Landscape restoration strategy covers one-third of Lake Tahoe Basin | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Landscape restoration strategy covers one-third of Lake Tahoe Basin

Justin Scacco
jscacco@sierrasun.com

FULLY IMPLEMENTED, THE STRATEGY WILL:

Reduce the risk of high-severity fire on 60,000 acres, more than one-third of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Reduce by 50% the amount of forest expected to burn in future high-severity fires.

Reduce risk of property losses from future wildfire in west shore communities by as much as $4 million per year on average. Reduce days with very high smoke emissions by 90%, translating to millions of dollars’ worth of avoided health costs annually in the future.

Over the next half century, allow for a tripling in the amount of old forests (with trees over 130 years old) to sustain populations of old-forest associated wildlife including spotted owls, goshawks, and martens in the face of climate change.

Protect native fish, water resources, and lake clarity by reducing the risk of high-severity fires in sensitive water-sheds, improving the forest road network, increasing water availability to streams, and enhancing the quality of meadows and riparian habitats.

Restore a safer, more natural fire regime by substantially increasing (by eight times or more) the amount of managed, low-intensity surface fires in the forest. By doing so, enhance plant and wildlife diversity and cultural resources important to the Washoe Tribe.

Allow for continued increases in carbon sequestration by 40% over the next century.

More than double the acres of forest restored per year, on average.

Source: Lake Tahoe West Landscape Restoration Strategy

The Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership announced a major milestone last week in regard to its effort to restore forest and watershed health across 60,000 acres of federal, state, local and private lands on the West Shore of the Tahoe Basin.

After roughly two years of work, the partnership has released its Landscape Restoration Strategy, which will substantially increase the pace and scale of restoration efforts, including forest thinning, prescribed fires, and meadow, aspen and stream restoration.

The restoration strategy also aims to better protect the homes and communities along the West Shore between Tahoe City and Emerald Bay, which covers more than one-third of the Tahoe Basin.

“Decades of fire suppression have left forests with an accumulation of fuels that must be made a priority,” said North Tahoe Fire Chief Mike Schwartz, in a news release. “Only a strategy of this caliber can address restoring forests, streams, and wildlife habitat at the pace and scale necessary to be effective. Landscape level restoration protects communities from wildfire and creates resilient forests.”

The 60,000 acres to be addressed mark a major step toward creating healthier and more resilient forests along the West Shore, according to Project Manager for the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership Sarah Di Vittorio, and will be a significant increase in scale compared to past and current management projects.

“It really covers a huge landscape,” said Di Vittorio. “Agencies in the past have been focused more on a couple hundred acres here, a couple thousand acres there, and this is 60,000 acres and it’s collaborative. It’s across land ownerships, and so the approach is really designed to do restoration work and reduce fuels on a larger scale.”

While conventional forest management approaches are typically led by a single agency, the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership is a collaborative effort led by the Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, California Tahoe Conservancy, California State Parks, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team, and National Forest Foundation.

From the outset, the partnership targeted Tahoe’s West Shore, said Di Vittorio, because “there’s a lot of population that lives on that side of the lake, and so, everyone recognized that there’s a big need to address those forests in particular. And then also there’s a lot of forest in that part of the lake that land management agencies knew needed attention from the beginning.”

Forests in the area are overly dense and uniform, according to the restoration strategy, and are susceptible to high severity fire, especially in lower elevations and canyons. Trees and plants along the West Shore are also said to be dense near the ground, creating ladder fuels that could carry flames to tree tops. Along with forest management, the project is also looking to restore streams, of which 80% reportedly have barriers that may block fish from moving upstream.

WORK TO BEGIN IN 2022

Implementation of the project is estimated to begin in 2022, with an estimated annual cost of $12 million over the next decade. Much of that funding, according to Di Vittorio, will be secured through state and federal sources.

During the next two years, residents and visitors can expect to see a similar amount of work done in the area’s forests compared to previous years, before restoration efforts ramp up along the West Shore.

“It’s hard to put an exact number on (the increase of work to be done along the West Shore),” said Di Vittorio. “But I’d say it’s pretty substantial, probably a doubling of forest restoration work at least.”

The Landscape Restoration Strategy was developed to complement ongoing efforts to reduce fire hazards near West Shore communities, according to the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Project, and to provide a science-based framework to guide continued forest and watershed restoration during the next two decades.

The strategy also calls for continued investment in programs like increasing the resistance of homes to ignition by embers, establishment of defensible space around homes and neighborhoods, and community wildfire protection planning that protects communities from high severity fire.

“This Strategy defines a vision and a path forward,” said Jeff Marsolais, forest supervisor for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, in a news release. “By inviting key partners and stakeholders to the table, we’ve been able to consider a strategy beyond just the National Forest System on the West Shore.”

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at jscacco@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2643.


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