Of all the environmental threats facing the Lake Tahoe Basin, regulators now agree the greatest is fire.
The governing board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency told its staff on Wednesday to alter its work plan for the year to fund forest-thinning projects.
Since the bistate agency was created in 1969, many of its programs have concentrated on reducing motor vehicle emissions, erosion and runoff.
But Coe Swobe, a former Nevada lawmaker who helped establish the agency and now serves as Nevada's at-large appointee to its governing board, said the top priority must be prevention of a catastrophic wildfire.
"Our battle cry now should be wildfires," Swobe said. "In my opinion, I don't think there's any more important or critical issue facing the Tahoe Basin right now."
Carl Hasty, TRPA's deputy director, noted that a shift toward a wildfire emphasis "does not come without some cost" and said some programs that now are a priority might have to be temporarily sidelined.
"I will make a prediction," he said. "It will take several public meetings to get through these amendments. Don't be surprised if it goes as second round in February."
Wednesday's discussion came as momentum builds to move aggressively to prevent wildfires on the scale of the deadly, destructive blazes that swept Southern California last October.
In the Tahoe Basin, more than 8,300 acres along the boundary forests and urban areas are targeted by TRPA for thinning, controlled burns or other fire prevention efforts.
Over a five-year period, cost of such treatment would range between $16.6 million and $26.5 million.
Previous thinning of dead, insect-ravaged stands of timber have taken place on federal land in Lake Tahoe's backcountry, but the new effort should focus on property closest to communities, much of it privately owned, Hasty said.
"It seems to be putting the emphasis exactly where the league has always said it should be," said Rochelle Nason of the League to Save Lake Tahoe.
But she urged the program to go beyond mere thinning.
"We'd like to suggest that every project in the forest be a true ecosystem restoration project," she said.
On the Net:
Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Web site: http://www.trpa.org
League to Save Lake Tahoe: http://www.keeptahoeblue.com