The snow and colder weather settling in the Tahoe Basin is a welcome gift for those actively managing the two-month-old Caldor fire.
While containment lines are no longer in jeopardy, the extreme drought conditions that helped the fire consume more than 220,000 acres will keep the fire active until heavier snow or rain seeps in. As welcome as it is for the fire, it also allows us to prepare for the potential post-fire impacts of ash, sediment and debris.
Being able to breathe from the fire allows the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and our partner agencies to focus on the immediate next steps, understand what the Caldor and other fires mean for Tahoe, and do all they can to. prepare for the next forest fire. in the basin.
The US Forest Service and Cal Fire have already started repairing bulldozer lines and preparing for post-fire recovery, but longer-term mitigation, science and monitoring are needed. Additionally, TRPA and Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program partners are working to bring more resources to the basin and scale up forest fire protection and forest fuel reduction projects. As always, there is a lot that each of us as individuals can do to help.
Recovery and science
TRPA is engaged with USDA’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, state and local agencies, and landowners on immediate risks to water safety and quality and on emergency stabilization. The upcoming report from the USFS Burned Area Emergency Response Team will help guide as much work as possible before winter arrives, with the ultimate goal of restoring the burned area and lines. bulldozer as close as possible to pre-fire conditions.
Scientific partners, through the Tahoe Science Advisory Board, respond quickly to potential negative effects of wildfires through sampling and data collection. An extensive monitoring system already in place is assisting research, and expanded sampling in affected waterways will help us understand the effects of fires on water quality. Research priorities will assess the impact of smoke and ash on the lake, how fuel management in the fire has worked compared to untreated forest, and assess techniques for restoring water quality.
A landscape resilient to climate change
There is no doubt that we are in a climate emergency. It is estimated that one in three Americans has been personally affected by recent extreme weather events. Here in Lake Tahoe, a 2019 Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment predicts that the average number of acres burned in the Tahoe Basin each decade could increase up to seven times by the end of this century.
The kind of forest fuel reduction, defensible space, and hardening of homes that helped firefighters in the Caldor blaze simply won’t be enough, as higher temperatures, mega-fires, and prolonged drought are changing. the ecosystem. Forest resilience is truly a landscape-scale problem that requires strong partnerships and big, holistic solutions. Thinning trees and vegetation around houses, making buildings more resistant to ignition, working as neighborhoods in fire preparedness, maintaining fuel reduction projects around communities, and now treating entire forest stands are all essential to our climate resilience.
Lake Tahoe EIP partners have completed more than 87,000 acres of fuel reduction treatments around communities since 1997. To expand, TRPA and its partners are collaborating with the Lake Tahoe West Restoration Partnership, a planned 59,000 acre forest resilience project. for the west coast. The project will combine stream restoration, habitat and fuel reduction and may become a model for further addressing Tahoe’s most dangerous areas.
What you can do
There is no lack of means for each of us. First and foremost, plan to stay out of closed areas affected by the fire and encourage others to do so as well. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association and the Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association are already raising funds to help improve existing trails and possibly rebuild some of the world class trails that were damaged by the fire.
To help protect water quality, you can download the Tahoe Citizen Science app to your phone and use it to measure and report ash, debris, and water quality issues. Registering your car with a Lake Tahoe license plate in Nevada or California supports water quality restoration projects that help protect the lake from the impacts of wildfires, more extreme weather events and changes in precipitation regimes.
Homeowners and neighborhood leaders can visit tahoelivingwithfire.com to learn more about defensible space, felling trees, hardening the house, and becoming a fire-friendly community.
Finally, keep hoping for more snow!
Joanne S. Marchetta is Executive Director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency