Katie Hawkins: Protect Backcountry Management Areas with restoration project | SierraSun.com

Katie Hawkins: Protect Backcountry Management Areas with restoration project

As a mountain biker, backcountry skier, and resident of Truckee, I support the collaborative and ongoing effort to improve the health of forests in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The Lake Tahoe West Restoration Project by the U.S. Forest Service, the California Tahoe Conservancy, and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will reduce the Basin’s risk of catastrophic wildfire and protect not only our communities but also plant and animal species, and Lake Tahoe’s clarity. The forest in the Basin is dense and overgrown, and if a spark ignites a wildfire, the communities along the West Shore could easily become the next Paradise. In light of climate change, the need for such a comprehensive forest restoration project is apparent.

However, this project would serve Lake Tahoe much better if it addressed two major issues.

The first involves a land designation called Backcountry Management Areas. These are the gold standard designation for mountain biking, with protective functions like Wilderness but with continued access for mountain bikes. In the scope of the Tahoe West Restoration project’s 59,000 acres, 5,400 acres are Backcountry Management Areas.

The Forest Service would like to downgrade the protections of a Backcountry Management Area so they can build roads that will help them expedite mechanized forest thinning. The West Shore is already full of dirt roads and trails that have fallen into obscurity and are poorly maintained. Rather than build new roads in Backcountry Management Areas and allow bulldozers to cut and slash protected areas of the forest, let’s use the roads that are already in place and let’s push for creative approaches that involve hand thinning instead of invasive mechanical treatment. I know how urgent this project is, but we can’t afford to weaken the integrity of Backcountry Management Areas.

Speaking of trails that are poorly maintained, the Lake Tahoe West project is shortsighted not to address the huge opportunity it presents to improve recreation. The West Shore is a haven for recreation. If crews are going to thin forests, why not also improve the trail system? The potential is great to improve the quality of recreation and create more access for the millions of people who come to Lake Tahoe every year to ride mountain bikes, climb, hike, backpack, and backcountry ski. And those millions of people who love Lake Tahoe because of the recreation it offers? Let’s recruit them to help the land managers build trails and protect the forest. The Tahoe Area Mountain Bike Association and the Tahoe Backcountry Alliance are two grassroots groups in the Basin that have a growing community of volunteers who would be eager to help if you put a shovel in their hands.

Protect Backcountry Management Areas and include recreation among the objectives, and the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Project will protect communities, save plants and animal species, heal the forest, restore Lake Tahoe’s clarity, and set a nationwide precedent for recreation. That’s something that I can get behind, and so will many more.

Katie Hawkins, who lives in Truckee, is a California Organizer of Outdoor Alliance.

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