Possibly by the end of this month the U.S. Forest Service will release the Lake Tahoe Basin Plan.
Not only will this plan decide the future of the Lake Tahoe Basin, which includes lands in both California and Nevada surrounding the iconic lake, but it’s the first in a set of new plans for the national forests throughout the Sierra. It’s important to set a strong precedent for the rest of the management plans.
Lake Tahoe is an international conservation jewel. 80% of the forests within the Lake Tahoe Basin are public lands. These are important for wildlife habitat and recreation, and they maintain snowpack and filter the water that contributes to Lake Tahoe’s unique blue color and provides clean drinking water for thousands.
Totaling over 154,000 acres, the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit includes all the national-forest areas in the basin. It includes beaches, hiking and biking trails, wilderness, historic estates, and developed recreation areas such as campgrounds and riding stables. The forest is managed to provide public access and to protect natural resources.
Lake Tahoe is fed by many watersheds that have their headwaters in the national forest. How these national forests are managed directly impacts the water quality and quantity in Lake Tahoe.
The forests of the Lake Tahoe basin have suffered from decades of logging and fire suppression. The Forest Service needs to restore these forests to resilience and health through reintroduction of fire and ecological restoration, while also reducing the threat of dangerous fire to the communities in the Tahoe area.
Since the new management plan will guide how the forests and watersheds are managed and protected for decades, it should:
- be based on the best conservation and restoration science;
- protect the basin’s water quality;
- recommend wilderness and new wild-and-scenic-river protections;
- restore the forest from a history of logging and fire suppression;
- identify and protect wildlife habitat and corridors so that native wildlife may thrive in changing climatic conditions;
- provide healthful quality recreation, while protecting natural resources and natural experiences.
A focus on roadless areas
Of particular interest to wilderness advocates will be the opportunity to protect remaining roadless areas. We’ll urge the agency to inventory and accurately map all wilderness-eligible land, including roadless areas not previously inventoried. Four areas have already been identified.
Desolation Wilderness Potential Additions–8,000 acres with the high point at Echo Peak at 8,895 feet and the low along Meeks Creek at about 6,200 feet. Many streams provide clean, cold water to Echo, Fallen Leaf, and Cascade Lakes, and Lake Tahoe.
Granite Chief Wilderness Potential Additions–roughly 7,000 acres–from Twin Peaks at 8,878 feet to about 6,300 feet, north of Blackwood Creek. Both the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) cross the area. The TRT should be excluded from wilderness proposals to avoid a mountain-bike conflict.
Freel Peak Potential Wilderness--roughly 20,500 acres in the Lake Tahoe Basin, plus 22,000 acres of contiguous roadless land in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Majestic Freel Peak is the high point at 10,881 feet; the low is around 6,300 feet along Saxon Creek. Stunning Star Lake is the highest lake. Several miles of the TRT in the rugged roadless area should be omitted from wilderness to prevent a mountain-bike conflict. Some fine stands of red fir have escaped logging. Several ecologically important streams flow out of the roadless area, including Cold, Saxon, and Trout Creeks.
Meiss Meadows Potential Wilderness–roughly 15,500 acres, plus another 10,000 contiguous roadless acres on the Eldorado and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests. The high point is Red Lake Peak at 10,063 feet, and the low is around 6,500 feet along the Upper Truckee River. Both the PCT and the TRT traverse the area and provide world-class recreation experiences for visitors. The Upper Truckee River, which the Forest Service has recommended for wild-and-scenic designation, originates in jewel-like meadows and snow banks here; it is the largest source of clean water for Lake Tahoe and has the basin’s only population of genetically pure Lahontan cutthroat trout.
Only Congress can designate wilderness, but an official recommendation by the managing agency can influence Congress. And once it identifies an area as roadless and eligible for wilderness, the agency can call for management actions that will preserve the wilderness character.
Later in 2012 the next planning effort will be a joint one for the Sierra, Inyo, and Sequoia National Forests. After that, we’ll await plan revisions for the more northerly forests: the Stanislaus, Eldorado, Tahoe, and Plumas.
To learn more and to get involved, contact Lauren Thorpe, the Sierra Club’s new Lake Tahoe Basin Campaign coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Words of the Wild, newsletter of the Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Wilderness Committee, at http://www.wordsofthewild.org/
Lauren Thorpe, Sarah Matsumoto, and Vicky Hoover helped prepare this article; Sierra Forest Legacy provided roadless-area information.