Park trying to hide from bark beetles |

Park trying to hide from bark beetles

While many people may not know where Washoe Meadows State Park is located, bark beetles do.

Or rather, they did.

California State Parks is trying to put a stop to the insect’s familiarity with the area.

Crews have been trying to remove dead trees, reduce the wildfire hazard and help the overall health of the 628-acre South Shore park. Work to create a “shade fuel break” around the park likely will be completed this week.

“There is substantial die-off,” said Richard Adams, state park forester for the Lake Tahoe Basin. “A lot of the park is just filled with dead trees. The idea is at least to get a line around it.”

From California’s fiscal year 1999/2000 budget, more money has been allocated to continue work at the park, which abuts Sawmill Road. That work will start later in the year.

“Hardly anyone knows what this land is. Some people know it’s a state park but don’t call it Washoe Meadows State Park,” Adams said. “It’s kind of a secret spot for locals. Locals love it; it’s like their own state park for mountain biking and horseback riding. My goal for the area is to keep it undeveloped as wildlife habitat. There really is a lot of land back there. It really is valuable habitat.”

However, like many of the forests in the basin, there is high tree mortality in the area. Largely because of the lack of periodic low-intensity wildfires over the last century, trees in the Lake Tahoe Basin are too dense. They compete for water and nutrients, and overall Tahoe forests are not healthy. Add a drought from 1986 to 1994, and Tahoe’s trees are very susceptible to bark beetle attack.

The basin’s forests are composed of 20 to 30 percent dead trees; healthy forests have about 3 to 5 percent tree mortality.

The bark beetle is a natural inhabitant of every forest. However, when forests are stressed – from air pollution, ice-melting road salts, high tree densities and other factors – they become more susceptible to bark beetle infestation.

The 1/8-inch-long insects have done just that at Washoe Meadows.

“If we didn’t go in there and work, we would have lost every tree in that whole section,” said Dave Hoffman, the project coordinator for state parks.

Hoffman, leading a crew of inmates from the Stewart Conservation Camp in Carson City, has been concentrating around Sawmill Road for several months.

In creating the shade fuel breaks, crews thin the dead trees but leave the forest canopy intact. The breaks help reduce the risk of wildfire because they take away much of the fuel. Additionally, the canopy keeps significant sunlight from hitting the forest floor, which would make it more dry and susceptible to wildfire.

Organizations such as Tahoe Re-Green are pushing for more forest-thinning work throughout the basin, and agencies such as state parks, the U.S. Forest Service and California Tahoe Conservancy are trying to reduce the fire fuels on their lots.

Hoffman said he thinks all of the forest-thinning work around the basin needs to continue – and accelerate.

“We have to take control (of the problem) before we lose every tree we’re trying to save,” he said.

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