Federal dollars slated for fuel reduction | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Federal dollars slated for fuel reduction

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / $10 million has been allocated for fire-fuel reductions.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series about Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act Round 6 funds and how nearly $40 million will be spent in the basin not on land acquisition, but on fire fuels reduction and land and water quality projects over several years. This will be the biggest infusion of money for restoration in the basin’s history.

Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced three weeks ago that some $75 million of Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act funds would be sent to the north end of the basin to help protect and make public the 770-acre Incline Lake area. Now that the news has sunk in that this land will be fast-tracked for public use, and a multi-agency effort is in place to make it so, some officials are hoping focus can be turned onto other projects.

Funding from Round 6 of the land act, highlighted by the potential Incline Lake acquisition, featured other land improvement funding that could have as big an overall impact on the basin, some officials say.

Some $10 million in fire-fuel reduction, nearly $6 million in watershed restoration and more than $23 million on water quality/best management practices, is slated for funding through the land act’s latest round in the basin.

While most officials said this news hasn’t exactly been “under the radar,” the perception is that land acquisition will always grab headlines.

“It’s true,” U.S. Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman said. “We’re really working hard to make Incline Lake a reality, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not focused on other projects to improve the basin – sometimes big projects.”

Norman said the $10 million for fire fuels reduction efforts is “huge” and will start programs in the basin that could garner national and international attention.

Namely, he spoke of the $2.7 million fireshed assessment efforts which will “finish work on a basin-wide fireshed assessment that will identify and prioritize areas in need of fuels reduction treatments by March 2006. A fireshed assessment is the new Forest Service regional direction for designing and scheduling site-specific fuels reduction projects.”

Even environmental groups back the fire fuels reduction programs wholeheartedly.

“Wildfire can be terribly damaging to water quality, to the soils and eventually lake quality,” said League to Save Tahoe executive director Rochelle Nason.

Forest Service officials concurred that the fire fuels reduction effort has not only drawn the support of environmental groups, but other basin planning agencies.

“We’re going to work with agencies like TRPA and take a look at the entire basin,” Norman said. “It used to be just look at immediate needs to reduce fuel but now we have a way to focus long-term, and the technology is there to connect that.”

Since 2004, TRPA executive director John Singlaub has lobbied for increased fire-fuels reduction efforts in the basin.

He’s even told the legislature that the forests at Lake Tahoe have been managed for more than a century to exclude the natural cycle of fire, therefore making “destructive fire a greater probability along with diminishing other forest values in the Tahoe basin.”

Local fire districts are in favor of the fire fuels reduction efforts, but some officials said they will keep a “close eye” on how money is spent.

“We would like to encourage the Forest Service to try to work in wildlife/urban areas,” said North Tahoe Fire Protection District chief Jim Linardos. “There should be a good balance between what’s good for the forest and (clearing areas) where the people live – which is where fire starts.”

Linardos said the $10 million for fire fuels reduction from SNPLMA is still “too new” yet that projects have not been coordinated with the forest service, but his district would “love to” help work on any projects for the Incline Village/Crystal Bay area.

That agencies are collaborating for forest fuels reduction money and making it a priority is important as long as the projects are carried out carefully, some environmental group officials said.

“We have been strong advocates for many years for investment in healthier forests and we support projects that reduce fire risks while protecting watershed and wildlife values,” the league’s Nason said. “Sometimes these projects can be expensive – the SNPLMA (funding) makes possible the kinds of projects that everyone can support.”

– Look for an article in the Tahoe Daily Tribune on Thursday about money set aside for watershed restoration.

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