TRPA looks at fire safety |

TRPA looks at fire safety

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Rules that keep vehicles from entering sensitive stream areas need to be eliminated or changed so foresters can reduce fire danger at the Lake Tahoe Basin, according to a Governing Board member of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

“When fire gets in stream zones they are just like fuses; there’s so much dead wood in them,” said Coe Swobe, a former state senator who represents the residents of Nevada on the Governing Board. “What I’m worried about is (the TRPA) fiddling until the lake burns up. I’m a tree hugger. But I’d like to hug a live tree more than a charcoal stump.”

The Governing Board will meet on Wednesday at Kings Beach to discuss the agency’s forest fuel reduction goals. Whether the TRPA should play a role in regulating vacation rentals, a controversial topic, will be on the board’s October agenda, said Jerry Wells, acting executive director of the agency.

The TRPA, as the only regional authority in the basin, aims to have two things figured out before fire season 2004: how it will help coordinate fuel reduction projects and how it could change regulations to make projects easier to accomplish.

Last fall, amid drought conditions and a summer that brought three sizable fires to the basin, Swobe called for the TRPA Governing Board to approve a resolution indicating the seriousness of the need for fuel reduction at Tahoe.

Then last month, also at the behest of Swobe, the Governing Board conducted a two-hour workshop on fire danger. Foresters and firefighters lined up to inform board members of some of the road blocks they face in trying to reduce forest fuels. One of them was their inability to get at fuel-thick, stream environment zones.

Swobe said he will call for the agency to enable thinning of the forests; eliminate or modify prohibitions restricting the use of vehicles within stream environment zones for tree cutting purposes; and give top priority to thresholds dealing with fire protection and restoration.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take for the agency to give top priority to this whole problem of forest fire up there,” Swobe said from his law office in Reno. “I hope this is a step in the right direction. But we’ll see.”

Wells says his staff will redouble its effort to confront the problem. But he does not expect a new threshold to be established to address the reduction of forest fuels.

“We have a vegetation threshold and air and water quality thresholds. All of them are related to potential wildfire issues,” he said.

In a staff report released this month, the agency described some of its goals. It states:

“The staff is hereby directed to lead, coordinate and act as a clearinghouse for the development of a collaborative plan for the elimination of dead trees, accumulations of dead wood, thinning of overcrowded forests and to formulate strategies for fuel reduction in Stream Environment Zones in the Lake Tahoe Basin prior to the 2004 fire season.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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