Fire danger too important to ignore
March 19, 2013
I was present at the well-attended Feb. 26 board of supervisors meeting to support our local government as it addressed the issue of reducing our critically dangerous levels of flammable fuels in the Tahoe National Forest.
The board has the responsibility to protect the health, welfare and safety of Nevada County residents and businesses. One of the most critical issues we face in Nevada County is the extremely high risk of a devastating wildfire fueled by the accumulation of decades of dead undergrowth that has not been managed by the federal and state agencies that control our local forests.
A catastrophic wildfire consumed 536,000 acres of prime Ponderosa pines in a similarly neglected national forest in Apache County, Arizona. Doyel Shamley, Apache County Natural Resource Coordinator, presented a blueprint of how his county coordinated with local, state and federal agencies to take immediate action to eliminate the detrimental conditions to his local forests. His slides showed the pleasant aftereffects of underbrush clearing and tree thinning, resulting in a healthy, viable forest full of natural resources with improved wildlife habitat and a cleaner watershed.
Our local Fire Safe Council has warned of the devastation of a catastrophic fire in Nevada County for more than 15 years. Aside from clearing near major roadways and a residential chipping program, no local action to remove the dangerous undergrowth in our forests has been undertaken.
The Tahoe National Forest covers four neighboring counties. Residents from these counties were present at this meeting to gather information with the possibility of a collaborative endeavor to this common problem. A wildfire consumes with ferocious velocity, not respecting county lines, private property, historic treasures, wildlife sanctuaries, recreation opportunities, endangered species or majestic Ponderosa pines. A dangerous crown fire and its devastating fallout of burning embers place both our rural areas and our urban areas at risk.
The U.S. Forest Service records show the Tahoe National Forest is at a critical fuel load of 45 tons of bone dry kindling per acre. Its lack of action to reduce this fuel load is a danger to the health, safety and welfare of Nevada County. It needs to be addressed before we lose our natural treasures, our homes and our businesses, devastating Nevada County's economy.
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As with most issues, funding is the obstacle to action. Mr. Shamley suggested workable solutions, such as taking county control of the forest, clearing dead and downed trees, reducing the heavy underbrush and assessing the costs to the agencies whose neglect caused such dangerous conditions. There was some discussion that limited tree-thinning operations could help offset the costs of this massive effort. At no time was there any suggestion of clear-cutting any forest land or not following environmental rules.
Unfortunately, a recent letter to the editor untruthfully stated that Mr. Shamley proposed we turn our forest management over to logging "profiteers — that's making a deal with the devil", and "no forest left … no forest fires." A gross misrepresentation that effectively kills the conversation before it's fully developed. This critical issue is too important to be reduced to name-calling and attempts to divert us from problem-solving discussions. We need a solution now; so who's the devil's advocate here?
You can check out the website http://coapache.az.us/Departments/County/Manager/Stewardship.html. It shows crews working in Greer, Ariz. to safely remove fire hazards in their county. This is an example of people taking charge of their local forest.
It is encouraging to see that the county board has taken up this critical issue of hazardous fuel conditions and will be lobbying the state to seek solutions.
Cindy Hren lives in Nevada City.