Guest view: Time to end ‘agency paralysis’ |

Guest view: Time to end ‘agency paralysis’

Tom Wendell

The Angora fire may be as good as extinguished, but the fallout from this preventable disaster has touched off a political firestorm whose effects will reach far and wide.

It is human nature to quickly target something or someone to blame for any devastating event; in this case, the blame extends far beyond the morons who touched off this disaster with an illegal campfire. When it comes to aiming the shotgun barrel of blame at something, it’s a target-rich environment out there. The alphabet soup of agencies charged with managing our forests have all let us down. As Tahoe’s “uber agency,” the TRPA rightfully finds itself as the bulls-eye of people’s anger.

Tribune staff writer Adam Jensen’s excellent article in the July 5 edition sheds some much-needed light on the murky dealings within the TRPA board. Most revealing were comments by board member Coe Swobe, who was instrumental in crafting the legislation that gave birth to the TRPA. His most salient comments succinctly describe and validate my long-standing (and oft-published) perception of a bureaucratic system that is inefficient, unaccountable and, like a poor marksman, consistently missing the target. In dealing with fuels reduction in the forests Swobe says:

“Leadership will have to be outside the TRPA because they abdicated their leadership role by not giving fuel management top priority.” I say: “Amen!” Swobe continues: “We never envisioned the bureaucracy. We’re now getting entangled in our own regulations. … I hope we can take advantage of this and get something done.”

I hope he is right. We absolutely need to get this done. The “agency paralysis” I have long ranted about has now cost people and wildlife their homes, and has dealt a serious blow to the very environment that “the agencies” are charged with (and well compensated for) protecting.

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There is technology for efficient fuels reduction that has been available but has never been utilized here. In addition to mechanical thinning and other measures, the use of biomass generators, both fixed and portable, has been ignored. This technology is in use in Colorado, Canada, Australia and Finland to name a few. Plans to put a biomass generator in at South Tahoe High ran into “agency” opposition because it will add some particulate matter to the air. I suggest that the tons of particulate matter generated by the Angora fire having fouled the air for hundreds of miles and deposited unknown amounts into Lake Tahoe makes that a moot point. Particulate matter is a part of the natural environment, and the low intensity ground fires that nurtured these forests long before human inhabitation are proof of that.

Why are we lagging behind? As possibly the most highly regulated ecosystem on earth, Tahoe should be taking the lead in forest stewardship and innovating ways to live in harmony with our natural environment. Let’s not just hope, but insist that this is the direction we take. This environment and the people who cherish it demand that we prioritize fuels reduction and transportation system reform.

– Tom Wendell is former recycling coordinator for the area, transportation reform advocate and recent candidate for South Lake Tahoe City Council.

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