Fire threat No. 1 concern |

Fire threat No. 1 concern

Tahoe Daily Tribune Staff Reports

By Gregory Crofton

Tribune staff writer

STATELINE – Forest fuel reduction is now the top priority of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for 2004 after the Governing Board on Wednesday told its staff to alter its work plan for the year.

The greatest challenge the TRPA will face as it strives to fund forest-thinning projects by this spring will be getting work done on private land and finding money to pay for it, said Governing Board member Drake DeLanoy, who represents Nevada.

DeLanoy requested a transcript of Wednesday’s meeting so he and others could bring it to Washington, D.C., and make a case for why Tahoe needs money to do the forest work.

To help make the case, Governing Board member Coe Swobe asked Reno-based Desert Research Institute to conduct a study to determine what environmental impacts a catastrophic wildfire could have at Lake Tahoe.

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“Then we’d have some scientific data to back up what we are doing,” said Swobe, calling the political climate a golden opportunity to reduce wildfire danger at Tahoe.

DRI has agreed to apply for federal funds to complete the study, which would cost about $400,000 and will take up to nine months to complete, Swobe said.

The TRPA says it hopes to secure money to reduce fire danger by tapping revenue from federal land sales in Southern Nevada or money available through the Healthy Forest Initiative, legislation recently signed by President Bush.

Foresters added their suggestions.

Wildland fire danger is also related to planning issues and code enforcement, said Bill Holmes, head of the El Dorado, Amador and Alpine unit of the California Department of Forestry. Wood-shingled roofs, decks, entry and exit points were all issues in the fires he recently battled in Southern California.

“That’s where civilians tend to die,” he said. “Moving in and out of fire areas.”

Rex Herald, a forester for Nevada State Lands, said it is critical that thinning is done in streamzones, which are the most environmentally sensitive areas at the basin because they empty into Lake Tahoe.

“The are a lot of fuels in the (Stream Environment Zones),” Herald said. “We’ve all seen the footage of the firestorm in Southern California – that’s what we’re looking at in the basin and it’s frightening.”

Staff reported that it has been meeting with a Forest Planning Group and Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board in an effort to figure out how it can allow vehicles or other heavy equipment to work in streamzones. Proposed rule changes are due to come to the Governing Board by January but approval may not be swift.

“I will make a prediction,” said Carl Hasty, deputy director at the TRPA. “It will take several public meetings to get through these amendments. Don’t be surprised if it goes a second round in February.”

One group that will likely spur some debate on the issue is the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

“You see a lot of fuels, fuels, fuels,” said Rochelle Nason, executive director at the League, referencing a preliminary plan released by the TRPA. “We’d like to suggest that every project in the forest be a true ecosystem restoration project.”

– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at