Trees across the Sierra region are now being covered in snow, and wildfire is not top of mind for most people. The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team, however, is taking action year round to protect lives, property and the environment within the Lake Tahoe Basin from wildfire. This collaborative group formed in 2008 and includes 21 federal, tribal, state and local conservation, land management and fire agencies.

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 “One of the most important ways that we improve forest health and our community’s safety is by implementing priority fuel reduction projects such as thinning trees and conducting prescribed burns,” North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection Division Chief Isaac Powning said, incident commander of the TFFT.

In 2023 partners treated thousands of acres of forested and urban lots to reduce hazardous fuels. They made significant progress on many urgent Environmental Improvement Program projects, such as the NV Energy Resilience Corridors Project. The project is thinning forests around NV Energy utility infrastructure, reducing hazardous fuels that could otherwise ignite a fire. Once complete, the project will create resilient forests adjacent to 28 miles of NV Energy utility infrastructure and will have thinned 290 acres.

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“This work is crucial in improving the safety and resilience of our power system that serves the Lake Tahoe Basin, while at the same time improving forest health and being respectful of the sensitive ecosystem and environment the Tahoe area has to offer,” vice president of energy delivery and natural disaster protection for NV Energy Jesse Murray said.

Thinning forests is only part of the equation. Partners then must remove the biomass by hauling it away or conducting prescribed burns. California State Parks conducted a prescribed fire understory burning operation on a 60-acre plot in Burton Creek State Park this fall. Understory burns improve forest health but are only administered following initial fuel reduction and pile burning to reduce the amount of understory vegetation. Managing and maintaining this forest landscape will provide additional fire protection to adjacent homes and community structures in the event of a wildfire. 

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“Most people recognize that the smoke generated from these prescribed burns is vastly better than the smoke we would see if a wildfire burned through an un-maintained landscape,” said California State Parks Natural Resources Manager Rich Adams. “When we burn, we have to follow strict standards, but wildfires can be much more prolonged and difficult to contain.”

TFFT partners work closely with the community to educate people about how to prepare for wildfire. Fire protection districts and other partners inspected and provided chipping and home hardening and defensible space recommendations for thousands of privately-owned properties this year. Tahoe Regency Planning Agency inspected and provided tree removal permits to more than 1,000 homeowners. In Incline Village, partners conducted an evacuation drill to test the effectiveness of the regional evacuation, current shelter and mass care plan in response to a simulated wildland fire. And neighborhoods are banding together to create fire adapted communities with the help of Tahoe Resource Conservation District.

“More and more communities are becoming firewise, a national recognition program to assist with becoming more resistant to wildfire,” said Tahoe RCD Fire Adapted Communities Program Manager Jason Brand. “In April of 2022, we had 12 firewise neighborhoods in Tahoe, now we have 31 certified communities.”

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Tahoe RCD has also been leading the Community Wildfire Protection Plan update, a vital initiative aimed at safeguarding the community against the threat of catastrophic wildfires. There have been virtual and in-person public meetings around the Tahoe Basin and Tahoe RCD received more than 600 responses to a bilingual survey to help shape the update.

The CWPP draft will be available for public comment in spring 2024, and once complete will help attract funding and prioritize projects in Lake Tahoe.

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“It’s incredible to see how much we’ve accomplished this year working with partners and our communities,” said Powning. “Thank you to everyone who has contributed to making Lake Tahoe safer. We’ve got a long way to go but I’m confident we’ll get there by continuing to collaborate on key forest health projects, community education and partnerships at all levels.”

Above Photo:California State Parks conducted a prescribed fire understory burning operation on a 60-acre plot in Burton Creek State Park this fall. Photo by Rich Adams

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Author: News Release