Tahoe Conservancy ramps up efforts to reduce fire risk on its properties
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Wesley Harcourt was working on the Dixie Fire in 2021 when he received an emergency call from his superiors to head south and help fight the Caldor Fire.
The Cal Fire captain and his crew quickly relocated their efforts to the West Slope of El Dorado County.
“We started out on the West Slope and kept fighting it and kept getting pushed further back until finally we were in the basin,” said Harcourt, a South Lake Tahoe resident.
Harcourt knows firsthand how the fire chewed through dense, dry vegetation and drought-stricken trees spreading at a fast rate.
This week, Harcourt and a crew were back on the edge of the Caldor Fire burn scar below Echo Summit thinning brush as part of a California Tahoe Conservancy multi-year project to reduce fire risk on their properties in the basin. Harcourt and a crew of California Conservation Corps firefighters and Cal Fire personnel were performing fuels reduction work in the Chiapa Drive/Tolteca Court neighborhood.
“We’re working on all the Conservancy lots in this neighborhood,” Harcourt said. “I think it’s vitally important thinning the brush. We’re doing these mosaics where we’re not taking out 100% of the brush, but taking out about 70% and creating space between the brush, clearing out under the tree drip line, reducing the ladder fuels and maintaining habitat for native species and vegetation.”
Thinning vegetation helps give first responders a better chance to stop a fire with their initial attack and helps the fire burn with less intensity.
For Harcourt, who lives in the N. Upper Truckee neighborhood, forestry and firefighting are a family affair. His father worked for CDF and he came to visit the site where his son was working this week.
“He came out yesterday and was like, ‘yeah we worked out here at this same site with crews 30 years ago doing the same thing.’ I guess it’s kind of a family tradition.”
Harcourt is passionate about fuels reduction and also firefighting and says it’s a toss up what he’d rather be doing.
“I really like being a steward to the forest as well as the excitement of fighting fire, it’s a toss up,” he said. “When the fire is in your backyard and right down the street from where you live it’s not as much fun. Doing the fuel work in the neighborhood and seeing things that I wished were cleared out years ago, and to be finally able to do it, it’s amazing.”
The Conservancy owns 4,700 parcels, 6,500 acres, on the California side of the Tahoe Basin and the organization has taken some heat the last few years from local residents about making their properties more wildfire resistant.
But the Conservancy said that heightened public awareness has helped get funding from the state and federal government to address the issues.
The Conservancy received $36 million from the state and a $10 million federal grant.
“The Conservancy has had a land management program for the last 30 years where we treat our properties, but the program has ramped up the past couple of years,” said Milan Yeates, the Conservancy’s supervisor of community forestry programs. “We’re doing what we can on our properties, which is meant to complement what homeowners and fire districts are doing. Resident home hardening, the work you do on your own property is equally important.”
Crews were also working in the Ski Run area this week. Crew members on a daily average clear an acre of brush and takes down between 10 to 30 trees. Overall, 70 acres of land were being treated this week.
“We’re putting together projects where we can treat a whole neighborhood rather than just a parcel here and there,” Yeates said.
The Conservancy is also performing fuels reduction work in the Carnelian Bay area on about 600 acres near Dollar Point.
They will also likely start a West Shore project next year from Tahoma to Tahoe City. That project is currently under environmental review.
The N. Upper Truckee neighborhood, approximately 120 acres, will probably happen next year and a round of property treatments may be coming soon in the Tahoe Keys and Gardner Mountain areas.
Bill Rozak may be reached at email@example.com or 530-542-8010.
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