Feinstein: ‘Serious concern’ over unspent $10 million in forest fuel reduction plans
In a recently released letter, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has called on John Singlaub, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, and Gale Kimbell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, to take action regarding the state of fuels management in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
“I want to express my serious concern over reports that the Forest Service has not been able to spend $10 million on hazardous fuel reduction projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin and urge the Forest Service and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency renegotiate their existing Memorandum of Understanding to better streamline the review and permit process for forest management projects on National Forest land surrounding Lake Tahoe,” Feinstein wrote in the letter to both officials dated July 12.
The concern over the unspent funds echoes statements by Nevada’s delegation in the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid, D-Nev., and John Ensign, R-Nev., earlier this month.
“Spending this money any faster, quite literally, would not be possible,” said Rex Norman, spokesman for the Forest Service, on Wednesday.
The $10 million in question comes from Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act funds, derived from sales of federal land around Las Vegas.
Funds from SNPLMA Round 7 started arriving in the basin in April, but they don’t arrive all at once, according to Norman.
Nine hundred-thousand of the approximately $10 million slated for the basin during Round 7 has already been spent and $4 million is expected to be allocated to 2,400 acres of forest fuels reduction projects within the next three months, according to Norman.
Approximately $4 million from the $10 million allocated to the Forest Service during Round 6 has yet to be spent.
“There’s been a lot of work done in the past couple years, especially, to streamline these things,” Norman said. “We live under one of the most regulated environments anywhere in the world, and even with the streamlining of these permits, it still takes time.”
Both the Forest Service and TRPA officials said they will be responding to the senator’s requests.
Re-examining the MOU in question has been a discussion topic between basin forest supervisors and the TRPA for many years, according to Julie Regan, spokeswoman for the TRPA, adding the Angora fire has brought this issue to the forefront.
A 2004 Forest Service Sierra Nevada-wide forest plan amendment may have added a layer of redundancy to forest fuel management activities, according to Regan. Potential duplications in policies are being looked at and may be changed to remove obstacles to the speedy implementation of forest fuel reduction proposals.
“With the evolution of policy over the past few years, our rules are already covered in other statutes that the Forest Service is covered by,” said Regan on Wednesday. “(Lake Tahoe Basin Forest Supervisor) Terri Marceron and John Singlaub are discussing the agreement currently.”
Any alterations to the MOU would be subject to approval by the Forest Service and the TRPA’s governing board.