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New plan will reduce wildfire risk, improve forest health at Tahoe

Cheyanne Neuffer
Special to the Sierra Sun
California’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan was released Jan. 8 to give a comprehensive and direct action plan for the state to reduce wildfire risk, improve the health of forests and wildlands, and battle climate change.
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2020 was a record wildfire year as thick smoke filled the air throughout the summer as historic, destructive fires ran rampant in California.

Last year featured five of California’s six largest wildfires, and all were burning at the same time. More than 4 million acres burned across the state, which is double the previous record.

California’s Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan was released Jan. 8 to give a comprehensive and direct action plan for the state to reduce wildfire risk, improve the health of forests and wildlands, and battle climate change.



The plan gives a strategy to tackle statewide projects on half a million acres every year by 2025 to meet the state’s target.

One tactic is increasing and expanding the use of prescribed fire, mostly on state-owned land.



While the larger plan is statewide, portions would directly target areas in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

“(The Wildfire and Forestry Resilience Plan) supports locally driven plans such as Lake Tahoe Basin Forest Action Plans,” said Forest Schafer, Tahoe Conservancy’s acting chief of natural resources.

The Lake Tahoe Action Plan, which was established August 2019, integrates the work of nearly two dozen conservation, land management and fire agencies.

The local plan was created with the intention of using the following strategies: expand the pace and scale of restoration through landscape-scale projects that cover all ownership; build greater capacity for these efforts by expanding the workforce, strategically using prescribed fire, supporting markets for biomass and small diameter trees; and leverage new technology, including high resolution satellite imagery and artificial intelligence, to map forest structure and wildfire risk.

 

INCREASED WORK

The Tahoe Conservancy manages over 6,500 acres of land that play a major role in achieving those goals.

“We expect the amount of work to increase,” Schafer said.

The budget includes $12 million that will go to the Tahoe Conservancy to support the Resilient State Lands initiative.

The governor’s budget proposal would also increase the amount of grant funds available to all forest managers in the state, including those in the Tahoe Basin.

Schafer said this plan is an impressive accomplishment by getting together to move in the same direction with a shared vision and common goals.

“The plan clearly defines each goal in each region,” he said. “A compelling part of the plan is that it wasn’t released in a vacuum, it is reinforced with $1 billion in the governor’s budget.”

He said that in the past investment has been a hurdle, especially with the increased size of the fires.

The plan gives an outlined approach taking into consideration environmental conditions, risks and priorities in each region with specifically tailored strategies.

The plan is part of a collaboration effort with other federal, local, tribal, regional and private organizations.

The comprehensive plan also focuses on building a large network of fuel breaks around vulnerable communities, expanding home hardening, defensible space and preparedness planning to create wildfire-adapted communities, and sustaining the economic vitality of rural forested areas.

To jump start the proposed budget, $323 million would go directly to specific priorities, which include protecting communities, reducing risk of large, catastrophic wildfires and economic recovery in rural communities.

The Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan builds on the Agreement for Shared Stewardship of California’s Forest and Rangelands signed last summer by Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. That plan focuses on science-based, long-term strategies to reduce wildfire risks, restore watersheds, protect habitat and biological diversity, and help the state meet its climate objectives.

The governor’s proposed budget supports proposed investments in key action plan priorities:

$512 million to increase landscape scale resilience in forests and natural landscapes, including through increased use of prescribed fire and funding for tribes and small landowners.

$335 million to complete at least 45-60 strategic fuel break projects each year over the next several years and grants to support local wildfire plans and projects.

$38 million to harden and protect fire-vulnerable communities.

$39 million to ensure predictive models and investments in wildfire resilience are based on the best available science.

$76 million to expand economic and job opportunities through the Climate Catalyst Fund’s low-interest lending program, the California Conservation Corps workforce programs, and forest management job training.

Cheyanne Neuffer is a staff writer with the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun.


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