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U.S. Forest Service plans cause confusion

Shannon Darling, Sun News Service

This is the first part in a series that will take an in-depth look at current management plans under way for U.S. Forest Service lands. Each plan will be closely analyzed in future articles and pros and cons of each will be reported.

A bitter rivalry seems to exist when it comes to managing our national forests.

From timber harvesting and fire prevention to the spotted owl – managing the nation’s forest has always been a controversial issue.

But recently, arguments have drifted away from timber and owl habitats to something we use every day – roads.

Roads have been the center of attention in two recent national plans and local management plans since President Clinton’s visit in 1997, when he declared it a priority to protect Lake Tahoe’s clarity. With the many different plans out there regarding roads and forest management comes some confusion.

“It’s hard to keep track, even if your in the agency,” said Lisa O’Daly, community planner for the U.S. Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, during a recent informational meeting. “Is it any wonder that we are all getting confused.”

The Roadless Initiative

Currently, the Forest Service is taking comments on the national Roadless Area Initiative. This initiative will prohibit new roads in 43 million acres of “inventoried roadless areas” within the National Forest system. In the Lake Tahoe Basin the initiative will affect about 45,000 acres.

Seems simple, but confusion doesn’t stop there.

During the first informational meeting about the Roadless Initiative, some attendees at the meeting seemed confused.

One member of the audience questioned, “Don’t you feel silly talking about roadless areas that have roads?”

“Roadless areas have very few and no roads,” said Linda Massey, public affairs officer for the US Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

But why such the big controversy over roads some may ask?

“For you and me the biggest commodity of these areas is what is in our cups in the morning,” said O’Daly about water quality.

Roads are a large contributing factor to water quality.

But many fear that this national Roadless Initiative will close roads and keep them from recreating in the areas they enjoy today.

“This national initiative does not close one road,” said O’Daly.

Instead, the preferred alternative would prohibit the construction or reconstruction of roads on roadless areas.

This initiative is open for a 90-day public comment period which closes on July 17.

Road Management Proposal

Sounding familiar to the Roadless Initiative, the Road Management proposal will work with the public to identify heavily-used roads that require maintenance or upgrade, and roads that are unused or environmentally damaging on all National Forest land.

These roads can be decommissioned or converted to trails. The policy would shift the emphasis to maintenance and reconstruction of existing roads rather than building new ones.

The comment period on this proposal ended in May.

Forest service officials say they received over 365,000 individual responses to the proposal.

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Access and Travel Management Program

This is a local program that is similar to the national Road Management Proposal but unlike the one above, it is already in effect in our basin.

This proposal is similar to the national road management proposal, but unlike the national plan this one is already in effect.

“Some roads were upgraded, we’re closing some roads and we’ve turned some roads into trails,” said Mike Derrig, a hydrologist for the US Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

People confuse this plan with the National Roadless policy, looking at protecting roadless lands. But forest service officials claim this plan is to preserve water quality.

“Ours is strictly water quality driven,” Derrig said. The roads are currently a major source of sediment and can reduce lake clarity.

“We’re looking at reducing the number of roads in the Tahoe Basin,” Derrig said.

“It’s all about lake clarity.”

The first roads under this plan were decommissioned or upgraded in 1998. The plan focuses on getting rid of roads that aren’t used and threats to water quality and upgrading others.

Sierra Nevada Framework

This proposal is a regional plan that analyzes different ways to manage the 11 national forests in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and Modoc Plateau covering almost 11.5 million acres.

The draft environmental impact statement for this plan has been released and forest service officials are currently asking for the public’s input. The public comment period will end August 11.

This guide to managing the forests in the Sierra Nevada has eight different alternatives.

One alternative in this draft restrict off highway vehicles completely and others limit the use of these vehicles to designated areas. Two preferred alternatives are named by the forest service in the statement. These preferred alternatives center on aquatic conservation and protecting large trees this will increase the amount of old forest growth. The preferred alternatives would also treat underbrush that fuels many devastating fires.


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