Interior department delivers $48 million |

Interior department delivers $48 million

Andrew Pridgen
Emma Garrard / North Lake Tahoe Bonanza / From left, Gov. Kenny Guinn, R-Nev.; Rep. John Doolittle, R-Calif.; Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Sec. of Interior Dirk Kempthorne; Stephen Johnson, administrator for U.S. department of Interior; Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev.; and Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., pose for a photo after signing a document supporting $48.1 million for Lake Tahoe environmental projects at the 2006 Lake Tahoe Forum.

SAND HARBOR – The U.S. Department of Interior delivered $48.1 million to Tahoe for restoration projects on public lands on Thursday.

The ninth Lake Tahoe Summit focused on the risk of catastrophic fire as several scientists, U.S. Forest Service representatives and politicians declared it’s time to step up fire prevention efforts in Tahoe.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., whose office organized Thursday morning’s event at Sand Harbor, set off the call to action with an announcement that he was working to guarantee an additional $250 million to thin trees and reduce debris in Tahoe’s forests, called “fuels reduction.”

“We can’t afford to do (fuels reduction) perfectly – we need to get it done good,” Ensign said. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is working with him to secure the funding, he said.

Sally Collins, associate chief of the Forest Service, reinforced Ensign’s sentiment.

“I looked at the fire report today and we have fires burning in Oregon, Washington, Montana and Idaho,” Collins said. “We have a lot of large fires burning right now. (In some cases) we were 10 years behind in (fuels reduction).”

Collins recalled recent efforts in Central Oregon that backfired for the Forest Service.

“We were working really hard (to reduce fuels),” she said. “But so many people were concerned that we were getting everything done perfectly that we weren’t nearly able to get things done fast enough.”

Collins said that 9,000 acres in the basin have been treated for fire prevention in the last three years. But there are some 43,000 acres to go.

“And that’s just initial treatment,” Collins said. “We all think we’re doing a great job and can get self-congratulatory, but that’s not enough. You only have to look at New Orleans to know you don’t want to live with regret after a catastrophic event.”

All sides of the political spectrums favored shifting focus to a more intense fire prevention program.

“We cannot (restore the lake ecosystem) until after initial removal of forest fuels is completed,” said Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe. “The amount to be removed is vast … because this watershed drains into an Outstanding National Resource Water – costs may be more comparable to (national) parks than to neighboring areas.”

Placer County supervisor and TRPA governing board member Bruce Kranz noted that his county alone has some 549,000 acres of forest lands, said clearing defensible space has to make both economic and environmental sense, a statement reiterated by Sen. Ensign.

“We can’ t afford to get tied up in the bureaucratic processes that can sometimes happen. If in that time that we say, ‘You know what, it needs to be done perfectly’ we put roadblocks in the way … and all the work that we’ll have done in the last few years, will be wiped out by a catastrophic fire,” Ensign said. “On the one hand that funding is there, but other people in Washington want it. They are watching us closely. We are being held accountable.”

The summit began in 1997 with a visit to the lake by President Clinton and Vice President Gore and the announcement of the Tahoe Restoration Act, authored by Sens. Feinstein and Harry Reid, D-Nev. The act authorized $300 million over 10 years for restoration in the Tahoe basin.

On Thursday, $48.1 million of that amount was approved by Secretary of the Interior Dick Kempthorne. The funds, specifically from the Southern Nevada Public Lands management Act, will fund water quality, erosion control, air quality, science and fuels reduction projects.

The 2001 summit marked the first appropriation of $21 million.

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