Tahoe Fire and Fuels team releases forest action plan

A U.S. Forest Service firefighter conducts a prescribed burn in the Meyers area during winter 2018-19.
Ryan Hoffman / Tahoe Daily Tribune

A coalition formed in the wake of the destructive Angora Fire has released an action plan for protecting the Tahoe Basin’s forests, communities and visitors from wildfires.

The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team released the plan today ahead of Tuesday’s Lake Tahoe Summit — an annual event that draws federal and state leaders from California and Nevada. This year’s summit, the 23rd, is being hosted by Sen. Dianne Feinstein at Valhalla Tahoe. She will be joined by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, and other elected officials and Tahoe leaders.

The 15-page plan, as explained in a news release, focuses on a three-tiered strategy.

The first tier involves expanding the pace and scale of forest restoration through larger, landscape-scale projects that cover all land ownership — federal, state, local and private.

Critical to this strategy is continued streamlining of planning and permitting around the lake.

According to the plan, the U.S. Forest Service and California agencies are using new exclusion and exemption authorities under federal and state laws in order to scale up low-impact treatments that have been tested. Nevada agencies rely on the state’s streamlined permitting processes.

This streamlining could help with the continued shift from planning many smaller projects — each requiring separate environmental review, permitting, contracting and monitoring — to larger projects covering thousands of acres across multiple land owners.

The second tier involves increasing the capacity for the landscape-scale projects mentioned in the first tier. The plan aims to do this by expanding the workforce for such projects, strategically using prescribed fire, and supporting markets for biomass and small diameter trees.

The third tier calls for the continued use of technology when it comes to wildfires. Specifically the plan recommends use of high-resolution satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to map forest structure and wildfire risk.

The fuels team states that the plan is designed to be comprehensive for the entire Tahoe Basin.

“The Lake Tahoe Basin is extremely vulnerable to wildfire,” North Tahoe Fire Protection District Fire Chief Michael Schwartz said in the news release. “To protect our residents and visitors and the health of our forests, this Plan is focused at every level: from our homes and businesses to our shoreline communities, evacuation routes, powerline corridors, and scenic ridgetops.”

RELATED: Goals to fight fire with fire often fall short in US West

The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team was established following the Angora Fire, which destroyed 254 homes on Tahoe’s South Shore in 2007. Fuels team partners have since thinned or safely burned more than 57,000 acres in areas where homes are near or on lands prone to wildland fire.

The plan aims to complete work on the remaining 22,000 most vulnerable acres, to achieve and maintain defensible space for nearly 100% of homes and businesses, and to improve the health and resilience of Tahoe’s forests.

The plan’s release comes as increasingly destructive and deadly blazes direct communities’ attention to fire prevention.

“Our forests in the Tahoe Basin are under increasing stress from our changing environment. In response, agencies have undertaken and are implementing landscape-scale initiatives to restore forest health and increase resilience around the basin,” Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor Jeff Marsolais said in the release. “This Forest Action Plan has galvanized our continued commitment to increasing the pace and scale of restoration across all ownerships.”

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