Dry weather puts back Pioneer Project | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Dry weather puts back Pioneer Project

Andy Bourelle

Ski resort officials and snowmobile concessionaires are not the only people in the Lake Tahoe Basin who are largely dependent on snowfall.

Because of the semi-drought in December and early January, one of the U.S. Forest Service’s big plans for Tahoe had been pushed back more than a month. This season’s work on the Pioneer Hazard Reduction Project – one of the commitments from the 1997 Presidential Summit at Lake Tahoe – did not start until the middle of January.

The project requires 1 1/2 to 2 feet of snow on the ground to keep the heavy machinery off of the forest’s soil.

“Operating over the snow minimizes any compaction to the soil that would occur,” said Angela Parker, timber sale administrator for the project.

The Pioneer Project is a 2,000-acre, forest-thinning project around Pioneer Trail.

“In this stage, we’re basically taking out dead and dying trees, thinning some green trees to improve forest health and improve the fire resiliency of the forest,” Parker said.

About 600 to 800 acres were completed last winter and over the summer, and the Forest Service had hoped to complete the rest this season. Because of the delay, however, it may have to be finished next winter.

Because of logging during the Comstock era and lack of periodic forest fires in the basin, forests around Lake Tahoe are too dense, forcing trees to compete for water and nutrients. After Lake Tahoe faced an eight-year drought from 1986 to 1994, the forests have become stressed and more susceptible to bark beetle infestation.

While the bark beetle is a natural part of any forest, its presence becomes a problem when trees are stressed and unhealthy. Now an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the basin’s trees are believed to be dead. Only about 3 to 5 percent of the trees should be dead in a healthy forest.

The Forest Service has had several forest-thinning projects operating in the basin in recent years, and the Pioneer Project currently is the agency’s highest priority area, Parker said.

Other smaller-scale projects are ongoing throughout the basin in the summer and winter.

The Forest Service wants to keep the crowns of the trees in the Pioneer Project area 5 to 15 feet apart, which would keep a wildfire from quickly spreading, forcing the blaze to be a slower-burning ground fire.

Completing the work requires the operation of several large machines. One machine, driving on top of the thick layer of snow, fells trees and drags them to a central location where other machines are working. Operating on established roads, which already contain compacted soil, another machine removes the trees’ limbs and another loads them on a truck.

Two timber contractors are completing the work, and whether they are able to continue past this week depends largely on weather conditions.

Additional information on the Pioneer Hazard Reduction Project can be obtained at the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit office, 870 Emerald Bay Road, or by calling (530) 573-2600.

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