Guest View: Need to reduce forest fuels is critical
Our recent experience with the Angora fire and the fires in Southern California clearly demonstrate the threat to the environment and the threat to life and property that we face from catastrophic fire. Catastrophic fire in the Lake Tahoe Basin will destroy the hard work and effort of all of us to improve water quality and air quality, create habitat, build a strong and diverse economy, and protect the lives and property of people who live and recreate here.
Catastrophic fire will not wait 10 years, as proposed in the U.S. Forest Service Fuel Reduction Plan. I understand that the Forest Service already spends approximately 50 percent of the funding for fuels reduction either directly or indirectly on environmental studies before beginning work or on monitoring of environmental impacts afterward. They do so because they are required to do so. This existing timeline dramatically reduces the amount of funds available to reduce the actual fire threat. These existing studies already add years to the time table for actual fuel reduction.
The recently reported U.S. District Court ruling against the Forest Service regarding the need for even more environmental studies to be done before fuel reduction can proceed creates a cloud over whether local officials and informed and responsible regulatory agency representatives in this region will be able to effectively reduce dangerous fuel levels before the next major fire. Those of us who live in the real world understand that government at all levels must and will take the steps necessary to reduce fuels and hazards and create defensible space in the wildland-urban interface. We have no choice. The health and welfare of our environment and our communities depend on us. Catastrophic fire will not wait for more court-mandated studies over the years to tell us how to reduce the threat. We already know.
As the members of the South Lake Tahoe City Council, TRPA Governing Board, Bi-State Fire Commission and Fire Safe Council know, fuel reduction needs to be in the hands of fire-prevention professionals and fire suppression and prevention agencies whose staff is trained and understand the danger and the solution to catastrophic fire. All of us must use the most effective and environmentally sensitive means to achieve our fire prevention goal, and we must not be deterred by those who argue for more studies before engaging in fuel reduction. Catastrophic fire will not wait for us, and we cannot “fiddle while Rome burns.”
– David Jinkens is South Lake Tahoe’s city manager.