Tahoe resident accuses Forest Service of neglect
A South Lake Tahoe woman accused the U.S. Forest Service Wednesday of failing to reduce the hazard from falling trees and wildfires on the parcels it has bought in the Tahoe Basin over the last 15 years.
Sue Abrams, a resident of the North Upper Truckee neighborhood, blamed the Forest Service for $70,000 in damage to her house when a tree on a neighboring lot toppled last November. The Forest Service purchased the parcel in 1991 with federal Burton-Santini funds.
Abrams said she would seek congressional hearings on why the Forest Service has not obtained the necessary money to maintain the Burton-Santini lots, which are scattered across the basin.
“Someone has to be held responsible for not activating the second part of the Burton-Santini Act,” Abrams said. “I think it is time to make this local Forest Service office responsible for the last 15 years.”
Abrams made the comments during an outdoor meeting with Forest Service officials at her home. About three dozen residents also attended the meeting at Abrams’ invitation.
Since the Burton-Santini Act was passed in 1980, the Forest Service has bought and acquired through donation 3,482 environmentally sensitive parcels in the Tahoe Basin. The lots cover nearly 11,500 acres and have a value of $94.9 million.
Dave Marlow, who directs the land acquisition program for the Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, said a forest-health project the agency will conduct in the Upper Truckee neighborhood this summer should address some of Abrams’ concerns.
The neighborhood is one of three areas identified by Tahoe ReGreen, a coalition of fire protection and other public agencies, as most in need of prescriptive thinning to reduce the risk of forest fire.
But Marlow disagreed with Abrams about the imminent threat to her property from the stand of lodgepole pine remaining on the Burton-Santini lot next door.
“The trees look sound, with no visible sign of distress,” Marlow said. “Any one of these trees could be knocked down in a high wind, and I can’t predict which one.”
Abrams was especially upset because many of the trees had been marked by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection eight years ago, before the Forest Service bought the lot.
“My neighbors and I asked for them to be marked because there were so many dead, dangerous and hazardous trees,” Abrams told Marlow. “I had no idea, when you bought the lot, that you would be my enemy and adversary.”
Despite the claim, Steve Harcourt of the California Department of Forestry on Monday could not recall marking the trees as a hazard. Instead, he believed the trees were marked for a thinning program that never occurred because of lack of funds.
Marlow said the agency has not received enough money from Congress for maintenance of the Burton-Santini lots. He said Congress authorized itself to provide money for maintenance equal to 5 percent of the acquisition funds, but the funds are approved from a separate source.
At the current level of annual funding for public lot maintenance, $300,000, the Forest Service would need at least 10 years to thin all the parcels, he said.
He added that this summer’s thinning program, which reduces ground fuel and thins trees to provide 10 feet of space between their crowns, could satisfy some of Abrams’ concerns. Some of the trees she considers hazardous will probably be removed as part of the project.
“Our prescription for managing urban lots may dovetail with (her) concerns,” Marlow said.
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