Forester: Loggers cut old growth at Tahoe
ROUND HILL, Nev. – Forester Kim Johnson started an inspection of a West Shore logging operation on May 26, 1999.
That’s when she realized something was awry.
A few days later, that feeling was exacerbated when she tried to count the stumps of old-growth trees that had been illegally cut down.
Thus was the testimony Johnson, a Tahoe Regional Planning Agency employee, gave Tuesday during a hearing before TRPA’s legal committee.
“We counted so many stumps it got to be a ridiculous exercise,” Johnson said.
Set up like an official court hearing, TRPA’s legal committee took more than five hours of testimony.
Now Jerome Waldie, chair of the legal committee and member of TRPA’s governing board, has about one month to compile his findings for TRPA’s decision-making board.
The regulatory authority’s governing board next month likely will decide whether to continue with its lawsuit against Menasha, which was filed October 1999.
“We would hope the board would decide not to pursue this matter any further and that the pending litigation filed by the agency be dismissed,” William Barnes, attorney for Menasha, said during a break in testimony Tuesday.
Trees of 30 or more inches in diameter are protected under TRPA’s old-growth ordinance, and permission from the agency is needed to cut them down.
Menasha in April 1999 harvested a 110-acre plot of land owned by the Tahoe City Public Utility District.
The district, which acts as the parks and recreation department for the area in addition to providing sewer and water, hired Menasha to thin the forest in order to reduce wildfire hazard on the property.
TRPA, however, alleges 49 trees of 30 inches or more were cut down without permission during the over-the-snow logging operation. TRPA also claims Menasha violated its timber permit by littering a stream area with debris, such as branches, needles and slash.
Johnson testified Tuesday that she and a Menasha official walked the site prior to the harvest, where the Menasha forester pointed out only three trees of that size that the company intended to fell.
The other trees that were cut down must have not been marked for removal, TRPA claims, or the marks were hidden by snow.
In either case, the individual trees should have been pointed out to Johnson for her to provide permission to saw them down, according to TRPA.
Menasha’s Barnes, however, said the trees were all dead, dying or posed a threat to human safety if they were to fall.
They were marked for removal, Barnes said, and the company moved forward with the understanding that TRPA was aware of Menasha’s plans.
He said he didn’t know why Johnson didn’t acknowledge them.
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Nevada County is now likely to remain in the red tier barring “extenuating circumstances,” thanks to changes to the state’s reopening blueprint announced this week.