Tahoe Basin ready to burn

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at hotmail.com
Sun Feb 15 09:36:51 EST 2004


February 13, 2004  The Associated Press

Experts: Tahoe Forests Face Fire Threat 

by Scott Sonner

RENO, Nev. (AP) -- Overstocked forests around Lake Tahoe are in danger
of catastrophic wildfires like those that burned 750,000 acres in
Southern California last year, according to industry experts.

``Tahoe could burn and if it does, it will be virtually unstoppable.
... I don't think people in the Tahoe basin fully appreciate exactly
how dangerous it is,'' said Tom Bonnicksen, a forestry professor at
Texas A&M University.

Supporting Bonnicksen's comparison, made Thursday at the 55th annual
Sierra-Cascade Logging Conference, were three Californians - Bill
Dennison, a Plumas County commissioner and director of the conference,
San Bernardino County fire marshal Peter Brierty and Don Sterrenburg,
president of a homeowners' association.

The men noted similarities between conditions at Tahoe and the ones
that existed before fires destroyed more than 3,600 homes and killed
two dozen people in Southern California last year.

They urged more intensive logging and thinning of forests miles away
from residential areas.

``That's where the fires come roaring into communities from,'' said
Bonnicksen, an expert on California forests who has testified before
Congress for more than a decade in support of increased logging on
federal lands.

``These flames are 200-feet tall, burning at 2,000 degrees, moving at
sometimes a mile a minute,'' he said.

Some large trees will have to be cut as well as underbrush, Bonnicksen
said. He criticized Forest Service restrictions putting most trees
larger than 30 inches in diameter off limits to logging under the
agency's latest plan for the Sierra Nevada.

Jay Watson of The Wilderness Society, based in California, described
Bonnicksen as ``the timber industry's hired, scientist gun.''

``The wood products industry can play an important role in reducing
fire risks and even in ecological restoration,'' said Watson, the
group's wildland fire program director. ``But if they demand that they
still be able to fire up the chain saws on America's old-growth
forests, then they are in for a buzz-saw of opposition.''

Comment by poster: The article doesn't mention that back in the early
90's, around one third of all trees in the basin died from bark
beetles. Only a minimal amount of timber was salvaged and the rest is
either still standing in snag patches or laying on the ground, waiting
for the next lightning strike to ruin part of America's forested
treasures. Even though Tahoe is not "pristene", in the true sense of
the word, it certainly still has a framework for a healthy and
functioning old growth-like ecosystem. Some parts of Tahoe were
clearcut, right down to the lakeshore, during the Comstock Lode days.
My first Forest Service job was at Martis Peak, 2400 feet above Lake
Tahoe's north shore. In two years there, the biggest fire while I was
on duty was 4 acres.

Larry,    been there and seen that



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