Tahoe Restrictions Could Hamper Fire Prevention Efforts

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Congressional action to ease wildfire danger by increasing the thinning of forests also is behind efforts to assure that environmental regulations at Lake Tahoe don't increase fire danger there.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Reno, and fellow members of the House Resources Committee will review concerns raised by Washoe County Commissioner Jim Galloway and fellow governors of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

` U.S. Rep.Gibbons wants to ensure the roaring wildfires that occurred in California don't occur in the Tahoe Basin or anywhere else in Nevada," Gibbons aide Amy Spanbauer said.

The House and Senate ended months of debate last week and passed the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, which includes the authorization of $760 million a year to reduce fire fuels across 20 million acres of at-risk forest, much of it adjoining communities.

In the wake of last month's fires that destroyed thousands of homes and killed more than 20 people in Southern California, efforts are accelerating to ensure fire prevention efforts at Lake Tahoe are not hamstrung by environmental regulations.

TRPA officials already are amending some rules, including those prohibiting motorized vehicles from operating in stream areas of the Tahoe Basin.

Critics say the prohibition of vehicles in stream zones - designed to prevent erosion from clouding Lake Tahoe - also could prevent adequate thinning in some of Tahoe's most fire-prone drainages.

The issue of fire danger and regulations that might have to be changed will be discussed next month by members of a Nevada legislative committee that oversees the TRPA, said state Sen. Mark Amodei, a member of the panel.

"When you look at the reality of the fuel loads in the eastern Sierra, this is a real quality-of-life issue, a real economic issue and a real public safety issue," Amodei said.

Officials say a major fire at Tahoe could undo years of costly efforts to restore the lake and halt its degradation.

"It would make what's happening right now to Lake Tahoe pale in comparison," said Tim Smith, a former fire chief and Douglas County's appointee to the TRPA board.

"The one single biggest impact to the clarity of Lake Tahoe would be a catastrophic fire," Smith said.