Lake Tahoe fire under microscope: Governors commission to wrap up its work
Dozens of recommendations on how to avoid disasters such as last June’s Angora fire will come to a head this week when the California-Nevada Tahoe Basin Fire Commission meets at the South Shore.
With a looming Friday deadline imposed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons, the hand-picked, bi-state commission has met monthly and sometimes twice monthly since August to pore over thousands of documents and hundreds of public comments.
The end result of the commission’s work will be a report that provides recommendations for the protection of those in the Tahoe Basin while preserving the environment, said Todd Ferrara, spokesman for the commission.
At the heart of the matter are recommendations that could change policies or create new ones on how dead and dying trees are removed from the forest and place new responsibilities on homeowners.
Also at stake is how public agencies such as the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the U.S. Forest Service can put measures in place to remove fire fuels in the basin without causing environmental damage to Lake Tahoe.
Finally, the commission will recommend how both states should pay for these policies.
This week’s gathering represents the last set of formal meetings. After Friday, the 70 or so recommendations will go up for a 30-day public review before being sent to the governors for action.
“This has been a very transparent public process. … The commission has taken its charge from the governors very seriously,” Ferrara said.
Some conservation groups believe otherwise. The Tahoe Area Sierra Club has argued the commission has glossed over some of its recommendations, said Jennifer Quashnick, speaking on behalf of the group.
Among the group’s chief concerns:
— Not enough emphasis has been placed on homeowners’ responsibility regarding defensible-space issues. The Sierra Club wants the commission to make enforcement of defensible space mandatory and wants the commission to find ways to pay for that enforcement.
— Many of the recommendations made in committee will reduce or eliminate environmental regulations that protect sensitive stream zones from heavy machinery used to thin forests. The group argues that heavy forest machinery in these zones causes erosion that ultimately sends sediment into Lake Tahoe.
— Committee recommendations would allow tree removal along steep slopes. Current law limits what can be done on steep slopes, which, when disrupted, contribute to erosion. The Sierra Club is against steep slope disruption.
At the core, though, is making sure homeowners comply with fire codes already on the books.
The group urges a policy that calls for enforcement, fines on homeowners who are not in compliance, and low-interest loans available for homeowners who need to get their homes up to code.
“The Angora fire showed us how important it is to have homeowners do their defensible space and to and make their homes ember-resistant. So even if you do thin the forest, there is still a need to get our communities to do this work. Otherwise, homes will still burn,” Quashnick said.