Politics to blame? Some say regulations have prevented the removal of hazardous trees | SierraSun.com

Politics to blame? Some say regulations have prevented the removal of hazardous trees

Dan Thrift / Sierra Sun news serviceDefensible space saved this home at the end of Brush Road off Boulder Mountain Drive.

Even before the ash from the Angora fire has settled, some South Lake Tahoe residents have begun to lob accusations that decisions based on politics contributed to Sunday’s devastating blaze.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club’s influence drew much of the ire of Sue Abrams, a resident of the Mountain View Estates subdivision heavily damaged during the blaze. These groups exert too much control over Tahoe Regional Planning Agency policy decisions, according to Abrams.

“No policies in the 30 years I’ve been here allow us to create defensible space,” Abrams said during a phone interview on Monday. “Every ordinance that was put together over the past 30 years except for the past year or so has been hands-off. Every bit of this was preventable had politics moved aside.”

Abrams, unsure of the status of her house as of Monday evening, filed suit against the federal government in 1997 concerning the management of hazard trees in the basin and is looking to bring issues surrounding the Angora fire into court as well.

“I am going to see that there is a class action suit brought,” Abrams said.

Michael Donahoe, spokesman for the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, denied the claims of environmental groups fostering a “hands-off” approach to fuels management in the basin. Clearing small trees and understory brush is encouraged by the group, according to Donahoe.

“Unfortunately, in this situation, this area had been thinned and it still went up,” Donahoe said during a phone interview on Monday.

At least 462 of the more than 2,500 acres burned during the Angora fire underwent fuels reductions treatments within the past 10 years, according to a press statement from the TRPA.

Rex Norman, spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service, said the number of treated acres reported by the TRPA seemed low, but he did not confirm the acreage treated in the area as of press time.

John Singlaub, executive director of the TRPA, expressed sympathy for the families affected by the Angora fire, but also denied the agency’s policies have prevented homeowners from fitting their properties with defensible space.

“In fact, it’s exactly the opposite,” Singlaub said during on phone interview on Monday. “More people are marking trees to be taken down than in the history of South Lake Tahoe. The one thing we can’t be accused of in any way is not allowing people to create defensible space on their property.”

In 2006, 200 defensible space inspections were conducted by Lake Valley Fire Protection District, whose service area includes the fire location. During these site visits, 900 trees were marked for removal by fire professionals, according to a press statement from the TRPA.

Although these trees were marked for removal, it is unclear how many of them were still standing when the Angora fire started on Sunday afternoon. While site inspections are free, removal is the responsibility of California property owners.

“The main factor is cost. On the Nevada side, money is available for tree removal,” said Julie Regan, spokeswoman for the TRPA, on Monday. “We need to make that happen on the California side.”

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