Sierra scientist challenges Echo Lakes tree cutting
EL DORADO COUNTY, CA - A prominent environmental scientist is suing to stop the US Forest Service from cutting trees around Echo Lakes because he says it's unnecessary and destructive.
"There is essentially no wildfire risk in the Echo Lakes Basin," insists Dennis Murphy, a University of Nevada, Reno research professor who helped draft the Lake Tahoe Watershed Assessment for the federal government.
In late September, the Forest Service began a multi-year project to clear mostly smaller trees and brush from roughly 100 acres around Upper Echo Lake and part of Lower Echo Lake.
A memo from the forest supervisor in South Lake Tahoe says the goal is to reduce the potential for a catastrophic wildland fire and provide defensible space around the rustic summer homes that are built on leased forest service land.
Murphy, whose family has owned a cabin on Upper Echo Lake for generations, filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Sacramento Nov. 6 claiming the Forest Service did not adequately consider the environmental impacts of the project.
One large snag that was felled in recent weeks provided a roost for woodpeckers and other birds, Murphy said. "Part of the Echo Lakes landscape is a constellation of both living and standing dead trees."
In some instances, trees have been removed even though they were standing alone and surrounded by granite.
Stumps and large burn piles mark the landscape around some of the cabins.
Murphy says the 7,400 foot elevation and sparse soil cover around the lakes is the reason there's been no major fire there in recorded history.
"Why they are attacking fire risk that doesn't exist is frankly beyond me," Murphy said.
Murphy said the money being spent around Echo Lakes would be better used elsewhere in the Tahoe Basin where the risk of fire is much greater.
A Forest Service spokeswoman declined to comment because of the pending lawsuit.
by George Warren, firstname.lastname@example.org