Funding still sought for fuel-reduction projects | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Funding still sought for fuel-reduction projects

Adam Jensen

An additional $35 million over the next five years is needed to clear 15,000 acres of forest near Lake Tahoe Basin homes of a dangerous abundance of flammable vegetation, according to the final report of the California-Nevada Lake Tahoe Basin Fire Commission.

And while efforts to reduce the potential for wildfire on public and private land have increased in the basin since last summer’s Angora fire, securing funding for additional fuel-reduction projects remains a key issue to allow firefighters the greatest chance of protecting the basin’s people and environment in a wildfire.

In its final report, the fire commission recommends an additional $5.6 million be allocated for fuel-reduction projects on forest land near homes and nearly $1.2 million directed toward the creation of defensible space around homes during each of the next five years.

Property-tax assessments and additional fees are among the new funding sources “currently being pursued” for such projects, according to the report.

While additional property taxes are an option basin fire chiefs would consider to for such projects, it’s a last resort for South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Lorenzo Gigliotti.

“We want to look at exhausting all resources we can before we go back to the community,” Gigliotti said.

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The fire chiefs, with the help of El Dorado and Placer counties, hope to submit an application for $4 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency funding by an August deadline for such projects, Gigliotti said.

State and local agencies around the basin spend more than $6 million annually on fuel-reduction projects, providing approximately 1,500 acres of forest treatments, defensible space on approximately 700 parcels, and chipping of hazardous fuels from defensible space from more than 4,000 private properties, according to the commission’s report.

The amount of funding the basin’s primary land owner, the U.S. Forest Service, spends on fuel-reduction projects in the area annually was not immediately available, but the amount has “roughly doubled” with the help of Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act.

“Over the last two years, with increased funding and capacity, we have been completing around 3,000 acres of fuels treatment annually,” Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman wrote in an e-mail. “We expect to soon be addressing an annual target of between 3,000 and 3,500 acres.”

Using $4.1 million in Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act funding, the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team has accelerated the implementation of the basin’s community wildfire protection plans this summer.

An approximately 70-acre project – between Kingsbury Middle School and the Round Hill water-treatment plant -that abuts about 1,000 acres of previous Forest Service treatments is among several projects the team hopes to complete in a short amount of time, said John Pickett, the California Coordinator the Nevada Fire Safe Council and member of the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team.

“We’re kind of motoring behind the Forest Service, filling in the area they didn’t get to because they didn’t have jurisdiction,” Pickett said.

The projects are examples of tens of thousands of acres of fuel treatments needed in the basin so fires can be suppressed safely and effectively, fire officials say.

“Until the current need for fuel reduction on state, municipal and private lands is accomplished, the communities of the Lake Tahoe Basin, the environment and lives of the basin’s residents and guests remain at risk,” the Fire Commission report states.

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