Glenbrook fire prevention work a deliberate process | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Glenbrook fire prevention work a deliberate process

Gregory Crofton

GLENBROOK – The U.S. Forest Service has worked since 1996 to reduce fire danger in a forested canyon north of this gated community on the East Shore of Lake Tahoe, yet there is more work to be done.

Fire crews at the agency have eliminated dead and down trees and other forest fuels on 100 acres at Slaughterhouse Canyon, which is about one-quarter of the work that’s needed in the area, according to Rex Norman, public affairs officer for the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

Thinning and clearing of the forest has not happened sooner because the canyon and a meadow within it, called Pray Meadow, is rife with regulation that is in place to protect a stream environment zone, private property rights and sites of cultural value like a 19th century railroad and Chinese camp sites.

“A major portion of the meadow where the fuels problem has existed is a stream environment zone,” Norman said. “Meaning we have strict regulatory prohibitions from using mechanized equipment, or in engaging in work that may result in soil disturbance.”

The regulations, combined with challenging terrain, which includes steep, rocky slopes, mean that fire crews must hike into the canyon and do the work by hand. That is expensive, costing between $1,000 to $1,300 an acre, and is a time-consuming process.

The volume of work that needs to be done is also a factor, Norman said. Beetle infestations that came with the drought of the early 1990s killed hundreds of large trees creating 40 to 70 tons of dead wood. The Forest Service used helicopters to pull out some of the trees, but that was expensive. Today the standing dead trees are too brittle to fly out.

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“It looks like there is a lot of deadwood still, but clearly it’s still being worked on,” said Bill Burger, a four-year Glenbrook resident. “They’ve got piles of wood to burn, so they are making good progress.”

Burger said he is much more worried about a fire starting inside the community than he is about one igniting in Slaughterhouse Canyon, which is 1.5 miles north of Glenbrook.

“The prevailing winds would carry it uphill,” he said. “A fire in that canyon wouldn’t attack the community as much as it would race through the wild forest.”

Norman agrees with Burger. Compared to other parts of the Lake Tahoe Basin, the forested areas around Glenbrook have had a low number of fire starts. But Norman said the Forest Service knows there is still plenty of fuel on the ground to spread a wildfire.

“Glenbrook reached prominence in public attention as a result of a visit by the governor of Nevada to the Slaughterhouse Canyon/Pray Meadow area,” Norman said. “At that time a serious amount of dead timber was present in Pray Meadow … but that is not the case today.”

The Forest Service has nearly completed an environmental analysis report required for the agency to be allowed to access the canyon with mechanical equipment, which would allow crews to finish the work more quickly.

Until access is granted, fire crews will continue to thin the forest by hand, pile the wood and burn it. Norman said pile burning will resume after the weather cools down.

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