,” noted Craig Breon, Regional Climate Change Director for the Sierra Nevada Alliance.
“The release of the draft Lake Tahoe Basin forest plan provides a tremendous opportunity for citizens to help shape the future of these much-loved public lands and waters,” added Matsumoto. “Our coalition looks forward to bringing this opportunity to the attention of interested stakeholders and working with the Forest Service to address key conservation priorities.”
Several conservation organizations recently sent a letter to the Forest Service outlining their priorities for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit plan, including ecological restoration of the forest, protecting watersheds, old growth forests, wilderness and wildlife habitat. We plan to submit comprehensive comments once we complete a thorough review of the draft plan.
The release of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit forest plan begins a 90-day comment period. To review the draft plan, visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/ltbmu/ForestPlanRevision. Two public meetings are anticipated to be held in North Lake Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe, although details for these meetings have not yet been announced.
In a separate but related planning process, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) is currently updating its Regional Plan. The TRPA plan will not cover federal lands and focuses primarily on the human-built landscape.