2021 UPDATE: Nothing much is happening with Lake Tahoe West Project, at least from the perspective of outsiders looking in. The last major action was the invitation to the public to provide scoping comments on the project in May 2020. Like many other projects, California’s chronic mega-fires (combined with the COVID-19 pandemic) has apparently slowed Forest Service action on this project to a near halt. At least, there is no information on the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin web page about current activities or next steps. CalWild will continue to monitor this project with the goal of encouraging the agency and its partners to focus on treatments closer to the urban communities surrounding the lake and, if at all needed, limiting treatments in the Stanford Rock Backcountry Area to hand crews, with provisions to protect recreation and scenery values.
ORIGINAL POST: The Lake Tahoe West Project is a large 19,500-acre “forest health” project on National Forest lands upslope of Lake Tahoe’s west shore. The U.S. Forest Service’s (USFS) partners for this project include the California Tahoe Conservancy and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA). The project proposes 16,500 acres of “thinning” logging with heavy equipment and new road construction and another 3,000 acres of thinning using hand crews.
Portions of the Granite Chief and Pyramid Peak Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) could be impacted by permanent roads and fuel treatments. IRAs are some of the wildest remaining places in our National Forests. The Stanford Rock Backcountry Management Area (BMA) and another BMA that incorporates a part of the Pyramid Peak IRA adjacent to the Desolation Wilderness could also be impacted by permanent roads and logging. The Stanford Rock BMA was specifically established by the USFS in response to objections to the Lake Tahoe Basin Forest Plan to assure conservationists that the roadless qualities of the Granite Chief IRA would be protected, in lieu of a formal wilderness recommendation by the agency. These areas are popular destinations providing a wide variety of all-season outdoor recreation, including hiking, mountain bike riding, and backcountry skiing and snowshoeing.
Constructing permanent roads in IRAs violates existing protections for IRAs and is currently prohibited in existing BMAs in the Lake Tahoe Basin Forest Plan. The project requires an amendment to the Forest Plan to allow logging in BMAs and to reduce protections for spotted owl habitat. Proposed logging on slopes up to 50 percent requires an amendment to TRPA rules and could result in increased erosion and sedimentation into Lake Tahoe.
The Conservancy and TRPA are proposing to prepare an EIR for the project pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act. The level of federal environmental review proposed by the Forest Service is not specified at this time, even though the project as currently proposed is controversial and requires substantial amendments to the Lake Tahoe Basin Forest Plan. The Forest Service should assess the project in a full environmental impact statement (EIS) because of potential impacts to IRAs, BMAs, spotted owl habitat, and Lake Tahoe’s water quality.
The Lake Tahoe West project is one of many “fuels management” and “forest ecosystem restoration” projects proposed on National Forest lands in California, some of which are controversial. The Reyes Peak project on the Los Padres Forest and the Hyampom Project on the Shasta-Trinity Forest propose to remove trees and other vegetation in IRAs proposed for wilderness protection in legislation currently pending in Congress. CalWild believes that most forest lands – even protected wilderness areas – can be managed to reduce wildfire threats but new road construction and mechanical harvest of trees and other vegetation should not be allowed in protected IRAs and BMAs.