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Tahoe ReGreen identifies high-priority areas

Patrick McCartney

First came the clear-cut logging.

Then came a century of fire suppression.

And in the last decade, a six-year drought was accompanied by a plague of beetles that left thousands of trees in the Tahoe Basin dead or dying.

No wonder forestry experts believe the Tahoe Basin forest is ailing and in need of remedial care.

Since its formation in the fall of 1995, Tahoe ReGreen has launched a public education campaign to increase awareness of the need for a healthy forest. The interagency group has also marshaled the resources needed to thin overstocked stands, remove dead and dying trees and reduce the amount of fuels on public lands.

The group has also lobbied for funds that can be loaned at low interest to private property owners to help them lessen the risk of fire on their own property.

This year, the group has identified five areas in the basin most in need of forest-health projects, said Brian Schafer, an assistant fire chief with the Lake Valley Fire Protection District and the operations chief for Tahoe ReGreen.

“The amount of fuels, the topography and the number of structures that would be threatened by a wildland fire are the reasons for an area to be designated as high priority,” said Schafer. “We identified the higher-risk areas because we recognized we were not going to accomplish all that needs to be done.”

A typical treatment for a forest parcel, Schafer said, would include the removal of a thick understory to eliminate fuel “ladders” that allow flames to leap from the ground to the treetops. Crews also remove enough smaller trees to create space between the crowns of the remaining trees, and remove dead and dying trees, except a small number left for wildlife habitat.

Steve Harcourt of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said the results of the Tahoe ReGreen treatments are dramatic.

“The forest looks appreciably healthier where we’ve treated it,” Harcourt said.

The priority areas are:

— North Upper Truckee. A large subdivision within the Lake Valley Fire Protection District, the area includes many parcels with a high number of dead or diseased trees and overstocked stands.

Through Tahoe ReGreen, residents can receive a list of approved contractors, tree service companies and information about low-cost loans.

“We will also be going out and doing defensible-space inspections to see if the landowners are in compliance with state and local regulations,” Schafer said.

— The Rubicon area. The relatively small area is within the Meeks Bay Fire Protection District, and is ranked second in terms of fire danger. Volunteers from the district have gone door-to-door, informing residents of the Tahoe ReGreen project and distributing packets of information, according to Ed Miller, president of the district’s board of directors.

— Tahoe Island Drive. Work began last year to reduce the risk of fire in this neighborhood in the city of South Lake Tahoe. Tahoe ReGreen identified the three areas last year as those most in need of fuel reduction.

— Lower Kingsbury Grade. A residential area in the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District was included on the top-priority list for the first time this year. Work is needed in the forested lands adjacent to the subdivision as well, Schafer said.

— Talmont Estates. The subdivision within the North Tahoe Fire Protection District was added to the priority list this year.


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