Tahoe is featured in lumber industry magazine
A lumber industry-funded magazine will focus its fall issue on fire danger in Tahoe, with a roundtable interview of fire chiefs from the North Shore and an opinion piece by U.S. Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth.
California Forests magazine is a publication of the California Forest Products Commission. Bosworth’s column was solicited by the commission and first appeared in the Monday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. It mentions the need to help pay for forest thinning by selling products gleaned from projects.
“Lake Tahoe seemed to be a natural for us, because it is a national treasure,” said Kathleen Kahrl, public affairs director for the commission, on why they chose to devote an issue to Tahoe. “The experts we know say because of the way the forests are being managed, the lake is in jeopardy.”
The commission pays a consulting fee to professors and academics who provide them with most of their expert information, she said. She did not know how much those fees amounted to.
The Forest Service has not engaged in commercial logging contracts at Tahoe for several decades.
Forest thinning has focused on burning excess forest debris in piles, rather than removing it from the forest. More recently, the debate has centered around the feasibility of sending the debris to biomass energy plants.
The idea has the ear of both conservation and industry groups because it would eliminate some of the smoke and air pollution created by pile burning and could create a use for the leftover debris.
“The point we all agree on is there needs to be continued focus on reducing fuels in the Lake Tahoe Basin,” said Craig Thomas, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, a coalition of 98 conservation groups that focuses on federal land management. His group wrote the grant that enabled South Tahoe High School to invest in an upcoming biomass heating facility, also mentioned in Bosworth’s column.
“We think smaller, ecologically scaled biomass plants, that take it when it’s available and process it, is a good thing to do,” Thomas said. “There is a need for something other than just piling and burning.”
Kahrl said her group also believes the forests need thinning and biomass should be explored.
But the consensus stops there.
Conservationists and the Forest Service at Tahoe are opposed to building more roads, arguing they would be costly and could degrade water quality.
Industry groups say tight restrictions could delay thinning and end in catastrophe for Tahoe, as a large wildfire would endanger homes, degrade soil, cause erosion and possibly ruin Lake Tahoe’s clarity.
The Forest Service extinguishes hundreds of fires a year at Tahoe, usually ignited by lightning or humans. Of the 160,000 acres of National Forest in Tahoe, about 40,000 acres have already been treated, and about 42,000 acres need thinning.
Much of that lies on steep slopes or in sensitive stream environment zones. Heavy logging equipment is prohibited in these areas because of concern they could cause erosion.
Thomas said Tahoe’s track record is good compared to other national forests and that industry groups like the Forest Products Commission like to push the panic button.
“They are not a science-based operation, they are a products-based operation,” Thomas said. “The drum beat from above of ‘we need to get treatment done’ is overpowering the good common sense people on the ground that know if we have a big biomass industry, we are going to have a big road impact.”
Kahrl said fires that destroyed homes in San Bernardino in 2003 were predicted beforehand, and asked if anyone would consider that “pushing the panic button” now.
One article in the upcoming California Forests magazine quotes several fire chiefs speaking about the restraints of regulations.
Chief Duane Whitelaw of North Lake Tahoe Fire was quoted saying: “We work real hard to press the forest health part, but we get countered by those that don’t want us to work in the ‘stream environment zones,’ in the wet areas. They don’t want disruption that might cause even small deposits of silt to reach the lake. In the meantime the forests continue to grow overstocked and we struggle during the season to put fires out.”
Bosworth’s opinion piece was written in response to a request by the California Forest Products Commission for their magazine, according to Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes.