Forest thinning on fast track | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Forest thinning on fast track

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

The U.S. Forest Service had some extra teeth in the saw that cleaned out a forested area along Al Tahoe Boulevard that burned last fall.

Rules formalized this summer by the Forest Service allowed a reduction in the amount of planning required before burned or insect infested trees are removed from parcels of a specific size.

The changes, approved at the end of July and laid out as part of President Bush’s Healthy Forest Initiative, are administrative and can be changed without congressional approval, said Matt Mathes, spokesman for the Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service.

The initiative calls for a streamlining of the environmental analysis required for larger thinning projects and requires approval from House and the Senate. The legislation has been approved by the House and could be heard by the Senate this month.

The changes, designed to speed the planning process for non-controversial projects, allowed contractors hired by the Forest Service to remove burned trees along Al Tahoe while the wood still had some value as lumber. Quicker removal also means less chance of insect infestation, Mathes said.

“We save four months in completing the environmental documents,” said Dave Marlow, vegetation and fuels manger at the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. “We were able to implement the project this summer, otherwise we would have had to wait until next year.”

The trees closest to the road were cut to near ground level to reduce the threat to public safety and created room to plant sugar and Jeffrey pine next spring, said David Fournier, silviculturist for the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

Some dead or dying trees were left standing for wildlife habitat or because they are located in a stream environment zone, Fournier said. The contractor will market some of the wood cut for the project. It offset the cost of the project, which, once it’s replanted, will come in around $7,000, Marlow said.

Marlow said the forest land that burned north of Al Tahoe, across the street from the Forest Service project, was not treated because it is privately owned. Marlow said the timetable for other thinning projects, expected to be smaller, less controversial areas around communities in the basin, will be shortened because of changes in the rules.

“We are having a real hard look at upcoming projects to see how they can fit into any one of the categories and expedite the process,” Marlow said.

The “categorical exclusion” applied by the Forest Service for the work along Al Tahoe allows less environmental analysis for places labeled as hazardous fuel areas. It allows prescribed burning on up to 4,500 acres and mechanical treatment for land up to 1,000 acres, with the condition that the project does not create roads in the forest and takes place near communities at risk of wildfire, Marlow said.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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