Forest Service plans to thin Tahoe woods | SierraSun.com

Forest Service plans to thin Tahoe woods

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

Over the next decade, the U.S. Forest Service wants to thin and burn 38,000 acres of forest in the Tahoe Basin to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

The 10-year plan calls for nearly $10 million in annual forest thinning as a way to protect communities and the fragile Tahoe environment from a catastrophic blaze.

“The big advantage to this is we have a plan and now we can display it on a map,” said Dan Young, an assistant fire fuels and vegetation specialist with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service. “Before we were just working around [the lake] in a clockwise direction.”

The Forest Service will focus on areas around the Tahoe Basin’s towns.

“The areas around communities we are trying to treat 100 percent,” Young said.

Other areas will be treated in a patchwork pattern “known as Strategically Placed Area Treatments or SPLATS ” to keep small fires from growing into devastating crown blazes.

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The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency estimated in a recent forest report that 76 percent of forest fires started in the Tahoe Basin could balloon into crown fires ” the most unpredictable and dangerous of wildfires.

Young said that about 3,800 acres per year is about the limit of where the available workforce and funding will take them.

“We still keep trying to push the number of acres up,” Young said.

Chief Duane Whitelaw of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District knows the wildfire risk in Tahoe well, and applauds the work the Forest Service is doing.

“I’ve seen a big push by the Forest Service in the right direction,” said Whitelaw. “I would say the cooperation [between the Forest Service and local fire departments] is at an all-time high.”

North Tahoe Fire attempts to work with the Forest Service where private and public land abut each other around the basin, he said.

“We all know that this entire basin has varying levels of risk,” Whitelaw said. He added that the fire danger, given climate changes, is only growing more severe.

“We’re already seeing a trend that is not favorable for fire risk, and it just doubles our concern,” Whitelaw said.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit manages approximately 165,000 acres, said spokesman Rex Norman.

Norman said the Forest Service is setting up a series of meetings to solicit public comment on land that is well-used by residents and visitors.

“A lot of times these areas are people’s back yards,” Norman said.

– 38,000- acres the Forest Service plans to thin in the Tahoe Basin within the decade

– $10 million- the average yearly budget for forest thinning and associated planning

– 165,000- acres that are managed by the Forest Service in the Tahoe Basin

– 76 percent- estimated percent of fires in the Tahoe Basin that would become crown fires