Residents angred with USFS methods in logging project |

Residents angred with USFS methods in logging project

Andy Bourelle

Many residents who live in the Pioneer Trail area are upset about a nearby forest-thinning project; however, U.S. Forest Service officials say many of their concerns come simply because the process is not yet completed.

“The forest is in such bad shape,” said Darla Mazzoni, a nearby resident. “We had really nice mountain biking and hiking trails. Now they’re impassable, because of all the slash and debris there. They left huge piles of wood chips. They left oil spills. There’s hundreds of small trees that were damaged and are now completely brown. You can see big gouge marks in big green, healthy trees.”

Because of logging in the Comstock era and lack of periodic natural fires in the basin, forests around Lake Tahoe are too dense. Trees compete for water and nutrients. And after Lake Tahoe faced a drought from 1986 to 1994, the forests have become more susceptible to bark beetle infestation.

Now an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the basin’s trees are believed to be dead.

With the dead trees and accumulation of wood on the forest floors, many areas are more susceptible to wildfire now, which, in an area such as Pioneer Trial, could be very dangerous to residents and property.

The Forest Service has had several forest-thinning projects operating in basin in recent years, and the Pioneer Project – one of the commitments from the 1997 Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum – currently is the agency’s highest priority area.

It is a 2,000-acre, forest-thinning project around Pioneer Trail, where logging crews work over the snow during the winter to cut down and remove trees, creating fire breaks. Cleanup work happens in the summer and fall. Crews started the project in the 1997/1998 winter and likely will continue through next winter.

Residents have informed the Forest Service about their concerns.

“Our objective in all of this is we want to create defensible fuel profile zones, and we’ll keep working to do that,” said Chris Knopp, department of natural resources staff officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. “We hope we can work through most of the people’s concerns.”

He said work is under way there now. Many of the residents may think the work is done and the slash was simply left. However, crews are working to pile the slash. The piles will be burned this fall.

There may have been as many as two oil spills, Knopp said, and officials are investigating the extent of the contamination.

Knopp said many of the residents are upset but also support what the Forest Service is trying to do. Others don’t believe there is any fire danger and don’t want the work done at all.

“I wish this was a win-win situation where everyone’s viewpoint was the same,” he said. “But there are a wide variety of viewpoints on the risk to the houses and how these fuel reductions should occur.”

Dave Roberts of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, who knows of residents’ concerns and has visited the project area, agreed. He said he felt the Forest Service’s main failure regarding the Pioneer Project was not doing a better job informing the residents of what was happening.

“Your target audience has such a diverse opinion of what is going on. You can’t please all the people all the time,” he said. “But public education can help with that.”

While describing some of the logging practices as “questionable,” Roberts said that for the most part he supported the federal agency’s efforts.

“I think the project itself is a good project, and I think the Forest Service has done a fairly good job,” he said. “Over-snow logging is hugely beneficial; it minimizes ground disturbance. I think people in South Shore are really lucky. If they went up to check out (the results of a) North Shore logging operation, they could see the damage a logging operation can cause.”

“The premise of the project is good; it should be happening. I think the Forest Service could have done a lot better job informing the public about it,” he added.

While residents may be experiencing short-term inconveniences, Knopp said, the long-term benefits will include – in addition to minimizing fire danger – helping wildlife habitat and forest health.

“I think there are some very significant environmental benefits,” he said.

However, Phil Steinberg, another concerned resident, said he feels the fire danger now, with the slash scattered on the forest floor, is worse than it used to be.

“There won’t be any long run if they don’t take care of the short run,” he said.

However, he added: “I fully expect the Forest Service will respond to the concerns of the neighborhood people.”

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