Incline Village Tree Thinning Approved

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Lake Tahoe land use regulators have approved a plan to thin trees around homes in the Incline Village area to reduce fire risks.

The plan by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency allows the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District to remove trees within 30 feet of homes or other structures if they present a fire hazard.

The agreement between TRPA and the fire district was described Wednesday as important progress in accelerating efforts to reduce extreme fire danger at Lake Tahoe.

"Things are moving at warp speed here," said Elwood Miller of the Nevada Fire Safe Council. "We need to let the fire districts cut their teeth on this."

Thinning operations should begin in about two weeks, he said.

Officials said the agreement likely will be used as a model for agreements with five other fire districts in the Tahoe basin.

"Our hope is that we can use this as a springboard," said John Singlaub, TRPA executive director.

All the fire districts in the Tahoe basin also are developing large-scale plans for protecting communities. Those plans are expected to be completed by August.

Approval of the pact is the latest development in the TRPA's strategy to combat massive wildfires of the type that burned vast swaths of forest and thousands of homes last fall in Southern California.

Such a fire in the Tahoe Basin would come with disastrous consequences for a fragile environment. Improving "defensible space" immediately surrounding Tahoe's homes is one part of a three-prong approach needed to reduce fire danger, Miller said.

Trees also must be thinned on private land in urban-forest boundary areas as well as deep in the forest, he said.

A combination of clear-cut logging in the Tahoe Basin during the Comstock mining era and a century of aggressive fire suppression has resulted in an evenly aged, unhealthy and overly thick forest that is ripe for explosive wildfires, experts say.

An already dangerous situation is worsened by drought and insect attack on weakened trees.

The inevitable alternative to humans thinning the forest is for a massive fire to do the job instead, Miller said.

"The fuel loading problem in this basin is going to be taken care of one way or the other," Miller said.