Potential wildfire hotspots identified in the basin | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Potential wildfire hotspots identified in the basin

A new,10-year federal wildfire suppression plan could be key to eliminating one of the Tahoe Basin’s greatest fire risks, Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn said Tuesday.

Guinn and U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth visited Slaughterhouse Canyon as part of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Summit. The canyon, which lies northeast of the gated community of Glenbrook, is a wasteland of dead trees and stumps dating from a beetle infestation in the mid-1990s. The canyon serves as a great concern to local Forest Service officials and to many of the 1,200 Glenbrook residents because it could fuel a massive forest fire that could spread in any direction.

The fire plan, signed last week by the Bush Administration and Western governors, aims to remove brush, trees and debris that could fuel catastrophic fires and create a long-term strategy for restoring wildlife habitats.

The plan, which stresses a cooperation between federal, state and local authorities, sets a May 1 deadline to outline implementation strategies.

Lyle Laverty, U.S. Forest Service national fire plan coordinator, said the agriculture and interior departments got about $1.7 billion more this year than last to carry out provisions of the national fire plan.

Guinn said the state would work with Lake Tahoe Basin Management officials to outline reforestation needs of the canyon, solutions to removing the dead and dying wood and costs associated with solutions. He said prioritizing the site as the greatest fire risk in the basin would help secure funding for cleanup under the new fire plan.

“We can look at it and say, ‘Well, we can’t afford it.’ But we’ll have to afford a fire if we have one,” Guinn said. “There is money if you set (the canyon) out as priority No. 1 on the strategic plan. If we can do that, then this will be a good day for us. We as a state will work with you any way we can for the best welfare of our people. That meets all the criteria under the new plan.”

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has had problems removing the dead and dying wood because of limited access to the canyon, and due to environmental and historical resource issues.

Access to the canyon’s base has been denied by Glenbrook residents, and the only other way down is a steep mountainside.

Forest officials thought about building a road down to the site, but the canyon serves as one of the most significant examples of settlement logging in the West. Also, much of the dead wood lies within an environmentally sensitive meadow, which limits ground disturbance.

The Basin Mangement Unit removed dead and dying trees in 1996 from about 760 acres via helicopter, which is too costly to use as a primary means of removal, according to Forest Service officials.

Since then, the Forest Service piled woody debris along 30 acres and began burning them. However, Mark Johnson, fire management officer for the Basin Management Unit, said many Glenbrook residents strongly oppose prescribed fire smoke.

Forest Service officials said the biggest hindrance to the project is a lack of money. But both Guinn and Bosworth said money shouldn’t be an obstacle if federal, state and local officials stress the importance of funding a cleanup project.

Bosworth said area Forest Service officials could benefit from experimental stewardship contracts if Congress appropriates funding for another round of the program next year. The stewardship program provides funding to allow Forest Service units to seek solutions to problems from their communities, like the removal of woody debris in Slaughterhouse Canyon.

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