Helping Mother Nature |

Helping Mother Nature

It was as if environmental responsibility lighted a fire under the community this weekend.

More than 300 people got the down and dirty of reducing fire hazards and soil erosion Saturday at the Gondola fire site.

The 673-acre fire that started July 3 with a carelessly discarded cigarette and rattled nerves in the community left behind debris and a ground experiment for Lake Tahoe Stewardship Day volunteers.

They gathered wood for the chippers, planted Jeffrey and sugar pine saplings and lay wood chips, grass and lupine seeds as well as willow wattles, which are essentially bundled limbs.

Eight-year-old Garrett Singer felt right at home with his shovel, digging sapling holes with his father Harold Singer — executive director of the Lahontan Regional Quality Control Board.

The young Singer has dedicated his time to the environmental restoration day over the last few years, and he wants to be a firefighter, he said.

The Singers were working in one of the fire’s hot zones, just east of the point of origin. This is situated under the Heavenly Gondola between towers 11 and 12.

More than a dozen groups from the Lake Valley Fire Department and California Conservation Corps to the Sierra Club and Girl Scouts were spread in a region flanking the gondola line.

The wind blew up the soot, with the downwind workers, who were braving the dirty environment and steep terrain, acquiring a fast coating of dust.

But that didn’t dampen the spirits of the workers.

South Lake Tahoe attorney Mel Laub, cradling a handful of saplings in his arms, said he was inspired by the many young people who showed up from schools and resource groups to lend a hand.

“My job is to see these trees get planted,” said Laub, who’s lived in the basin for 37 years.

In the midst of a legal battle with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency over trees cut on his property, Laub referred to the disagreement as a wake-up call to him that fewer trees exist in the basin than in the early days of Tahoe.

He continued with his own quest for a tree planting event in May.

“Hey, there’s water,” yelled Dan Sussman, an environmental monitor with the organizer — the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

A long hose provided water that workers delivered in buckets to the saplings in the particularly dry region.

“When we had the first big rain after the (July 3) fire, soils moved on down (the slope),” Sussman said.

The environmental work is intended to keep deposits from filling Edgewood Creek which ends up in Lake Tahoe.

Like many volunteers, Sussman was encouraged by the extent of help from the community and the evident appearance of some outside visitors.

He reached down toward some new growth surrounding a charred tree to show where deer had nipped off the tops of the green outcropping.

“It’s not their main migration pattern, but we do have a handful of deer in the basin,” South Shore wildlife biologist Sheryl Ferguson said, leaning against her shovel.

Less than a week after the blaze was sparked, Nevada state parks authorities spotted three deer scampering through the fire zone when they toured their future investment for a 725-acre California-Nevada bistate park — the first for the neighboring states.

The parks service spawned the idea, which has no formal plan yet, when rancher Jack VanSickle donated 542 acres to Nevada 13 years ago. The California Tahoe Conservancy, also on hand for the stewardship day, bought another 155 acres from VanSickle for $3.8 million.

For now, Coby Porter of the CTC said he would be satisfied just to get the burned area cleaned up from the debris and dead wood that may fuel another severe fire.

“We don’t want this to look like a park because we want it to be more natural than anything. But if a catastrophic fire breaks out, it wouldn’t sweep the whole area,” Porter said.

The July 3 fire resulted in no loss of life or structures, but it cost $3 million to control in three days.

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