Mindful that a major fire in the Tahoe Basin is a question of "when," and not "if," the Governing Board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will address ways to reduce the fire hazard when it meets today.
Also attending will be over local fire chiefs, and more than 15 federal and state agency representatives.
The workshop is the result of lobbying by Coe Swobe, the board's at-large Nevada member whose resolution last year urged action, but without effect until he reintroduced it in July.
During the intervening year, Tahoe suffered two moderate wildfires, and the board makeup changed to include former Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District chief Tim Smith, and the California Assembly Speaker's appointee Reed Holderman, who has an extensive background in protecting the state's public lands.
In comments yesterday, Ralph Osterling, a San Mateo, Calif., forestry consultant invited to the workshop by Nevada board member Drake DeLanoy, echoed the inevitability of a major fire and outlined some of its effects.
"You have a time bomb here," he said. "The consequences will be great. There will be a degradation of the water quality from the ash, and the cost of controlling the fire will be large."
Osterling said the total cost of suppression and rehabilitation -- mainly erosion control in the denuded burn areas -- run about 10 times the value of the land and timber.
Last year's Gondola fire, for example, cost nearly $4 million just to control, and rehabilitation efforts may cost about half this.
"With good fire management and aggressive pest control, some of that could be avoided," Osterling said.
Pest control, he said, is an important part of the equation because under appropriate conditions insects can dramatically increase the number of dead trees. In most years, tree pests have a large number of damaging offspring, but only a few survive to sire the next generation. But in exceptional years, the number of offspring can grow threefold or more. In drought years, when trees are weakened and some of the pest species thrive, the results can devastate forests.
The "how" of reducing the hazard -- the funding and political aspects -- will be addressed by Lisa Moore, legislative director and general counsel for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), also invited by DeLanoy.
Moore said budgeting process causes a host of problems that can best be addressed by keeping hazard reduction a high priority.
Other barriers include a burdensome environmental study process and associated litigation, which Moore said may be addressed in some cases with waivers, as provided for in recently introduced legislation.
"We want to see if there's any way we can help these efforts hit the ground faster," Moore said.
Just as important as agency and federal assistance, Osterling said, is individual responsibility in helping correct poor forest health that arose from an unnatural mix of plants due to over-harvesting, and a hundred year's fire suppression.
"We need people to not be naysayers when fuel reduction work is needed on public lands," he said. "Some say, 'let Nature take its course,' but what we have here is not a natural situation. If we let Nature take its course, we will be accelerating the 'when' of the major fire."
The workshop is scheduled to start around 10 a.m., and last for about two hours, at TRPA offices, 128 Market Street, Stateline, Nev. For more information call (775) 588-4547, or visit the Web site www.trpa.org.