More thinning recommended by Forest Service |

More thinning recommended by Forest Service

The Associated PressA contractor hired by the U.S. Forest Service piles slashed wood along Pioneer Trail. The area has undergone extensive fuel reduction work.

Put more forest thinning projects in the pipeline and work to speed their approval, says a draft copy of a U.S. Forest Service action plan that addresses forests at the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The Vegetation and Fuels Review Action Plan, expected to be approved by regional offices in about a month, was requested this summer by top foresters in both California and Nevada because of fire danger and fuel loading concerns at the basin.

The action plan was drafted in response to a fuels review report released in August. It found the basin is facing a “serious” problem because its regulations hinder progress while its forests are overstocked and filled with dead wood.

Some areas contain as much as 60 tons per acre that need to be removed.

“We need to have more coordination with local government,” said Dave Marlow, the vegetation and fuels officer at the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, who compiled the action plan.

“We need to make more of an effort to get information out to the community — what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and what the benefit of it is,” Marlow said. “We also need to get ahead of the curve on long-term planning, 3 to 5 years in the future.”

Ward Creek, an area at the West Shore where homes are surrounded by dense forests ripe for fire, exemplifies the challenge of trying to reduce fuels in the basin, Marlow said.

The area is home to the spotted owl and goshawk, so the planning has been complicated. Planners divided the area into zones to determine whether thinning would be done by machine or with hand tools. The planning process has lasted two years. Marlow said he hopes to be able to start work this summer.

Solutions: The fuels review report, which requested the action plan, issued eight recommendations designed to improve the hazardous fuel conditions of the basin. The action plan answered each recommendation with possible solutions.

Recommendation No. 1: Better track levels of progress on fuel reduction projects.

Solution: Resolve discrepancies between the National Fire Plan and Lake Tahoe Restoration Act. Update the National Fire Plan database each month. Figure out what business opportunities are presented by excess wood. Compare treatment cost for urban lots and general forest land. Take advantage of funds available to combat pests in the forest.

Recommendation No. 2: Streamline permit review process to reduce cost and time of a project.

Solution: Work with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Lahontan Regional Quality Control Board to speed permitting process. Create a work group to deal with air quality issues. Instruct employees how to better organize the planning process and work with outside agencies and scientists.

Recommendation No. 3: Increase interagency cooperation to make projects more efficient.

Solution: Work with Fire Safe Councils, which replaced Tahoe Regreen, to map out ways to reduce fuel load at the basin. Work with the Lake Tahoe Regional Fire Chiefs Association and the Nevada Fire Board. Continue to reduce the number of burn piles at the basin by taking better advantage of favorable weather conditions.

Recommendation No. 4: Improve communication about projects to get more people involved.

Solution: Communicate with the public more. Hire another public information officer. Add more vegetation and fuels information to the Forest Service Unit’s Web site. Report accomplishments to appropriate federal agencies. Work more closely with homeowners.

Recommendation No. 5: Improve effectiveness of a project by better knowing how much work will be required.

Solution: Modify the Forest Fire Management Plan using fresh data collected regarding fuels management.

Recommendation No. 6: Increase level of expertise in fuel/fire planning.

Solution: Hire a prevention captain, fuels battalion chief and fuels technician. Funding is a limiting factor. Continue to contract with experts from basin fire departments, Nevada Division of Forestry and California Conservation Corps.

Recommendation No. 7: Increase progress with more strategic planning.

Solution: Update the Forest Service’s project list for the Environmental Improvement Program. Plan projects 3 to 5 years ahead of time. Better communication with stakeholders through Fire Safe Councils.

Recommendation No. 8: Use science to improve efficiency of projects and resolve environmental issues posed by the work.

Solution: Capitalize on new research opportunities. Appoint one officer to be the contact for researchers. Have the Forest Products Lab review wood product studies. Work with scientists to develop studies on treatment in stream environment zones. Monitor treatment sites and distribute results to stakeholders.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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