Forest Service thins Alder Creek woods
The U.S. Forest Service is working to thin dense stands of beetle-damaged trees along the northern edge of Tahoe Donner, but terrain and funding continue to challenge the project.
After this year’s wildfires in the Truckee-Tahoe area, the forest along Alder Creek Road gained attention as a potential hot-spot, with even U.S. Rep. John Doolittle visiting to survey the conditions.
But the Forest Service has already started to reduce the fuels adjacent to the 6,000-home, alpine subdivision.
“Our overall goal is a healthy forest that can withstand fires,” said Truckee District Ranger Joanne Roubique of the Tahoe National Forest. “We’d like to safely be able to re-introduce fire into the ecosystem.”
Tahoe Donner Forester Bill Houdyschell said the work will give the subdivision an important fuel break along its northern boundary.
“It makes residents feel a lot safer,” Houdyschell said.
The problem stems from the density of the forest and a bark-beetle infestation that killed or weakened many trees, she said.
A 2006 plan called for the Forest Service to thin or masticate fuels in a 778-acre area, Roubique said, then conduct prescribed under-burns throughout the acreage.
Between fiscal years 2006 and 2007, the Forest Service’s Truckee district has received about $600,000 for thinning, but work remains unfunded for about 340 acres, Roubique said.
“Currently we have about half the acres under contract, and about half of those are already complete, maybe more,” Roubique said.
The remaining area to be treated will present unique challenges, however, as the terrain is closer to Alder Creek, said Scott Conway, a forester with Tahoe National Forest.
“It gets complicated and expensive along a drainage,” Conway said. “We can’t just pluck trees out because of the environmental concerns of having the machinery in there.”
One potential solution is to wait until winter and work on top of snow to reduce impact on the soil and erosion. But Conway said the technique requires a certain amount of snow accumulation, which Truckee didn’t reach last year.
As for this winter, Conway said the Forest Service will just have to wait and see what kind of snow the area gets. Roubique said if this season’s snowfall is inadequate, the Forest Service likely will ask the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board permission to do the work next summer.
Thinning in the summer has its own limitations. Last summer, the Forest Service restricted the use of mechanized equipment because of the potential to start a fire, Roubique said.
But the biggest challenge is finding the money to pay for treating the last 340 acres in the project, she said.
“The dilemma we have is we have to compete with other districts for funding, and the project costs more because of its proximity to homes and the creek ” the cost per acre is fairly high,” Roubique said.
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