Forest officials plan campaign |

Forest officials plan campaign

Patrick McCartney

Firefighters and forest managers plan to reduce the risk of fire in the Tahoe Basin by eliminating fuel and educating the public.

The threat from an ailing, overstocked forest in the basin is significant, prompting private and public interests to join forces to endorse the program’s goals, the forestry experts said.

“We applied for some Environmental Protection Agency mitigation funds (to reduce fuels) before a disaster, which is unusual,” said Mark Stanley of the California Resources Agency about the Tahoe Re-Green coalition. “Their first reaction was, ‘Who’s against it?’ But there truly is a different way of doing business here, a collaborative way.”

Officials with Tahoe Re-Green, a cooperative effort of 31 public and private parties to remove dead and dying trees from the Tahoe Basin, met Thursday with their firefighting counterparts in the Sierra Front Wildfire Cooperators to discuss the risk of catastrophic fire.

Stanley, who outlined the plans of Tahoe Re-Green, said a lack of funds to maintain publicly owned land in the basin has hampered the efforts to remove tinder-dry snags and thin out overstocked stands of trees. Of the basin’s 208,000 acres, just 24,500 acres, or 11.8 percent, is in private hands. The rest is owned by government.

Complicating the challenge of forest managers is the welter of jurisdictions in the basin, which is shared by two states and five counties.

“There was not basinwide coordinated effort until Re-Green,” he said.

The group was started in 1995 by Terry Groton, the former director of the California Resources Agency, who recognized a potential liability for the state from the presence of so many dead and dying trees in the basin.

Since the coalition formed, it has recruited work crews from state and federal forestry agencies, private tree companies, the California Conservation Corps and county jail work programs. The group’s four incident commanders are seeking additional funds to help manage the program.

But program officials are concerned that they are falling behind the pace needed to restore the basin’s beleaguered forest. Despite an increase in federal funding for the U.S. Forest Service following last year’s Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum, the Forest Service has so far been able to treat just 10 percent of the 3,500 urban lots it has acquired through the Santini-Burton Act.

While Tahoe Re-Green focuses on the amount of fuel in the basin, the Sierra Front Wildfire Cooperators are set to launch an aggressive campaign from Bishop to Reno to educate home owners about how to protect their property from wildfire.

An effort of state and local fire districts, the group’s “Living With Fire” campaign will include special sections in eight of the area’s newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

Ed Smith of the University of Nevada-Reno said, “Fire belongs here, and this area was burning long before there was a South Lake Tahoe or Incline Village. We put people in this fire environment when they build homes, and with more people comes a greater chance of a fire starter.”

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