Tahoe fire commission facing more pressure as deadline approaches
Sun News Service
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE ” Members of the California Nevada Tahoe-Basin Fire Commission as well as representatives of conservation groups voiced concern over a process that appears increasingly rushed during a meeting in South Lake Tahoe on Tuesday.
The commission has more than 100 potential findings left to review, each with its own set of possible recommendations, before a March 21 deadline imposed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons.
A third of these findings were submitted to the commission in the three days before Tuesday’s meeting, leaving some commissioners wondering if the group is ready to proceed with approvals.
“The question I have is: Are we ready to take action?” commission member Ruben Grijalva asked.
The commission did approve 13 of 120 possible findings and recommendations Tuesday. Each of the approved findings were submitted to the commission before the end of January and included recommendations related to permit streamlining, project monitoring and air-quality standards regulating burn days in the basin.
Conservation groups expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of time the commission members are being given to examine findings, noting committee members were making recommendations on some findings only days after they were submitted.
“I want to express our continued concerns with this process,” Jennifer Quashnick, a representative of conservation groups Sierra Forest Legacy and the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, told the board. “At the last meeting, I expressed our frustration with decisions to endorse findings and recommendations being made without adequate review of the facts, without requirements for proponents to provide information to substantiate the statements being made, and finally with only marginal consideration of the concerns, suggestions and recommendations being made by the conservation community.”
Although Commissioner Bud Hicks assured Quashnick the concerns were being considered, he indicated speedy reviews were necessary because of the approaching deadline.
“I think there’s a level of frustration among the commission members as well,” Hicks said. “We’re slaves to the timing that has been imposed on us by the governors.”
Hicks was elected as a temporary chair of the commission Tuesday because Nevada Chair Sig Rogich was reportedly out because of illness and California Chair Kate Dargan needed to attend “urgent” meetings in Sacramento relating to her confirmation as state fire marshal.
Although not present at Tuesday’s meeting, Dargan did comment on the recent influx of findings by telephone.
Many of the recently submitted findings can be consolidated into previous findings because they cover the same issues, Dargan said.
“I think that most of the issues have been identified for many months,” Dargan said. “We’re not seeing substantially new, substantive issues coming forward.”
Quashnick disagreed, adding she felt findings and recommendations submitted by conservation groups represent previously unexamined strategies for managing land in the basin and are not getting the proper consideration by members of the commission.
The commission was created by California’s and Nevada’s governors after the Angora fire to examine potential changes to land-management policies to decrease the threat wildfire poses to the Lake Tahoe Basin.
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The blaze grew to more than 50,000 acres as of Thursday morning but the Nevada Wildfire Information Map shows that figure could easily be at 60,000 acres.