Placer’s Kranz calls for streamside thinning | SierraSun.com

Placer’s Kranz calls for streamside thinning

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

Julie Brown/Sierra SunWard Creek, which runs into Lake Tahoe south of Tahoe City, has sections that are crowded with vegetation and trees, the reason why Tahoe Regional Planning Agency board member Bruce Kranz wants to relax stream zone environmental regulations to thin the area to reduce the risk of forest fires.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE ” Placer County’s representative on the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s governing board called on Wednesday for a loosening of regulations on forest thinning near streams around Lake Tahoe, citing the fire danger the areas pose for basin residents.

The agency’s board took no action on the proposal, which would also allow residents to bolster their defensible space without agency permits. But the agency said that they have already made many of the changes requested by Kranz.

Water quality regulators at the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board said their regulations were modified in 1995 to allow mechanical thinning in stream environment zones. The water board’s regulations governing stream-zone thinning are nearly identical to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s rules, which has allowed mechanical thinning in stream zones since 2004.

Under the TRPA and the water board’s regulation, the work must be done with low-impact vehicles, and the applicant must prove that the equipment will not damage the fragile stream habitat.

“I think we are comfortable that we can allow this work to happen under current regulations,” said Lauri Kemper, a division manager with the water quality control board.

Kemper said that Kranz’s position is not much different from the Lahontan Water Quality Control Board’s.

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“He’s saying, ‘let’s move forward,” and we’re ready to do the same thing,” Kemper said.

But officials with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service say that regulations on forest thinning in stream zones can sideline a project for two or three additional years.

While the agency knows that it can’t be exempt from any scrutiny of how logging near a stream zone will affect the environment, a Forest Service spokesman said stream areas are some of the most dangerously overgrown in the Tahoe Basin.

“They burn very fast and with great intensity,” said Rex Norman, a spokesman for the Forest Service in Lake Tahoe. “They do have the potential for carrying fire.”

Mike Vollmer, the vegetation manager for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, said the TRPA’s newly formed committee to investigate the prevention of catastrophic fires will discuss any changes to the agency’s current regulations.

“The climate’s right to look at it again,” said Vollmer.

Kranz’s letter, entitled “Act Now,” was read in part at Wednesday’s Tahoe Regional Planning Agency board meeting. The item caused little discussion among board members or the agency’s staff.

“We know what we need to do. We need to remove not only dead, dying and diseased trees, but also low-lying brush, small trees and limbs. The time for talk is over,” read Kranz’s letter.

Kranz’s call to action mirrors a similar declaration by fellow Republican John Doolittle, the congressional representative for Truckee and Tahoe, urging agencies to drop their prohibition on mechanized thinning in stream zones.

That statement came in July as Doolittle toured the destruction caused by the Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe.

Kranz said the regulations, despite allowing some mechanical thinning, discourage many contractors from applying for forest-thinning projects at Lake Tahoe.

Norman of the U.S. Forest Service agreed.

“There’s a limited number of contractors that are willing to bid for contracts here,” Norman said.