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Prisoners work off time in the woods

Andy Bourelle

Some women incarcerated by the Nevada prison system are getting a 2-for-1 deal – and helping preserve Lake Tahoe at the same time.

Women from the Silver Springs Conservation Camp are working, as part of an ongoing process, along the Nevada side of the Lake Tahoe Basin, thinning the forest and administering prescribed burns.

“They are doing such a great job, and we don’t hesitate to tell them that, so they can feel a sense of accomplishment,” said Rex Harold, state lands forester for the Nevada Division of State Lands. “I’m extremely confident in their work. I think I have the two best crews in the state of Nevada working for me.”

The women work on Wednesdays and Thursdays, rotating to projects on North and South Shores. Last week, they were burning piles near Kingsbury Grade. When the weather is wet again, they will be back.

Women from the detention center have been helping for three years, Harold said. They earn two days’ credit for each day they work.

“These are women who committed light-weight crimes: drugs, DUI. They’re not a threat to anybody,” he said. “The majority just got involved with the wrong crowd.”

Harold said he goes through the parcels and makes a prescription for that area, marking which trees need to be removed and deciding what brush to burn. Then the women cut the trees down with chain saws and burn the excess wood.

Two crews – organized by crew leaders Mike Philips and Keith Davis – complete the work.

“A lot of them enjoy the work. There are four girls, two on each crew, that said they want to look at going into conservation work when they get out, even though they probably never saw themselves doing this kind of work before,” he said. “Of course, others don’t like it at all and can’t wait to go back to Silver Springs at the end of the day. They just do it so they can get their 2-for-1 duty.”

Harold said he and the other state land workers try to encourage the women to take pride in the work.

“This is something they can feel good about, and maybe they never had that before,” he said. “Possibly, if there’s a devastating wildfire, that could be the only section of forest the fire skips over. We tell them, ‘You may be helping to save this section of the forest’s life with the work you’re doing.’ “

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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