Frequently asked questions about wildfires

Can we fireproof the Tahoe Basin?

Answer: No. The forests of the Tahoe Basin adapted to fire, and even in optimum forest health prior to settlement, an average of 10,000 acres burned annually - primarily in low and slow intensity. We cannot stop fires, but we can manage fire risks through strategic fuels reduction, and by managing forest health improvement through the use of prescribed fire.

What is being done to reduce fire risks to communities?

Answer: The Forest Service along with state and local fire protection services have been conducting a variety of fuels reduction and forest ecosystem restoration projects to return vulnerable forest lands to natural levels of fire tolerance while reducing the risks of unnaturally large and destructive wildfires.

Work is concentrated in and around communities to create defense zones for communities. Methods include hand and mechanical treatments including thinning of overstocked stands, as well as chipping and prescribed fire to eliminate fuel loads, and prescribed fire under-burns after other treatments.

Will work involve clear cuts?

Answer: No. Each stand will be treated to return the stand as much as possible to its natural stand density, removing the overabundance of smaller diameter trees and leaving the stand with the dominance of mid-sized to larger trees.

Will this mean bringing heavy equipment into sensitive stream zones?

Answer: No. Most work that would be done in sensitive stream zones would be done by hand or through the use of light- on-land vehicles (not tractors or bulldozers), or by over snow periods etc. Stream zones can be significant fire corridors in urban areas, but not all require fuels reduction work.

Will this mean cutting of old growth trees?

Answer: Old growth contributes to forest health, wildlife habitat and natural forest fire tolerance. Retaining old growth will be key to the success of fuels reduction and ecosystem restoration.

Current standards allow for removal of trees less than 30 inches in diameter, and in several areas this standard has been in place for many years. However, throughout most of the Tahoe Basin, stand examinations show that the diameters needing to be removed are mostly less than 20 inches. Many stands are currently up to eight times the density prior to settlement, and much of the over-growth is invasive fir, rather than naturally dominant pine.

Compiled by Rex Norman, public information officer for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service


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