Forest thinning: West Tahoe resident questions legitimacy of Ward Creek project |

Forest thinning: West Tahoe resident questions legitimacy of Ward Creek project

Jason Shueh/Sierra SunA tractor works to excavate wood debris near Ward Creek, part of a forest-thinning project spearheaded by the North Tahoe Fire Protection District. Residents in the area have voiced concerns about the project that officials say is necessary and part of and effort to realign the nearby trail in addition to road improvements.

SUNNYSIDE, Calif. andamp;#8212; A forest thinning project along Ward Creek is drawing scrutiny from West Shore residents who think the project has cut far beyond necessary limits.The North Tahoe Fire Protection District, the project coordinators, began cutting in along the Ward Creek trail on July 4 and finished treating a total 185 acres at the end of August.Victoria Berchtold, a Tahoe City resident, said she and a few other homeowners are concerned too much thinning has occurred and irreparable damage has been done.andamp;#8220;I understand the idea of thinning for the health and betterment of the forest over all.andamp;#8221; Berchtold said. andamp;#8220;But what is being done in this area is clearly logging and destruction.andamp;#8221;As sheandamp;#8217;s talked with other neighbors, Berchtold said reactions are mixed, but all the trail users sheandamp;#8217;s talked with are devastated by the project.Stuart McMorrow, NTFPD forest fuels program manager, said the Ward Creek project is necessary for fire protection, especially for the highly susceptible Pineland neighborhoods.andamp;#8220;If embers were to land in the untreated Ward Creek Unit, wind would blow fire into Pineland neighborhoods. It would be catastrophic,andamp;#8221; McMorrow said. andamp;#8220;It is a short-term loss for a long-term gain.andamp;#8221;McMorrow said the project is the first phase for preparation of a California State Parks road and trail plan that is funded by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. The plan involves road restoration and road removal, eventually rerouting the Ward Creek Trail to a better alignment, he said.Berchtold said she understands supporting arguments for the thinning but cannot contain her skepticism about how the project is being handled andamp;#8212; especially when she sees many old growth trees being cut and sparse spindly trees being left.andamp;#8220;I realize theyandamp;#8217;re paranoid because of the big Angora fire (in 2007), but thatandamp;#8217;s no reason to cut the forest down,andamp;#8221; she said.Dennis Oliver, spokesman for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said concerns like this are usual but the dilemma must be confronted andamp;#8212; to thin the forest or to have fires. Last week, Congressman Tom McClintock toured the region promoting more commercial logging as a potential economic stimulant.andamp;#8220;We’ve just got a situation that has to be addressed. We scrutinize all these projects and make sure theyandamp;#8217;re done correctly,andamp;#8221; Oliver said. andamp;#8220;TRPA has the power to stop any forest thinning project if there is an environmental problem.andamp;#8221;Cheva Heck, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, agreed with Oliver and McMorrow, but added she empathized with trail-goers who are unaccustomed to the changes.andamp;#8220;I think the problem is that people are used to seeing an overgrown high fire forest. And so when we get it to what it should look like, it can be a bit shocking,andamp;#8221; said Heck.Berchtold said as a regular resident she doesnandamp;#8217;t feel she has the leverage of any of the projectandamp;#8217;s involved government agencies, yet said she is just one of many who are concerned and wonders if there are any larger motivations behind it. McMorrow said he wanted to reassure there were no ulterior motives to the thinning project, and most of the logs cut were turned into chipping andamp;#8212; a low-value wood product andamp;#8212; and sold only to supplement a small part of the projectandamp;#8217;s cost.

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