Fuels being reduced throughout the basin
Ryan Summerlin June 26, 2007
In more than 3,000 acres scorched so far in the Angora Fire, a 220-acre plot of land had recently been thinned of excess fuels and the slash piles had been burned.
“There was extreme fire behavior and there wasn’t a whole lot that could be done, but we saw a moderation of the extreme fire behavior in that section,” said Dave Marlow, the vegetation, fire and fuels staff officer for the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
If the fire had been in normal conditions, Marlow said he believes that treated section of land could have dampened the wildfire’s progress.
The 220-acre area is just one argument for ongoing and continual hazardous fuels reduction in the Tahoe Basin.
“We did do a bunch of treatments in the area of the fire for the last eight to 10 years,” Marlow said, but reducing the dry timber, manzanita brush and littered forest floor has to be maintained constantly.
The U.S. Forest Service is funded to reduce the hazardous fuels in the Lake Tahoe Basin, but whether enough money and manpower have been put into the effort is sure to be debated, he said.
“The political landscape for the basin regarding hazardous fuels is likely to change,” Marlow said Tuesday. “I suspect there will be some additional infusion of money because we have a very heightened awareness right now.”
That recent thinning of 220 acres had been paid for through money stemming from the Tahoe Presidential Summit. Since the summit in 1997, when President Clinton and Vice President Gore came to Lake Tahoe to create an environmental push, federal and state money has been streaming into the Tahoe Basin to complete the Environmental Improvement Program of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. On the 10-year anniversary of the summit, Aug. 17, the basin’s major players will note the impacts of the $250 million pledged in 1997.
Much of that funding is through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, in which the Bureau of Land Management sells land to Las Vegas developers and uses the money to help fund the Tahoe EIP program, as well as other needs in Nevada.
Incline Village’s Assistant Fire Chief Greg McKay, a member of the federal advisory committee which makes EIP funding recommendations, said about $10 million is given each year to the U.S. Forest Service for hazardous fuels reduction on federal lands.
At the South Shore, the Forest Service was preparing to launch a huge project to reduce the fuels threat in the wildland urban interface. The South Shore Project was aimed at treating 12,225 acres or 30 percent of the National Forest lands available in the South Shore area over a four-year period, according to the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Web site.
“Mother Nature took care of it for us,” said Marlow, adding that he will have to revise the treatment plan for that area – from fuels reduction to salvage logging.
The Forest Service was also considering how to spend an additional pot of money for Tahoe Basin hazardous fuels reduction. If the recommendations are approved by the Congressional delegation, it will continue to fund the race to clear thousands of acres of forest before additional wildfire decimates Tahoe’s green mantle.
With a dollar figure not yet officially attached, the extra hazardous fuels reduction money slated for Tahoe is from the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act funds, according to Marlow. An amendment to a congressional bill concerning White Pine County passed in December and added extra money for fuels management, Marlow said.
Under the bill’s direction, Marlow has the task of taking seven community plans for wildfire protection from around the Tahoe Basin, the USFS’ wildfire plan and the TRPA’s plan and “bringing them together under one roof, into one plan,” he said.
Once that is accomplished, there will be one document for hazardous fuels reduction in the basin.
“This opens the door for funding,” Marlow said.
This White Pine amendment also funds fuels reduction in the Carson Range, as well as Nevada’s Spring Mountains. It is funded by the act, but is separate from the annual $37.5 million funding for the Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program, he said.