Wildfires Threaten Lake Tahoe

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Lake Tahoe, the usually peaceful, serene oasis nestled on the California-Nevada border, has recently played host to invasive species, threatening wildfires, climate change and a potentially catastrophic drought, officials warned on Tuesday. The announcement came during the annual summit meeting about protecting the quintessential lake.

The conference had opposing federal lawmakers finding common ground by agreeing on at least one point throughout the meeting, which was that an increase in logging should play a large role in reducing the potential for wildfires. Those that attended the annual summit mentioned that decades of suppressing wildfires has left many forests in the area too thick with trees, which can lead to disease and increase the likelihood that high-intensity fires could spread and flourish.

At the meeting, over 300 participants listened as officials mentioned that revenue from logging could help raise money for forest improvements and maintenance. Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein summoned the 18th annual summit meeting. She mentioned that there are too many rules and regulations that prevented the removal of dead and overcrowded trees both before and after wildfires take place. She also thought back to 70 years ago, when she first visited the lake, and remembered that in the place of the now dense forests were lush alpine meadows.

Nevada and California senators, along with Feinstein, are pushing legislation to provide an extra $415 million from the federal government to address the danger of wildfires, the threat of invasive species, and also to reduce the amount of erosion, which clouds the lake that is famed for its clarity. Concurrently, state and federal officials from both the state of California and the state of Nevada, as well as both political parties, signed a proclamation at the summit meeting which supported timber reduction, and efforts to prevent wildfires near Lake Tahoe.

Those who signed the proclamation include the governors of both California and Nevada, two U.S. senators from Nevada and one from California, as well as a U.S. representative. Several mentioned that the region learned a lesson in fire prevention after dealing with a wind-driven wildfire that destroyed over 250 houses around the south shore of Lake Tahoe seven years ago.

One U.S. representative from California, John Garamendi, did not sign the proclamation. He mentioned that, while logging can play a role in conservation efforts, it is not the permanent solution. He condemned Republican leaders for blocking a proposal that would have protected federal money that was intended for forest management so that the funds would not be diverted to firefighting.

During the summit, the governor of Nevada addressed the audience, and mentioned that three years of drought had drastically affected the lake. Because the water levels are so low, the shoreline had receded, tour boats cannot operate, and many docks have been rendered useless. The lack of rainwater negatively affects otherwise healthy trees by putting stress on them which makes them more susceptible to disease, insects, and fires.

When the summit meetings started in 1997, researchers discovered that they could only see 64 feet down into the lake. Now, thanks to the programs that control threatening wildfires, infestation and erosion, researchers are able to peer into Lake Tahoe at a depth of around 75 feet.

By Laura “Addi” Simmons

San Jose Mercury News
Tahoe Fund
The Sacramento Bee