Fire necessary to sustain our local forests
Spring has sprung and fuels reduction and forest restoration work is beginning for the season. This year we were blessed with some burn days during the fall and winter, but there is a lot of wood sitting in piles around the Lake Tahoe Basin. Also, hundreds of acres that were thinned years ago are now due for maintenance. There is going to be more smoke this year, and every year.
There are no easy answers to our forest health and community safety problems. Burning costs approximately $700/acre, thinning with pile burning costs about $1,800/acre and removing material by hand costs about $3,000-$4,000/acre. The $4,000 an acre goes through the roof when the wood is more than a couple hundred feet from a road.
There is no market for fir for fuel wood, and really no market for fuel wood; Tahoe locals get all the wood they want for free. There is no market for biomass, but sometimes it can be given away, but again, it has to get to a road and that is expensive. There is barely a market for saw logs, the mills are too far away and transportation costs kill any economic benefit. That is the hard spot the U.S. Forest Service is up against.
Understand this part folks, the U.S. Forest Service can hardly give away wood in the Lake Tahoe Basin, much less sell it. Yes everyone is working on developing markets, but would you invest millions in the Lake Tahoe Basin when Placerville has the same problem with far fewer regulatory requirements?
Shade intolerant trees, pines, do not regenerate with a thick duff layer. Our local pines, including my beloved sugar pines, need bare mineral soil for the seed to germinate and a new seedling to grow. The lack of fire in our forests is further restricting the regeneration of sugar pines that are already under attack by white pine blister rust. Fire is necessary for a healthy Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest type.
Folks, it is fantastic that people care about Tahoe and our forests. I fully understand the inconvenience of having company come to visit and all they see is a haze of smoke. I get it, but the answers are just not simple or easy. I am certain that the sugar pines I am working so hard to restore require fire.
Again, The Sugar Pine Foundation wholly and unequivocally supports the U.S. Forest Service’s effort to restore our forests and protect our communities.
For more information on sugar pines and white pine blister rust, please visit http://www.sugarpinefoundation.org.
– John Pickett is the executive director of the Sugar Pine Foundation.
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When April 22 or Earth Day rolls around each year, it causes many people to reflect on the state of our environment and consider how to protect our planet.