Prescribed burning: Panel agrees it is an important tool; some still disagree | SierraSun.com

Prescribed burning: Panel agrees it is an important tool; some still disagree

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; A panel of experts agrees and#8212; fire is key in area forests and prescribed burns are an important tool.

But some locals remain unconvinced.

The Truckee Donner Land Trust Hosted a panel discussion Wednesday in response to concerns over Truckee Tahoe Airport District plans to use fire in Waddle Ranch, a 1,500-acre open space property the two groups were key in preserving. The five-person panel spoke about ecology, cost, wildfire, pollution and even climate change issues before a packed town council chambers.

and#8220;You can make a forest look like it used to with thinning alone, but ecologically, you need to put fire back in the system,and#8221; said Malcolm North, a forest and fire ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station.

The airport has already mechanically thinned 290 acres, said district spokesman Hardy Bullock, and the proposal is to burn 10 acres already thinned this fall, to see how well it does.

North said fire makes for a healthier forest, diversifying the habitat and reintroducing nutrients into the soil and#8212; things mechanical thinning canand#8217;t duplicate.

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and#8220;If you want to restore the forests in the Sierra, you have to reintroduce fire,and#8221; North said. and#8220;The question is whether you want to do it on your terms … or eventually it will do it on its own.and#8221;

Jason Maghaddas, a registered professional forester who manages land for the Feather River Land Trust, said areas treated with prescribed burns will burn much less violently during a wildfire, even compared to places mechanically thinned.

Two concerns expressed previously were smoke generated and the possibility of the fire escaping.

Ann Hobbs of the Placer County Air Pollution Control District said the district looks for specific atmospheric conditions that will help lift and disperse smoke before letting foresters burn.

Rich Adams, burn boss for California State Parks, said the organization limits the size of their burns to reduce smoke and exert better control over the fire, in order to prevent escape.

Jeff Dowling, the Truckee area forester with Calfire who proposed the burns at Waddle Ranch, said he plans to have a hose line around the burn, an engine and a hand crew, totaling 27 people and#8212; spaced roughly 110 feet apart and#8212; surrounding the burn next fall.

and#8220;I donand#8217;t know if I can do any better than that and#8212; the probability is one in a million weand#8217;d lose that fire,and#8221; Dowling said.

But Gaylan Larson, who lives in the Martis area, wasnand#8217;t satisfied.

and#8220;I remember the Martis Fire in 2001 started as a camp fire that Calfire had controlled, then it escaped. These things happen,and#8221; Larson said. and#8220;And smoke is dangerous to our health. I havenand#8217;t heard any of that discussion and Iand#8217;m disappointed.and#8221;

Larsonand#8217;s wife, Lynne Larson, said research on the effects of smoke is and#8220;endless and overwhelming.and#8221;

and#8220;How much pollution are we expected to breath and who decides?and#8221; she said. and#8220;As long as we have other options, lets not do it.and#8221;