My Turn: Balanced approach toward wildfire is needed to Keep Tahoe Blue |

My Turn: Balanced approach toward wildfire is needed to Keep Tahoe Blue

This week, May 5 May 9, is Wildfire Awareness Week. Each year, wildfires destroy homes and business throughout the state, ravaging thousands of acres of precious timber and grassland, and costing the State of California millions of dollars. Ninety percent of Californias wildfires are caused by people, either accidentally or intentionally, making wildfires the most preventable form of natural disaster. Most residents in Californias many communities are vulnerable to wildfires and take seriously the responsibility of protecting their property. Unfortunately, there are times when government gets in the way.A perfect illustration is last years devastating Angora Fire, which burned over 3,100 acres and destroyed 254 homes in South Lake Tahoe, despite the best efforts of the thousands of firefighters who descended upon the Lake Tahoe Basin. These men and women, aided by members of the law enforcement community, acted heroically to protect residents, homes and businesses. For many years, homeowners in the Tahoe Basin have had to deal with restrictive regulations that control what they can or cannot do on their properties. Frequently, such common activities as building a new deck or removing a tree can face regulatory review. Although created with the best of intentions, many of the requirements and regulations that have been put in place make the process of creating reasonable defensible space both cumbersome and costly. There are few who would question the goal of protecting Lake Tahoes legendary clarity. Although regulation is part of that equation, surely fire prevention through the use of defensible space should also be factored in. It is likely that a pro-active reduction of fuel loads in the forests and surrounding homes and commercial properties could have significantly reduced the losses of wildlife, treasured timberlands and private property. Shortly after the Angora Fire, I called upon governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jim Gibbons to create a joint California and Nevada Blue Ribbon Fire Commission. I am glad that they agreed and acted quickly. The intended goal of the commission was not only to explore ways to effectively reduce fuel loads and to better coordinate wildfire prevention efforts, but find ways to reduce the often burdensome and duplicative regulatory requirements in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The commissioners were also asked to look into ways to enhance public education on wildfire prevention. After ten months of public hearings and countless hours of work, the California-Nevada Basin Fire Commission is expected to release its final recommendations in the coming days. It is my hope that out of this tragedy we can develop common sense solutions to make the forests in the Lake Tahoe Basin healthier and protect homes by reducing the threat of future catastrophic wildfires and the long-term impacts such disasters pose to the lakes natural beauty. The Angora Fire was a tragic wake-up call to the need for more effective prevention and coordination efforts. Now is the time to act on what weve learned before another wildfire devastates this lake we love and the lives of its residents.Senator Dave Cox represents the residents of the First Senate District, which includes all or portions of Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lassen, Placer, Plumas, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Sacramento and Sierra Counties. Contact his office at (916) 651-4001, or via email at

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