A Bloomberg article today talks about a new sawmill under construction near Lake Tahoe. Some of us may have a “back to the future” vibe about this. Others may wonder about whether communities without the substantial resources and economic/political clout.. think casinos, resorts, Billionaire’s Row, ski areas and so on, might also be assisted by having a sawmill in the community. Lake Tahoe is the place with its own CE, after all.
Under our legislation, active forest management of up to 10,000 acres at Tahoe now qualifies for a categorical exclusion from NEPA. Forest Service Region 5 Manager Randy Moore told me that this takes their environmental assessment from more than 800 pages to less than 40 pages, and Tahoe Basin Supervisor Jeff Marsolais reports that their first project under this new authority took just four months to permit.
Perhaps other philanthropic organizations could support traditional underserved rural communities? The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities is doing that in John Day, Oregon, but perhaps the larger philanthropic foundations?
Check out the Tahoe Fund’s website it looks like they have an enormous variety of projects, trails, sugar pine restoration, scholarships for forestry education (could forestry be cool again?), including a grant to a biomass plant:
The Tahoe Fund has made Forest Health our top priority, with a focus on increasing the pace and scale of forest restoration in the Tahoe Basin. A major issue our public land managers face is the lack of places to offload woody biomass. There is currently nowhere feasible to take the excess biomass, resulting in hundreds of thousands of burn piles sitting in the Basin.
The Tahoe Fund has been working with Sierra Valley Enterprises, the new owners of a biomass facility in Loyalton that was shut down in January of 2020, to help get it back up and running. To help facilitate the financing required to re-open this facility, the Tahoe Fund hired TSS Consultants to develop a Resource Study of available forest biomass and log supply within the economic transport distance of the Loyalton site.
Anyway, here are some excerpts from the story. I think you can read Bloomberg News for free if you register.
The Tahoe Fund helped convene the sawmill project leaders, which include Shinn and Kevin Leary, the CEO of a Reno-based private investment firm, Hallador Investment Advisors. In 2021, it commissioned a study that examined how much supply would be available for a sawmill operation in the region. It cited recent funding and planning by the state of California and the US Forest Service to increase fuel reduction treatments such as thinning as well as prescribed fire. That support should help keep the supply of logs for the sawmill flowing, with the oversight of environmental regulators, said Berry of the Tahoe Fund.
“Everyone has a role to play here,” she said.
The Carson City mill will be built on land owned by the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. Wendy Loomis, the executive director of the tribe’s business arm, said the project will aim to hire tribal members for jobs that will be available in the sawmill.
“When we look for projects, our first priority is to support the Tribe’s vision and mission statement to help Mother Earth,” Loomis said. “Number two is to create workforce development. So this accomplishes both of those things.”
Several environmental groups and restoration experts offered cautious support for the types of thinning projects that the new sawmill is supposed to help. A spokesperson for the Nature Conservancy, the largest environmental nonprofit in the US, said that while it did not specifically endorse the Carson City project, “we can envision a future where a small-diameter sawmill, properly sited and sized, could help scale forest restoration efforts.” The Sierra Nevada Alliance, an environmental nonprofit based in the Tahoe area, similarly advocates for healthy forest restoration.
Last year’s Caldor fire provided some evidence that thinning and prescribed fire — which was developed and practiced by Indigenous people for millennia — are beneficial for forests. In areas that had been treated, flames dropped down enough to leave patches of forest still green and alive, officials said at the time.
Not everyone is in favor of the Carson City plan. Some residents have registered concerns with elected officials about noise impacts related to the mill. And there are some scientists and activists who oppose all forms of logging, arguing that forest thinning is a smokescreen for the economic interests of timber companies. A lawsuit impacting a restoration-focused logging plan in Yosemite National Park reflects that ongoing tension.
Battles, the Berkeley scientist, said those voices are in the scientific minority. And the Carson City sawmill isn’t the only project of its kind. Further north, in Quincy, California, another sawmill is being built to tackle the acres of dead trees killed by last year’s Dixie fire.
“We need to do more forest management, whatever it is,” he said. “But we need the capacity for it, and one way to get that is to sell the wood and make sawmills that can handle it.”
For groups that “oppose all forms of logging, arguing that forest thinning is a smokescreen for the economic interests of timber companies”. But what about all the timber industry-free places like Lake Tahoe or many other places that have the (identical bolded above) problem? Thinned trees in piles?
I’d really like to have that discussion with someone who represents that point of view, perhaps a TSW reader? Otherwise it sounds like a “bad industry, we can’t work with them” thing. And I think this “bad industry” attitude can actually work against environmental goals, be it decarbonization, keeping green forests on the landscape, helping fire suppression folks do their job, and so on. There are plenty of ENGOs without that attitude, so I wonder what underlies it. In fact, I was kind of surprised by the relatively lukewarm TNC quote.
In this case, it would have been helpful if the reporter had pushed back. Should they (public and private) not thin? What else should they do with the piles?