Despite efforts, basin 75 percent full of dead wood
How much hazardous wood, dead or alive, has the U.S. Forest Service removed from Lake Tahoe Basin since serious reduction efforts began in 1997?
About 25 percent of what needs to be burned, chipped or carted away, according to agency estimates. In the next week or so, recommendations and more statistics regarding fuel reduction at the basin are expected in a Forest Service report.
It should show how money was spent, reveal which reduction methods are most effective and suggest how science can be better incorporated with those methods.
A team of nine fire officials gathered the information by interviewing more than 100 people who know the terrain. The problem is basic: the basin, a big bowl, is home to too much wood.
“The Gondola Fire was a very local example of how our forest conditions are changing,” said Mark Johnson, basin fuels management specialist. “It wasn’t an extreme fire danger day, yet we still had that fire go up toward Kingsbury where there are homes.”
The answer: clear dead wood from forest floors, cut out small trees and thin dense groves of large trees. Smaller trees, or ladder fuels, can allow fires to burn higher into a stand of trees and create a more intense fire, Johnson said.
“We want the fire to be in a fuel bed we can manage,” Johnson said. “It creates a much safer environment for firefighters to actually fight the fires.”
A 20-person U.S. Forest Service handcrew and workers under contract to the agency have the task of reducing the amount of wood at the basin. Contracts often go for chipping projects, while the handcrew is used for thinning work or fire suppression if needed.
Reduction efforts are ongoing near Baldwin Beach, Glenbrook and the West Shore’s Ward Canyon. The goal is to create “fuel breaks” where the forest cozies up too close to homes.
“It’s a basin-wide issue, overly dense forest nestled to residential areas,” Johnson said. “That’s where we’re focusing in on, the community threat zone, about a mile and a quarter from communities. As you would guess, all around the lake, it’s going to be a ring.”
— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at firstname.lastname@example.org