Forest Service backs 10-year fuel plan
A first-ever, 10-year forest thinning plan for the entire Tahoe Basin is moving toward approval, outlining a near-tripling of efforts to reduce the threat of a catastrophic wildfire near Tahoe’s shores.
The plan will be used to secure federal funding for the prescribed burns, tree removal and brush clearing in 208,000 acres of forest around the lake.
On Wednesday night North Tahoe locals got their last glimpse of the draft plan, which will ultimately be sent to Congress and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior for approval. The Forest Service held its last public meeting on the plan in South Lake Tahoe on Thursday night.
The Forest Service collaborated with 17 Lake Tahoe agencies to look at fuel reduction in the entire basin, fulfilling a federal mandate delivered through the White Pine County Conservation, Recreation and Development Act of 2006.
“This plan, basically, was created because Congress told you to,” said Chris French, an environmental coordinator for the plan. “There’s a lot of communities that don’t have that national recognition, [but] this place is a [national] treasure.”
Experts say the plan will direct funding to dangerously overgrown forests that threaten homes and lives in Tahoe. According to Steve Holl, one of the plan’s consultants, 60 percent of Tahoe’s forests would likely support crown fires and 70 percent of Tahoe homes have inadequate defensible space.
“The number of acres burned in the basin has increased every decade since 1956,” Holl said at the Kings Beach presentation.
The plan aims to convert Tahoe’s ailing forest condition into a healthy one, with uncrowded large trees, low-growing and scattered undergrowth and increased plant diversity, Holl said.
The plan recommends increasing the amount of fuel reduction by 270 percent within 10 years, French said.
In light of the recent devastation caused by the Angora Fire, the plan further stresses the need to protect Tahoe communities, said Forest Supervisor Terri Maceron of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
“We were already working on this, and working collaboratively, before the Angora Fire,” Maceron said.
The plan looks at three different levels of wildfire prevention within the wildland-urban interface: Defensible space around the home, defensible space around the community and fuel reduction in the forest surrounding the communities.
The basin is divided into units, each on a different time schedule. Protecting communities would be the primary focus in the first five years of treatment, Holl said.
French recommended using a range of forest thinning methods for the sake of cost effectiveness, including mechanical thinning, helicopter logging, hand thinning, pruning, mastication and prescribed burning.
He also recommended utilizing biomass to take care of forest waste.
“By utilizing biomass, we could reduce prescribed burning and [turn] that material into something useful,” French said.
The plan acknowledges several challenges that could complicate its enactment, including staffing limitations, environmental regulations for stream environmental zones and number of burn days, as well as administrative constraints, such as contracting projects that span property with multiple ownership.
The plan was not meant to address those challenges, but simply to identify them, Maceron said. The recently formed Blue Ribbon Fire Commission, however, may choose to take action on fuel reduction obstacles, she said.