Angora fire: Anger, accountability, answers, action and appreciation |

Angora fire: Anger, accountability, answers, action and appreciation

Tim Leslie

There are a lot of angry people who witnessed their homes and possessions go up in flames in the Angora fire, and they have a right to be angry. There are other angry people as well. These are people, like me, who have been demanding that something be done to reduce the potential of catastrophic fire at Lake Tahoe for decades.

So who is responsible for this situation? The No. 1 answer is “the bureaucracy.” Lake Tahoe is undoubtedly the most regulated piece of land in the world. Agencies upon agencies overlap one another with similar responsibilities, fire being just one example. Some of these people are elected, but the most powerful are the appointed bureaucrats. Despite the organization chart, they have massive amounts of authority and are virtually responsible to no one.

In fact, there are so many bureaucrats running Lake Tahoe that it is easy to point the finger of blame at someone else when things get dicey. Let me prove my point. I will blame someone and you can watch as they pass the responsibility off to someone else over the next few weeks and months. Here goes: “I blame the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board as the primary obstacle to reducing the fire danger at Lake Tahoe”. There, I said it. Now remember this, and see what happens.

Gov. Schwarzenegger, at his “fireside chat” press conference, said we shouldn’t be pointing fingers at one another. Why not? How can you change something until you know where the barriers are? It comes down to plain old accountability.

There is no secret as to what needs to be done. Just ask the local fire service and they will tell you. The dead and dying trees must be removed from around the lake, and the dense underbrush that feeds the fire up into the branches of the trees must be cut down and hauled out. This has been recognized for at least the past 20 years, and is called forest management.

This, of course, is where so-called “environmentalists” get into the act. At Lake Tahoe there has been a constant road block by the League to Save Lake Tahoe, the Sierra Club and other similar groups. Joined by the left- leaning staff of the Lahontan Water Board and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, they become a formidable blockade to action.

A quick story will prove the point. In late 2003 I traveled to Washington D.C. on this issue. In meetings with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. John Doolittle, we agreed to conduct a Fire Summit at South Lake Tahoe. Everyone was invited to attended, including the fire service at the local, state and national levels, as well as environmental groups and local business leaders and citizens. There seemed to be unanimous agreement that a basin-wide fire plan was necessary to be able to claim federal funds from the Bush Healthy Forest Initiative. The fire service got right to work and developed the plan. There are seven local fire districts, and they jointly designed the exact treatments that were needed around the lake to reduce fire danger. During the public input phase, interested parties were invited to participate. The “environmentalist” representatives refused to participate as they didn’t want to bear any responsibility for the solution.

The final plans were given to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency to consolidate into a single plan, which they did. After decades of inaction, it was time to get the job done.

The obstacle to implementation, however, was as mentioned above. The Lahontan Water Quality Board, with their short-sighted views being implemented by classic extreme environmental staff, brought many of the projects to a halt. In one instance, after turning down a local fire district from thinning the forest with the use of equipment, they also refused to permit hand-thinning. They said that walking on the soil would compact the ground and increase pollution into the lake. I wonder what they thought of the compaction as the D9 Cat cut a fire break through that same area.

We have the answers, and we know what needs to be done. Now we need a desire among officials to put the plan into action. We must not let the prevention of minor, short-term impacts stop the solution to a catastrophic long-term disaster. When the Oakland freeway collapsed recently, the governor called an emergency, regulations were set aside and the job was completed in record time. The Tahoe forest is a disaster that needs that same type of energy and commitment to get the job done.

The last point is appreciation. A heart-felt “thank you” must be given to the men and women who risked their own safety for the benefit of those who care about the treasure known as Lake Tahoe. Unfortunately it is quite likely that they will be called upon again, later this year or next, as the bureaucrats continue to point fingers and stand in the way of common- sense solutions. I pray that this will not be the case.

So governor, it is time to continue your motto of putting the people first. Acknowledge their anger at the bureaucrats. Then, use your political might to bring together the Lake Tahoe bureaucracy, demand answers and hold them accountable. Most importantly, demand action now. Believe me, if you show leadership in this crisis, as you did with the Oakland freeway, the people of the Sierra will be extremely appreciative.

– Tim Leslie represented Lake Tahoe in Sacramento as both a Senator and Assemblyman for 15 years.

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