‘Right dialog’ on controlled burns | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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‘Right dialog’ on controlled burns

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune file/ More funds will become available for reduction of fire fuels.
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Over the next decade, land managers in the Lake Tahoe Basin could spend $123 million to prevent catastrophic wildfire, thinning 36,000 acres of forest and possibly burning 4,300 acres a year, according to a new report by Tahoe’s planning agency.

And while most agree that work must be done, there’s debate over whether to burn the extra biomass in Tahoe’s forests or remove it truckload by truckload.

Burning brings with it air and water quality concerns, while removal is much more expensive and might not be feasible in remote areas.



“Burning is not the answer,” said Carl Hasty, deputy executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which recently completed a study of the region’s fire prevention needs with a $600,000 Bureau of Reclamation grant.

Burning is the U.S. Forest Service’s prime way of getting rid of flammable forest debris, whether through pile burning or intentionally set fires, called prescribed fires. During pile burning last fall, some residents contacted the Tahoe Daily Tribune with concerns about smoke that lingered in the area for more than a week.




Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman said burning not only reduces biomass but serves as an important function in the Tahoe forest ecosystem. The low-intensity fires are not nearly as harmful to air and water quality as out-of-control wildfires, he said.

“This is a forest ecosystem that has lived with very frequent fire return,” Norman said. “The ecosystem here has developed and is dependent on that. There is no ecosystem replacement for it.”

Hasty said that no one disagrees on the benefits of prescribed fires to the forest, but the agency would like to see less pile burning.

The report identified fire risks to areas in Tahoe. Now there needs to be more discussion and coordination on how to get the work done, he said.

Hasty’s hope is that the information will ultimately help get federal funding for the region.

“When you look at property values, you are getting a very high return for each dollar that goes into this work, unlike in other forests,” Hasty said.

TRPA estimates the region’s property values total more than $15 billion.

The $600,000 grant paid for staff time at the U.S. Forest Service, fire departments, and community fire protection districts to study each area’s risk, and a consultant to put together a final report.

A new vegetation standard is coming from the Pathway 2007 process, which will include for the first time a standard on forest biomass, called fuels, Hasty said.

Norman expressed hope in that process.

“Through Pathway 2007, agency leaders are starting to tackle the obstacles that may still exist in addressing fire risk reduction,” he wrote in an e-mail. “Sometimes it’s an interpretation, sometimes it’s a conflicting standard – but the point is, we are actively engaged in the right dialog now. That’s a big reason this planning effort was agreed to.”


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