Healthy Forests = Healthy Watersheds

Vegetation threshold

During the Comstock era an estimated 80 percent of Lake Tahoe Basin forests were clear cut to provide timber for building Virginia City and the miles of mineshafts it sat upon. The legacy of the Comstock harvest is a Tahoe area forest, which has little age, size, or spatial diversity. The aggressive suppression of fire during the intervening century resulted in overstocking of small, shade tolerant (understory) trees and an abundance of downed woody fuels. The stresses of drought, which have struck repeatedly in the past three decades, and fierce competition among overstocked stands, have led to widespread tree mortality. Understory tree growth, forming a ladder fuel and a massive buildup of fuels create a high risk of crown fire in the Basin.

The US Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit is engaged in an aggressive thinning campaign to improve forest health and reduce the risk of catastrophic fire. The League strongly supports these goals and encourages the Forest Service to first concentrate on fuels reduction projects in the areas closest to our communities. In addition, we monitor the Forest Service and ensure they use environmentally sensitive methods of extraction to ensure that erosion and wildlife impacts are kept to a minimum.

Currently, excess forest debris, referred to as slash, is disposed of by chipping or pile burning. It is the League’s hope that the forest fuels can be reduced to the point at which controlled low-intensity understory burns can be set to mimic the historic fire regime, thereby maintaining forest health.

In addition, the League worked extensively with the Tahoe Fire Commission, a panel of experts appointed by the governors of California and Nevada, to study the causes of the 2007 Angora fire and make findings and recommendations. The League worked with the commission to make recommendations on how to best manage our forests, reduce fire risks and protect our communities while still maintaining high water quality standards.

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