Tia Rancourt: Big steps to protect us from wildfire | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Tia Rancourt: Big steps to protect us from wildfire

Tia Rancourt
Tahoe Fire and Fuels Public Information Team

Editor’s Note: The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team is a partnership of federal, state and local agencies working to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and promote fire defensible space at Lake Tahoe. On the team are fire organizations, representatives of the USDA Forest Service, the Nevada Fire Safe Council, agencies including the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and state organizations. This is part of a series of articles from the team advising residents and visitors on how we can learn to live with fire while still protecting property, public safety and Lake Tahoe’s environment.

This summer around Lake Tahoe, we can expect big steps by public agencies as well as private property owners to continue restoring the health of our forests. Lake Tahoe’s forests must be thinned to remain healthy and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, and since the natural progression of fire has been missing for so long, we need to restore them with the sweat of our collective brows.

As your local fire agencies and public land managers are now into the 2009 fuel reduction season, we want to outline the broad plans and keep everyone up to date with our efforts. Keep in mind as these projects continue that this level of commitment needs also to be matched by efforts on every private property to be truly effective.

By the numbers, 2008 was an outstanding year for fuel reduction and for valuable grant funding from the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act. Approximately $4.4 million in SNPLMA funding made fuels reduction projects a reality for the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team. Last year’s targets have been exceeded or are on track to be exceeded this year:

Target and achieved for 2008

Community Fuel Breaks

Recommended Stories For You

Target for 2008: 698 acres

Achieved in 2008: 639 acres

Defensible Space Inspections

Target for 2008: 931

Achieved in 2008: 5,413

Curbside Chipping Requests

Target for 2008: 2,070

Achieved in 2008: 3,094

Along with last year’s defensible space inspections, more than 600 Lake Tahoe property owners received cash rebates from the Nevada Fire Safe Council forvegetation removal as part of an incentive program that will be continued this year. For questions on how to receive a rebate for your defensible space work, please call the Nevada Fire Safe Council, serving both the California and Nevada sides of Lake Tahoe, at (530) 543-3473 or visit http://www.nvfsc.org.

Targets for the 2009 season include creating fuel breaks on more than 1,400 acres around Tahoe communities. These community fuel breaks are a primary defense against wildfire because they create a halo of reduced fuel areas around neighborhoods. In the path of a high-intensity fire, fuel breaks bring the fire down from the forest canopy to the ground where brush and smaller trees have been thinned. Once there, the fire becomes more manageable for firefighters. Areas around the Angora Wildfire where fuel breaks had been created showed exactly this kind of behavior.

These fuel breaks look very different from the Tahoe forest we have become accustomed to seeing, especially in the first few weeks after crews finish work. Clumps of brush have been broken up, shorter trees have been removed. There is a lot more space and a fresh layer of pine chips covering everything. While the image is startling at first, keep in mind that Tahoe’s forests used to have this kind of space and that shoots of healthy regeneration will start showing only weeks after crews have moved on. Through a streamlined review system, potential environmental impacts are minimized.

Many fuel reduction projects including fuel breaks, mechanical work, hand thinning and pile burning are planned throughout the Tahoe Basin this year. Within communities, fire protection agencies are on track to continue defensible space evaluations, provide tree removal permits and offer community curbside chipping at the same pace as last year.

Part of the long-term fuel reduction strategy is to also provide assistance for the biomass-to-renewable energy industry. Pilot projects are taking shape that will transport hazardous fuels to electric co-generation facilities. Over time, it is hoped that biomass from Lake Tahoe forests can become a reliable source of renewable energy.

Among the most important achievements of the past two years is that we are all working together in a coordinated, sustained effort to protect communities and Lake Tahoe’s fragile environment from catastrophic wildfire. Environmental agencies such as the TRPA are collaborating with fire professionals to get the job done. Creating a healthy forest is critical to having a healthy lake. So contact your local fire district, fire department, or the Nevada Fire Safe Council to find out how you can help or pick up a copy of the Living with Fire Guide for the Tahoe Basin to get started on your own. Remember, we are all in this together, and must all do our part to have a healthy forest and a healthy lake.

Tia Rancourt is the Public Education/Information Officer for the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District in Incline Village and member of the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Public Information Team. Contact her at (775) 831-8106.