TRPA big tree regulation may get extension |

TRPA big tree regulation may get extension

SOUTH SHORE – A Tahoe Regional Planning Agency rule making it illegal to fell trees 30 or more inches in diameter may be extended another year while a volunteer coalition tries to come up with a more comprehensive plan to protect old-growth trees.

The two-year-old interim ordinance for protecting the trees is set to expire.

It was approved in 1998 to give the TRPA-created Forest Health Consensus Group a chance to establish a better way to protect old-growth forests. Prior to the clear-cutting of Tahoe during the Comstock era, an estimated 55 percent of the basin’s forest were old growth. Now that number is about 5 percent.

Steve Chilton, chief of TRPA’s environmental compliance division, said the Forest Health Consensus Group hasn’t been able to find a better solution yet.

“We know the 30-inch at breast height rule needs work. It needs scientific validation,” Chilton said. “But at this point, I consider it a holding pattern so we don’t lose any more old-growth trees while we’re putting together a better standard for old-growth forests.”

Trees at Tahoe that are 30 inches or more in diameter likely are at least 150 years old.

The TRPA Advisory Planning Commission, an advisory body to the agency’s governing board, was scheduled this week to discuss extending the ordinance a year.

The 14-voting-member governing board is supposed to consider it on April 26.

Dave Roberts, assistant executive director of the League and a participant of the Forest Health Consensus Group, suggested the one-year extension.

“At this point, the 30-inch tree rule is just the simplest way to protect big trees, old trees,” Roberts said.

Whatever the group comes up with for a long-term rule, Roberts said, needs to have a quantitative way of being enforced.

“If there’s an ordinance with more comprehensive wording that still has accountability and enforceability, we’ll support going with that,” he said. “However, until that wording is there, we will continue to support the 30-inch rule.”

Thirty-inch trees can be felled at Tahoe, but loggers need express tree-by-tree permission by TRPA foresters.

The agency fined a Grass Valley, Calif., timber company $160,000 last month for allegedly removing 49 old-growth trees without permission.

The company, Menasha Corp., has said it will fight the civil penalty in federal court.

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