Feds, California officials talk 4,400-acre land exchange at Tahoe | SierraSun.com

Feds, California officials talk 4,400-acre land exchange at Tahoe

Sebastian Foltz
sfoltz@tahoedailytribune.com
The U.S. Forest Service and California Tahoe Conservancy land exchange proposal for North Tahoe is pictured.
Courtesy / U.S. Forest Service |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Officials from the U.S. Forest Service and California Tahoe Conservancy hosted information sessions this week to present a proposed land transaction that could include nearly 4,400 acres exchanged between the agencies.

“We’re excited about it,” Chris Mertens, associate environmental planner for the CTC, said at a Wednesday meeting in South Lake Tahoe. “It makes a lot of sense.”

Lake Tahoe Basin U.S. Forest Service supervisor Jeff Marsolais echoed the sentiment.

“We’ve been talking about this for quite a few years,” he said. “We felt that this was a ripe time to re-engage.”

Both officials said the main idea behind the transaction is to streamline management of their respective lands.

In simple terms, the proposal involves transferring Tahoe-area urban parcels from the Forest Service to the conservancy. It will also transfer larger state lands outside of the North and South shores to the Forest Service.

The plan is in its initial stages, with bill proposals currently in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

“We already have procedures that allow us to do this,” Marsolais said of the exchange, but the congressional acts could potentially expedite the process. Prior transactions between the two organizations have been with fewer individual parcels.

In the proposal, the conservancy would gain 2,030 parcels from the Forest Service, totalling 2,192 acres. The Forest Service would gain 93 parcels, totaling 2,191 acres.

Those parcels include transferring National Forest System lands that run through D.L. Bliss State Park to California State Parks in exchange for land on the West Shore that adjoins other NFS lands.

This week’s information sessions (another will take place Thursday evening in Tahoe City) aimed to collect public comment on the proposed exchange concept, not the congressional legislation.

Those in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting generally supported the proposal, but were leery of congressional legislation.

“The concept is good,” longtime South Lake Tahoe resident Jon Hoefer said after looking at maps displaying the lands in discussion. “The only concern I have is the conservancy selling this land. That I would be really against.”

Fellow local and Tahoe Area Sierra Club member Laurel Ames agreed and also voiced her concern.

“The devil is in the details,” she said. “We want to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.”

Responding to concerns on behalf of the conservancy, Mertens said, “We don’t want to sell these parcels. That’s not what the conservancy is here for.”

He further explained that almost all the land in the proposal is considered environmentally sensitive and would likely stay that way.

Of the conservancy’s current 4,800 parcels, only 17 would even be eligible for sale under their current guidelines, Mertens said.

Those 17 parcels are considered to be designated as “town-center” lots, and they are the only lots designated as environmentally sound for any type of development.

Similarly, Forest Service officials said more than 95 percent of the lots proposed to be transferred to the state fall under the 1980 Santini Burton Act, which stipulates federal lands may be transferred to state and local governments but must remain deed restricted for conservation and public recreation.

Multiple sources at Wednesday’s meeting said the current Senate bill makes it clear those designations would remain, while the House bill is less restrictive.

No timeline has been set for the transaction. Speaking for the Forest Service, Marsolais said transactions could potentially occur in phases, but those details have yet to be decided.

Any approved plan would still include a comprehensive assessment of the parcels designated for transfer. Realistically Marsolis and Rodman expect it to be part of a five to 10 year plan.

More information is available at the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit website. Comments can be emailed to pa_ltbmu@fs.fed.us.