Guest View: Let’s keep a healthy forest and lake
June 24, 2008
As we reflect on the first anniversary of the Angora fire, we are thankful that no lives were lost during the tragic event. We are also grateful for the strength of our community and the valor of our firefighters. I believe the best way to show respect for our communities, for the firefighters who protect us and for the environment is to reduce the threat of catastrophic loss before a devastating wildfire strikes again.
The renewed cooperation between environmental and fire protection agencies is inspiring. Before the Angora wildfire had even been contained, the community’s frustration and confusion over the apparent conflict between mandatory defensible-space requirements and mandatory erosion-control measures could be heard loudly and clearly. Fortunately, the two guidelines are completely compatible. A healthy forest and healthy soil bring safety as well as a healthy lake. Best Management Practices (BMPs) for water quality and defensible space have been integrated.
The cooperation and partnership between the Tahoe Basin fire chiefs and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and its partner agencies mean mixed messages should be a thing of the past. The threat of wildfire and the need to protect water quality are two issues that can and should be addressed together. Neither problem is going away, and we’ve got a lot of work to do on both fronts.
Defensible space looks at two things: your home and specific zones around your home. Building materials, decks and fences are extremely important for fire safety, but don’t interact much with BMPs. Within 100 feet of buildings, vegetation needs to be managed so that fire cannot be rapidly transmitted to structures. Water-quality BMPs help properties mimic natural conditions by allowing precipitation that falls on a property to permeate on site rather than run off and carry fine sediments to the lake. Defensible space and BMPs are mandatory and provide a way for every property owner to play a part in protecting themselves, their community and Lake Tahoe.
TRPA, environmental agencies and fire professionals arrived at solutions on pine needles and the 5-foot barrier around structures. If pine needles are chosen as an option to stabilize soil, they must be raked once a year, in the spring, and allowed to fall and stay put the rest of the year. As before, pine needles are only an option and are not required. Additionally, the 5-foot zone around structures is the noncombustible area. Pine needles should not be allowed to accumulate in this area. If vegetation exists, it should be a fire-safe variety and kept irrigated and healthy. Gravel can also be used in this area, or a mix of both. Whichever you choose, it will not be counted as land coverage in the noncombustible zone.
All homeowners in the basin should get a free defensible-space inspection, followed by a free BMP evaluation. Let the experts lay out a plan for you, and the integration will fall into place. There is plenty of free assistance available. Additionally, rebates of up to $1,000 for defensible-space work are available through the Nevada Fire Safe Council, which serves the entire Tahoe Basin, including California communities. A complete set of defensible-space guidelines, including BMP recommendations, can be found in the Living With Fire Guide (www.livingwithfire.info/tahoe). Since landscaping materials and configurations on a property depend on the defensible space recommendations, it is best to get a defensible space inspection before designing your BMPs to make integrating them easier and cheaper.
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Local fire agencies are available for defensible-space inspections and other fire-related information. The Tahoe Resource Conservation District and the Nevada Tahoe Conservation District are nonregulatory agencies that offer free BMP evaluations for single-family homes. The conservation districts can also provide information on fire-safe landscaping with native and adapted plants, water conservation, invasive species and wildlife habitat.
If everyone does their part, we can help reduce the threat of another catastrophic event like the Angora fire. We’re here to help the community meet this challenge.
– Andrew List is executive director of the Nevada Fire Safe Council.
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