Foresters lobby TRPA to log areas, reduce fire danger |

Foresters lobby TRPA to log areas, reduce fire danger

A workshop on wildfire management started with predictions of doom. The Lake Tahoe Basin is a time bomb as far as wildfire danger is concerned. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

It ended, however, with a promise of coordinated funding and solutions before the next fire season.

A catastrophic wildfire at the basin would be disastrous for the the lake – much more than any environmental impact caused by cutting down trees to make the forest more resistant to fire.

“What we need is a conservation approach, which is dynamic management,” said Ralph Osterling, forest consultant from San Mateo, Calif., speaking Wednesday at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

“Active management is based on science, based on hard work and of course it takes good, old money,” Osterling said. “As a professional forester, I see a time bomb out here ticking.”

Osterling was the first in a string of forest professionals who spoke to the TRPA Governing Board about the large amount of forest fuel reduction the basin needs, what work they’ve accomplished so far and obstacles that have prevented them from making the basin fire-safe.

Not only do foresters say they need money to do the work, they also need to make thinning attractive to contractors because basin regulations and limited work areas make profit margins low.

In addition, they asked for permission to cut down a large tree if it needs to come out and they need permission to thin fuels around streams and steep slopes, which get the highest amount of protection because they have the greatest effect on Tahoe.

The Governing Board listened to the foresters and promised to help coordinate funds and energy and come up with some solutions before the fire season of 2004 hits.

“I feel like all the pieces are out there,” said Mike Vollmer, vegetations program manager at the TRPA. “We just need interagency coordination and synergy, which could happen with a leadership role and I think the TRPA could provide that.”

A lot of the discussion involved the $30 million in federal funding promised by Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., at the Lake Tahoe Environmental Summit earlier this month.

The senators, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., plan to introduce legislation this fall that would allow revenue from public land sales in Southern Nevada to be used to help protect the clarity of Lake Tahoe.

Lisa Moore, Sen. Reid’s legislative director, attended Wednesday’s workshop. She told the group that it’s always easier to obtain federal funding if it can be shown that funding appropriated in the past was well-spent.

“To actually maximize what you use that money for and try to stick together,” Moore said. “That allows us to get it for you and keep it coming. There are still a lot of details to work out. But (the Southern Nevada Lands Act money) is an opportunity because it’s a substantial amount of funds.”

Jerry Wells, acting director at the TRPA, pointed out that many forest fuel reduction projects are already top priorities for the agency as part of its Environmental Improvement Program.

“We just have to take them on a case-by-case basis,” Wells said. “We need to be a coordinator/leader. Not a controlling role. Out of the entire group, we’re the only ones with authority over the entire region in making the region more fire-safe.”

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

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