Environmental group challenges logger’s land use | SierraSun.com

Environmental group challenges logger’s land use

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

A regional environmental group is readying a lawsuit against a Sierra County decision to rezone timber lands north of Truckee, but property owner Sierra Pacific Industry and county officials say the change doesn’t mean development.

Sierra Pacific Industries, a timber company and California’s largest private land holder, recently won approval from Sierra County to rezone more than 7,000 acres between Perazzo Meadows and Jackson Meadows from timberland production to general forest.

“Basically what it does is it supplies more land management flexibility, this is an area of high recreational use,” said Mark Pawlicki, a spokesman for Sierra Pacific Industries. “We don’t have any specific plans.”

But the High Sierra Rural Alliance, based in Sierra City, is concerned that the new land designation will open up the door for development and rural sprawl, damaging wilderness and habitats, as well as increasing fire hazard, according to Stevee Duber, project manager with the group.

“It is one of the most biologically sensitive areas for the endangered willow flycatcher as well as being home to bald eagles, great gray owls, yellow-legged frogs, sandhill cranes, Lahontan cutthroat trout, Sierra Nevada red fox, Pacific fisher and wolverine,” Duber said in a release.

The new zoning could open up land uses to country clubs, golf courses, guest ranches, riding stables, summer home tracts, mobile home parks and other uses, Duber said.

Pawlicki said Sierra Pacific Industries intends to continue harvesting timber on the land, which is on a 80-year harvest cycle.

Brandon Pangman, a staff planner for Sierra County, said the new designation doesn’t necessarily make development easier than it would have been before.

“General Forest is at least as restrictive as [Timberland Production Zone],” Pangman said. “It’s not really clear why they would even want to do that.”

The new designation will cost Sierra Pacific Industries more in taxes to the county ” about $30,000 per year, Pangman said.

This raises a question for Duber and High Sierra Rural Alliance.

“Why would Sierra Pacific be giving up these huge tax benefits if they aren’t planning on doing something like development?” Duber asked.

The change isn’t immediate, requiring 10 years before the transition is complete, Pangman said.

The High Sierra Rural Alliances petition, which can be a precursor to a lawsuit, alleges that the change in zoning goes against Sierra County’s general plan, which directs new development towards areas already developed, according to Duber.

The move by Sierra Pacific Industries to rezone timberland north of Truckee near Perazzo Meadows is one that alarms conservation groups working to curb rural sprawl in the Sierra.

The Truckee Donner Land Trust recently purchased the 990-acre meadow system crossed by the Little Truckee River off of Highway 89 north. The $4 million acquisition, achieved with help from the Trust for Public Land and California bond funding, is in the vicinity of the timber company’s rezoned timberland.

“The real, looming threat is the development of the checkerboard,” said Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, referring to the public-private mix of parcels that earned its name because of the way they appear on maps.

Development of the private holdings brings fragmented wildlife habitat, increased wildfire danger and costlier services for rural counties, conservationists say. Norris said that the rezoning of the timber land between Perazzo and Jackson Meadows could theoretically allow 400 ranchettes each sitting on 160 acres.

That threat of development increases when other areas reach buildout. Norris explained that just as when development became restricted in the Tahoe Basin it spilled into Truckee. As Truckee reaches capacity it could then spill out into unincorporated Nevada and Sierra counties.

There could, however, be a flip side to Sierra Pacific Industries’ rezonings, Norris said. The timber company could be more open to selling property to conservation groups. In the past, the Trust for Public Land and the Truckee Donner Land Trust have worked with the company to buy parcels that have biological and conservation importance, Norris said.