Basin fire plan calls for forest thinning, burning | SierraSun.com

Basin fire plan calls for forest thinning, burning

David BunkerSierra Sun
Ryan Salm/Sierra SunA forest on the shore of Lake Tahoe is shown here.
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A spark in the forests around Lake Tahoe would almost certainly mushroom into a crown fire the most unpredictable and devastating of forest fire types, according to a draft Tahoe Regional Planning forest report that calls for $123 million of forest work over the next 10 years.The TRPAs fuels reduction and forest restoration plan calls for thinning, prescribed burns and other treatments on more than 36,000 acres in the basin before 2016. That is in addition to greater than 18,400 acres of forest that have already been worked on, but need to be maintained.The plan, which is in draft form waiting to be approved by the agencys board, also points out forested areas along streams need restoration during the 10-year plan.The document has been open to comments from agencies and the public since the spring and is expected to be adopted by late summer or fall.The need for forest thinning in Tahoe is clear, according to the plan. Of the 58 forest test plots studied for the report, 76 percent had enough fuel to turn a low-lying burn into a crown fire.It is definitely a sense of urgency because we know the risk of a catastrophic wildfire at Lake Tahoe, said TRPA spokeswoman Julie Regan.The TRPAs plan is mostly an amalgamation of community fire plans from fire protection plans around the Tahoe Basin. It meshes these plans together and adds a basin-wide fire protection perspective, not as a regulatory document, but as a strategy to prioritize and fund projects.Its meant to provide a clear vision for the whole basin, Regan said. This document is meant to get everyone on the same page.The North Tahoe area on the California side had the third highest number of acres recommended for thinning, according to the plan.The 2,511 acres would take greater than $8 million for treatment. The two areas slated for the most work were both on the south side of Tahoe.The plan will eventually guide funding and prioritize the projects, said Regan.Apart from the traditional methods of thinning and burning forests, she said the TRPA will look at encouraging alternative methods, such as using the forest waste to fuel a biomass plant.The public has been overwhelmingly supportive of the plan, which tackles the issue of a catastrophic wildfire the single topic that was of the most concern to Tahoe residents in a January 2005 poll conducted by the TRPA, said Regan.All the work we have done to restore Lake Tahoe could be wiped out by a major fire, she said.

The Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board has commented on the plan, bringing up concerns over whether certain thinning methods will damage water quality in the basin. The runoff from these activities contribute to increased pollutant loading to Lake Tahoe or its tributaries, wrote Harold Singer, executive officer of the water board, in response to the plan.The regional water board is concerned about mechanized thinning, outlined as a forest treatment in the plan, disrupting sensitive areas. The water board said hand thinning and over-the-snow thinning are the two most environmentally sensitive ways to clean out the forest and should be considered as an option.