Chiefs Corner: Restoring the Tahoe Basin’s forests, shoreline to ridgeline

Michael Schwartz
Chiefs Corner
Images from the North Tahoe Fire Department annual ceremony in Kings Beach, Ca., on Friday, May 3, 2019.
Cathleen Allison | Nevada Momentum

As the fire chief serving the north and west shores of Lake Tahoe, I am acutely aware and concerned about the potential for catastrophic wildfire here.

Decades of fire suppression have left us overcrowded and dense with the type of forest fuels, structure, and accumulation that exacerbate the threat and severity of wildfire. In the 12 years since the Angora Fire struck the Basin, the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team, a team comprising federal, tribal, state, and local entities, have reduced these fuels by thinning over 57,000 acres of forest surrounding the lake. But that is not enough.

To effectively protect communities from catastrophic wildfires, we must restore our forests across the Basin’s entire landscape, shoreline to ridgeline, by using various forest management techniques such as thinning and prescribed fire. In order to increase the pace and scale of work required to meet this objective, I am proud to share the new Landscape Restoration Strategy, recently released by the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership.

The strategy is a coordinated approach to comprehensively address landscape-wide forest restoration including streams, meadows, and critical wildlife habitat, while ensuring those same qualities we treasure about Lake Tahoe, which also lead to recreation opportunities, wildlife health, natural beauty, and clean water, can all thrive. Working collaboratively across land ownerships and with tribes, partners will implement restoration projects that simultaneously meet multiple goals and increase regional economic opportunities.

According to scientific modeling, implementation of the strategy will reduce high-severity fire risk across the West Shore to include an estimated 50% reduction in areas expected to burn during high-severity fires. As we witnessed with both the Angora and Washoe Fires of 2007, fire severity decreased dramatically when the fire entered treated forest, providing firefighters with the leverage to gain control and stop the destruction. In the face of climate change, we are witnessing the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in California’s history, as drought, insect infestation, and disease epidemics kill trees, leaving more fuels in the forests surrounding our communities. By prioritizing fuel reduction in the Wildland Urban Interface, implementation of the strategy reduces the risk of property loss from future wildfire in west shore communities; an important benefit as we face this devastating insurance crisis.

The strategy, built with consensus over the last three years, is a scalable and comprehensive solution developed by land managers, fire protection professionals, scientists, conservationists, homeowners, businesses, recreationists, and local and regional government, to take a hands-on approach to actively manage our forests at a landscape level. Its scientifically-robust framework crosses land ownerships to guide landscape restoration, build resilient forests and watersheds, and protect communities over the next two decades.

Together, we are creating a new model for restoring our forested landscapes and protecting our communities.

The Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership is a collaborative effort led by the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, California Tahoe Conservancy, California State Parks, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, National Forest Foundation, and the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team.

Michael Schwartz has served as fire chief for the North Tahoe Fire Protection District since 2012. He sits on the executive committee for the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership as a representative of the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team. Learn more about Lake Tahoe West and its partners at

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