McClintock pushes for commercial logging to support fuel reduction
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif – Commercial logging should be explored as an option to pay for forest fuel reduction projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin, U.S. Congressman Tom McClintock said during a tour of Lake Tahoe Tuesday.
Long-term funding for fuel reduction projects is uncertain, and cutting large trees to subsidize less profitable fuel reduction work could mark a return to “common sense” forest management practices, McClintock said while surveying a fuel reduction project near Zuni and Shoshone streets.
The congressman was joined by basin firefighters, land managers, and planners during the tour, which followed a speech at Granlibakken Conference Center & Lodge and a tour of the Washoe fire site on the Lake Tahoe’s west shore.
If deemed economically feasible, paying for fuel reduction work through commercial harvesting should be considered, McClintock said. Fuel reduction work typically includes the cutting small diameter trees and removal of brush to emulate historic conditions.
Allowing the larger, potentially profitable trees to be cut in connection with fuels reduction efforts would ease federal budget concerns and allow for the protection of federal land holdings and the people who live near them, McClintock said.
“We can’t keep funding this from the treasury because China isn’t going to be loaning us much more money,” McClintock said.
“The answer is staring at us in the face,” McClintock said while looking at a four foot wide stump that was cut due to damage sustained during the fire.
Whether selling the tree for lumber, prior to the Angora fire, could have paid for 10 acres worth of fuels reduction, as suggested by McClintock, depends on market conditions, said Kit Bailey, fire chief for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.
Although there is money available for fuels reduction for the next several years, it’s unclear how fire agencies in the basin can pay for the second half of a ten year fuel reduction strategy in the basin, said North Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Duane Whitelaw.
“The reliability and predictability is still a concern for us,” Whitelaw said.
But the idea of using commercial logging as a way to pay for fuel reduction projects likely faces an uphill battle.
The cutting of trees in the Lake Tahoe Basin is an emotional issue and getting to the current level of fuel reduction in the Lake Tahoe Basin has taken years, said Julie Regan, spokeswoman for the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
“It would be very challenging to move in that direction,” Regan said.
Under the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Plan, trees are marked for removal based on forest health considerations, not market value, said Cheva Heck, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.
Commercial harvesting is not included in the plan because of the basin’s steep, challenging terrain and the relatively small amount of harvestable acreage available, Heck said.
The Forest Service has “no plans” to move towards commercial harvesting in a soon-to-be-updated forest plan for the Lake Tahoe Basin. The draft environmental document for the updated plan is expected for release at the end of October, Heck said.
McClintock said he is in “fact-finding mode” over the issue and doesn’t expect to immediately push for major changes.
Whitelaw said fire chiefs have been working on taking McClintock on a tour of the basin since he was elected in November 2008.
He finished Tuesday’s visit by discussing restoration of commercial air service to Lake Tahoe Airport with Assistant City Manager Rick Angelocci and meeting with representatives of basin timber operators.
McClintock represents the 4th Congressional District, which includes all of the counties on Lake Tahoe’s California side and the eastern half of California north of Lake Tahoe.