Forest Service Plans to Thin Tahoe Woods

The U.S. Forest Service is launching a 10-year program to thin and burn 38,000 acres of forest in the Lake Tahoe Basin to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

The plan calls for nearly $10 million worth of annual forest thinning focusing on areas around the Tahoe Basin's towns.

Other areas will be treated in a patchwork pattern to keep small fires from growing into devastating crown blazes.

"The big advantage to this is we have a plan and now we can display it on a map," said Dan Young, an assistant fire fuels and vegetation specialist with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service. "The areas around communities we are trying to treat 100 percent."

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency estimated in a recent forest report that 76 percent of forest fires started in the Tahoe Basin could balloon into crown fires, the most unpredictable and dangerous of wildfires.

Young said that approximately 3,800 acres per year is about the limit of where the available workforce and funding will take them.

Duane Whitelaw, Chief of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District knows the wildfire risk in Tahoe well, and applauds the work the Forest Service is doing.

"I've seen a big push by the Forest Service in the right direction," he said.

"We all know that this entire basin has varying levels of risk," he said, adding that the fire danger, given climate changes, is only growing more severe.

"We're already seeing a trend that is not favorable for fire risk, and it just doubles our concern," Whitelaw said.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit manages approximately 165,000 acres, said spokesman Rex Norman.

Norman said the Forest Service is setting up a series of meetings to solicit public comment on land that is well-used by residents and visitors.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)