TRPA to consider tree-thinning rules to combat wildland fires |

TRPA to consider tree-thinning rules to combat wildland fires

Jim Grant / Tribune file photoJohn Friedrich, program director for The League to Save Lake Tahoe, surveys the tree-cutting area at the north end of the Lake Tahoe Airport.

STATELINE, Nev. – Two advisory panels are recommending that property owners in the Lake Tahoe Basin be allowed to remove larger trees than currently allowed without first obtaining a permit in an effort to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

A code change to be considered Nov. 28 by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency governing board would increase the size of trees property owners can remove to create defensible space around homes and structures from 6 inches to 14 inches in diameter.

The change would not apply to lakefront property on land between structures and the lake shore, where the 6-inch rule and other restrictions on lakefront sites would remain in effect to protect scenery, officials said, adding that such properties account for less than 4 percent of Tahoe property owners.

The proposal has been endorsed by the TRPA’s Advisory Planning Commission and Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Committee and is one of several recommendations to emerge in the wake of this summer’s Angora fire that destroyed 254 homes.

Many Tahoe homeowners blamed strict TRPA regulations – including hefty fines for cutting trees and limiting where they can rake pine needles – for exacerbating fire conditions in the basin that straddles the Nevada-California line.

Days after the fire, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons announced a blue-ribbon commission to determine whether policies aimed at protecting Lake Tahoe’s clarity and delicate ecosystem contributed to the fire’s devastation. Recommendations are expected in the spring.

TRPA officials also have been meeting with area fire chiefs on a comprehensive review of fire management at the lake, including emergency-vehicle access and defensible-space guidelines.

“It’s important to keep in mind that tree removal is only one small part of completing defensible space on properties,” Mike Vollmer, TRPA vegetation program manager, said in a written statement.

“The Angora wildfire demonstrated that more basic practices such as brush removal, proper wood-pile storage and clearance around and under decking play a more critical role in protecting homes from wildfire,” he said.

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