FIGHTING FIRE IN WINTER
Using massive logging machinery in the woods above Alder Creek near Tahoe Donner, Doug Gary deftly wields and stacks 50-foot logs.
Working under contract for the U.S. Forest Service, Gary spends up to 16 hours a day cutting, dragging and sorting trees to thin the forests bordering Tahoe Donner, a nearly 6,000-home subdivision. The aim is to reduce fire risk and fight a bark beetle infestation.
It would be forest thinning as usual for Gary, owner of DG Logging, except it’s happening in the winter on top of a hearty snowpack.
“This is the first over-snow logging I’ve done. I like it ” there are some problems with working on snow, especially after a big dump ” but other than that it’s really cool,” Gary said.
The Truckee Ranger District of the Tahoe National Forest has contracted Gary to work over snow, rather than in the summer, to keep the heavy machinery from chewing up vegetation, soil, historical resources and to minimize erosion into Alder Creek and other streams.
“We’re skidding over two or three feet of snow, so when the snow melts this spring, things should look nicer,” Gary said.
But working on snow means more time spent plowing, difficulties in moving equipment and extra work to cut trees in a way that won’t leave tall stumps.
It also takes more money, said Scott Conway, vegetation management officer for the Truckee Ranger District.
Snow operations in riparian areas cost as much as $2,500 per acre ” roughly twice as much as working in a less sensitive areas on dry ground in the summer, Conway said.
The Forest Service doesn’t get the opportunity to cut trees over the snow often, said Debby Broback, timber sale administrator for Tahoe National Forest. Last year there wasn’t enough snow to keep large equipment from breaking through the snow, she said. The Forest Service requires a minimum of 15 inches of compacted snow on the ground.
The over-the-snow work is part of a larger project to reduce fire hazard along the edges of Tahoe Donner and to slow down an infestation of bark beetles, Broback said.
“We’re thinning right up to the Tahoe Donner property line,” Broback said. “Most people that see us only have nice things to say about what we’re doing, which is a good thing.”
Another benefit will be opening up space for aspens, which have been declining in numbers in the area, Broback said.
The thinning aims to leave a space of 13 to 21 feet between large, healthy trees. All incense cedar and sugar pines will be preserved, she said, ultimately creating a healthy, resilient forest.
Once the smaller or less-healthy trees are cut, they can be used for timber, firewood, and most frequently, wood chips sent to the Loyalton biomass plant, Broback said.
The Truckee Ranger District is still waiting on federal funding to thin the remaining 343 acres of the total 778 acres in the project area.
“We would love to get the funding this fiscal year and award a contract,” Broback said.