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Pioneer logging job gets TRPA go-ahead

Greg Risling

With the risk of a major fire looming large in Tahoe’s future, the Pioneer Hazard Reduction Project was approved Wednesday.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency issued a permit to the U.S. Forest Service allowing the removal of dead and dying trees in South Lake Tahoe. The project includes 1,977 acres of forest extending from the Highway 50/Pioneer Trail intersection in Meyers to Al Tahoe Boulevard.

Eliminating trees that have fallen prey to insect infestation and pollution is expected to restore some of the forest’s health and reduce fire danger. With nearly 160,000 acres in the Tahoe Basin, the project, put together by the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, is a small step to maintain the natural inventory.

“There is a high level of mortality in our forest and there is clearly the need for reducing fuel loads,” said Forest Service fire and vegetation management officer John Swanson. “This is extremely high priority for us at this present time.”

The project will not only salvage dead trees but calls for the removal of live trees to regulate stocking levels and improve stand health. TRPA planner Paul Nielsen indicated that live trees over 30 inches tall won’t be included in the removal process but dead trees with the same height will.

A major component of the project was the creation of defensible fuels profile zones near residential areas. The zones give better access for emergency purposes and will establish more space that provides an acceptable fire spread rate and intensity.

“This is taking a giant bite out of a menace we have,” said TRPA board member Steve Wynn.

Swanson said work can begin once a logging contractor is hired. He anticipates a mid-September start date with favorable weather conditions. If the prep work can’t commence this fall, it will be delayed until next summer.

The project will be broken into two phases. The first portion will include “slashing” and “thinning” – disposal techniques – of trees considered an immediate hazard to the environment. The second phase will complete the fuel zones, removal of small trees and erosion control.

The work is expected to last anywhere from three to 10 years.

Most of the clearing will occur during the winter months. Snowfall will squash the fuels to a level where the brush can decompose properly.

Operations in the summer will be limited to areas with slopes less than 15 percent.

Isolated pockets of trees with discolored features line one of Tahoe’s main thoroughfares but are seen throughout the basin. The Pioneer Trail project cost is $500,000 and any remaining costs should be offset by the timber’s value. Swanson said Tahoe’s forest restoration would cost a bare minimum of $10 million. If future projects are similar in scope and size, rough estimates put that figure near $45 million.

Wynn said federal intervention is needed because TRPA’s budget doesn’t have those funds. Gathering the information, termed “inventory,” is a costly procedure. The South and East shores have been looked at but the next effort of the management unit is examining 25,000 acres on the West Shore from the Truckee River to Emerald Bay.

“Once tree removal projects are completed, the job isn’t,” said Swanson. “Maintenance is vital. It’s like painting your house. You have to keep it up.”


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