Forest Service short on cash for thinning projects
GARDNERVILLE – With fire season over but planning underway for next year, the U.S. Forest Service has only about half the funding needed outside the Lake Tahoe Basin for tree-thinning projects in the region, officials say.
Carson Ranger District spokesman Franklin Pemberton warned that six Douglas and Alpine county projects are on the back burner because there’s not enough money.
Much of the funding was lost when it was allocated to Southern California, said Carson District Ranger Gary Schiff.
“This year the Forest Service was given $300,000 for fuels work in five counties in two states,” he said. In addition to that, they had received about $250,000 for a project in Washoe County near the Waterfall fire site.
Schiff said they now need $250,000-$500,000 to implement programs that have been planned, plus more next year for future planning.
“We won’t have a final budget until sometime after January,” he said.
Even if the funding is secured, Pemberton said the Forest Service will still be lacking the personnel to do the ground work. The Carson Ranger District normally has only two in the district doing the ground work for fuels reduction. One of those positions is vacant and Pemberton said it is hard to find someone who is qualified for the job and can afford to live in Carson Valley.
Forest Service maps show black areas where fires have occurred, but Pemberton said he is concerned with the untouched areas in between.
“The pine trees aren’t coming back,” said Pemberton. “What’s left where the major fires occurred are just brush fields.”
Pemberton said because of the lack of water in the Carson Valley, it can take many years for trees to come back, if at all.
Even more important, according to Pemberton, is safety.
“With the number of homes and lives, we see there’s a great need and we just don’t have the funding,” he said. “The fuels projects, we feel, are in areas close to homes. The whole point of these is to stop the fire from moving down into the homes.”
The Forest Service has started using a mosaic approach, said Pemberton. Crews thin the crowns of some of the trees to keep them from touching. This prevents the fire from spreading up above, and keeps it on the ground where firefighters can get to it.
“This way, the forest still looks good, while giving the firefighters a chance to respond,” said Pemberton.
This type of clear-cutting had just been completed when the Carson City Waterfall fire broke out in July, and Pemberton credits it as being part of the reason the Lakeview subdivision was saved. Pemberton said work was completed by homeowners as well as the various agencies, including the Nevada Division of Forestry, the Carson City Fire Department and the U.S. Forest Service.
Homeowners, like those in the Clear Creek Homeowners Association who have started doing their own clear-cutting, can be instrumental in helping the Forest Service, Pemberton said.
Pemberton said that although lightning causes some fires, the main factor is humans.
“This will only increase as more and more people come to this area,” said Pemberton.