League calls Pioneer logging plan excessive
The U.S. Forest Service’s plan to restore the health of 3,136 acres of South Shore forest through salvage logging and thinning will not reduce the risk of fire, the League to Save Lake Tahoe has concluded in a report.
But others who have commented on the proposed Pioneer Project are urging the Forest Service to proceed with its plan for the forest that abuts the South Shore’s residential neighborhoods.
“Firemen at Lake Valley are very, very concerned if they have to go in there and try to defend houses and attempt to fight a fire,” said Dick Thomas, chairman of the Lake Valley Fire Protection District’s governing board. “If anything gets going, it will be a matchbox.”
With the close of the comment period Wednesday, Forest Supervisor Bob Harris of the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit will choose one of six alternatives described in the environmental assessment. His decision will begin a Forest Service review process, followed by a permitting process by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
In a 15-page submission, the League is questioning the need for extensive thinning in the Pioneer Project, saying the pine beetle infestation that has caused extensive mortality is on the downward arc of its natural cycle. And the League is also questioning the Forest Service’s basic premise that the project will reduce the existing fire hazard.
“Logging can increase rather than decrease fire danger,” said Jeff Cutler, the League’s assistant director. “Despite Forest Service rhetoric that the Tahoe Basin faces a huge fire danger problem, … all reliable scientific data indicates that thinning and salvage operations greatly increase both the potential risk of fire starts and the rate of spread of fire.”
The reason, Cutler said, is the reduction of canopy cover, which can dry potential fuel on the ground, and the presence of logging debris over a wide area.
Cutler said the League is also concerned with the project’s impact on stream zones, but is more concerned with whether the project will reduce insect infestation and reduce the risk of fire.
“To a certain degree we support thinning,” Cutler said. “But we believe their analysis of the bug situation has been very shoddy. The bug epidemic seems to be taking care of itself with the end of the drought. Additionally, all the studies we’ve looked at say logging is not a good way to solve the problem – in fact, it can worsen it.”
Cutler said the League is most supportive of the creation of fuel breaks, called defensible fuel profile zones in the plan. He said thinning the forest, while seemingly consistent with the forest’s historical density, ignores the role that fire played in maintaining forest health.
“Without fire, in five to 10 years we’ll have a thick understory of fir trees again,” Cutler said. “Nothing we do will mimic the effects of frequent fire.”
While the League is the most prominent environmental group in the Tahoe Basin, their caution over the Pioneer Project is not shared by some who commented.
The Lake Valley Fire Protection District, for instance, passed a resolution that supported the plan to remove dead or dying trees and to create a defensible space around residences.
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