National Fire Plan improves situation |

National Fire Plan improves situation

As I have been visiting recently with friends, news media representatives and members of the public about Lake Tahoe’s environment, one word dominates their thoughts: Fire!

Their questions reflect the immediate concerns on the minds of many basin residents and visitors during this drier-than-average summer: How vulnerable to fire are we in the basin? Do we have adequate resources for for suppression? What are we doing to prevent “a really big one” here, like the Martis fire, which occurred just over the hill from us, or like dozens of others raging throughout the West at this very moment? Why aren’t you doing more prescribed burning? Why aren’t you doing less prescribed burning? If the big one does happen, how do we leave? Are there evacuation plans I should know about?

This year the answers to some of these questions are much more positive than they were at this time last summer, thanks to the National Fire Plan. Funded by Congress last fall in the wake of the devastating fires that ravaged the West during the summer of 2000, the Fire Plan was enacted to address several major issues: Firefighting capabilities, as well as rehabilitation and restoration of landscapes damaged by wildfire; hazardous fuels reduction (a technical term that means to clear out dead and dying trees and shrubs, along with overly-dense vegetation); community assistance and economic action.

As a result of Fire Plan dollars, the Pacific Southwest Region (to which the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit belongs), saw its firefighting budget for Fiscal Year 2001 increase by about 50 percent to $190 million for more firefighters, equipment and facilities. During this fiscal year approximately $1 million is funding 15 rehabilitation and restoration projects on national forests in California. An additional $45 million is being used to reduce hazardous fuels across California’s national forests.

The Fire Plan completes its comprehensive approach to fire prevention with strong emphasis on community assistance, provided in the form of grants to communities. These grant programs are designed to improve preparedness of local, rural, state and volunteer firefighting organizations and to encourage economic initiatives to help communities develop local solutions to reduce their wildland fire risk. This year the Pacific Southwest Region has committed $7.7 million to assist local communities through its state and private forestry program.

As it has for many other fire-prone national forests, the Fire Plan has created several new fire prevention opportunities for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (LTBMU). With nearly a half-million dollars in additional funding, the LTBMU has been able to invest in several important fire prevention strategies. With $300,000 of this money the LTBMU hired a new, 20-person hand crew this summer to thin dead, dying and overly dense trees and other fuels from critically vulnerable areas of national forest lands in the basin. This crew is also available for firefighting duty in the basin, or on neighboring forests, should a need arise for their skills.

Another $60,000 has been set aside for the acquisition of an upgraded fire engine. This engine, replete with enhanced firefighting equipment, will accommodate five crew members, unlike the current three-person engine. Expected to arrive early this fall, the LTBMU will station the new engine at its Meyers Fire Station on the South Shore.

The balance of the LTBMU’s Fire Plan allocation will be committed to a new roof for the Meyers Fire Station (approximately $130,000) and to the planning of a future fuels project ($100,000) in the wildland-urban interface area of Ward Canyon. In total, the LTBMU received a $1.5 million earmark for hazardous fuels reductions projects in fiscal year 2001.

The additional dollars from the Fire Plan cannot solve all of our fire prevention and suppression problems. There is still much dry fuel in the forest just waiting for a carelessly tossed cigarette or well-placed lightning. Caution is still the byword for residents and visitors this time of year.

Those of us who have chosen to live in the Lake Tahoe Basin should remember the lessons of recent fire-history studies conducted by Dr. Alan Taylor of Penn State University: “Fire has often visited the Lake Tahoe Basin. It is Mother Nature’s way of maintaining and restoring ecological balance. We are best advised to accept her ways and learn to live successfully within them. By managing fire each year in accordance with natural principles, we hope to avoid the truly devastating fires that Mother Nature never intended for the Lake Tahoe Basin.”

– Linda Massey is the public affairs officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

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