A Tale of Three Projects – South Shore Fuel Reduction

The 10,000-plus South Shore fuels project could begin in 2012. Photo/LTN file

An interesting thing that happens on this blog is that we get “into the weeds” or snags (?) of projects in different parts of the country, so we can compare the different approaches and concerns. We also have readers with on-the-ground experience in many of these areas. Thanks to Derek for submitting these articles about the South Shore Fuel Reduction in California. It’s interesting for a number of reasons, the size, the cost ($40 million), the ICW (Index of Comparative WUI-ness), and the fact it used the objection process. The three projects we are currently discussing are Colt Summit (Montana), Goose (Oregon) and now this one. In the past, we’ve examined a host of others.

10,000-acre thinning project may start in 2012 on S. Shore

Posted By admin On October 11, 2011
By Kathryn Reed

With parts of the forest near developed areas being in prime condition for a wildland fire much like in June 2007 when the Angora Fire consumed more than 3,000 acres, the U.S. Forest Service is ready to do something about that land.

Once the long-awaited South Shore Fuel Reduction and Healthy Forest Restoration Project gets under way – which could be next summer — 10,112 acres will be treated.
The 10,000-plus South Shore fuels project could begin in 2012. Photo/LTN file [1]

The 10,000-plus South Shore fuels project could begin in 2012. Photo/LTN file

Duncan Leao, U.S. Forest Service forester, calls the wildland urban interface (this is where the forest abuts development) on the South Shore one of the areas in the basin that most needs treatment.

“It’s important work to do. We don’t want another Angora Fire. The conditions we are looking at in many places on the South Shore are conditions we saw in Angora before the fire,” Leao told Lake Tahoe News.

It will take about four years to thin the trees, with another four years for follow-up treatments. In all, it is roughly estimated to cost $40 million. The U.S. Forest Service, mostly through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, has secured three-quarters of that figure.

Before a single branch is limbed or tree felled, comments on the project will be taken until Oct. 28 from anyone who submitted a comment when the environmental impact statement was first released. If anyone files an objection to the final EIS, it triggers a 30-day resolution period.

Ultimately it is up to the forest supervisor to sign off on the document, allowing the project to go forward.

Then comes the process to obtain the necessary permits. The one from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board is the biggie.

However, Lauri Kemper, No. 2 at the regional water board, said the draft of the permit has been on hold since February 2010. But it takes more than a signature to make it valid.

California Environmental Quality Act regs are what Lahontan is going by. Lahontan officials must certify the EIS addresses CEQA concerns.

The project will involve working in stream environmental zones – that’s a main sticking point for the water board. It doesn’t mean no permit; it means a thorough review and not just taking the Forest Service at its word that the EIS is complete and addresses those concerns.

“We’re all for fuels reduction,” Kemper said.

What could hold up the project is the Lahontan board may not grant a permit until its May meeting. The Forest Service cannot go out to bid until all the permits are in place. This could delay work in what is already a limited season for thinning because dirt in the basin, per TRPA rules, can only be disturbed between May 1-Oct. 15.

A combination of mechanical and hand treatments are likely to be used.

Whether hand thinning could begin without the Lahontan permit depends on what type of permit Lahontan decides to issue. There are three possible ways it can permit the project.

Trees 16-inches and less in diameter are likely to be felled by hand, while those up to 30 inches would be taken out by machines. Most likely the process will be similar to what is being done in the Angora area [2] in terms of the machines used. The forest pattern will be different because Angora is mostly about removing dead trees.

“A lot of hand work goes pretty quick. Then (people) would see piles. Those may last a couple years,” Leao explained. “With the mechanical you do not see as many piles because most of it is removed.”

Trails used by recreationists will either be off-limits at times or rerouted to ensure no one is hurt as the work is being done.

“It will be a combo of biomass and merchantable material — stuff that could go to a mill will depend if there is a mill nearby. The market is very difficult to predict,” Leao said. “If no sawmill is open, then contractors would have to determine what to do with that. It’s very helpful to have both biomass and saw log markets.”

The USFS decides which trees to thin first based on size – taking out the smallest at the get-go. Then the health of the tree and species are determining factors.

Jeffery and sugar pine, incense cedar and larger trees are ones Leao said the Forest Service wants to keep.

Diseased trees, including ones with mistletoe, will be on the chopping block.

“Ideally, you want a forest with multiple sizes and age classes. You can’t do that with thinning alone,” Leao said. “As we get the WUI stuff done, the forest still has an even age to it. Fire and planting trees, and other methods could be used to get it into a healthier condition. That is more long term.”

To view the South Shore final EIS, go online. [3]

The comments are interesting also as they suggest a charitable firewood program for the elderly.

So I looked up the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act, which will provide the funding


The Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act (SNPLMA) became law in October 1998. It allows the Bureau of Land Management to sell public land within a specific boundary around Las Vegas, Nevada. The revenue derived from land sales is split between the State of Nevada General Education Fund (5%), the Southern Nevada Water Authority (10%), and a special account available to the Secretary of the Interior for:

Parks, Trails, and Natural Areas
Capital Improvements
Conservation Initiatives
Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plans (MSHCP)
Environmentally Sensitive Land Acquisitions
Hazardous Fuels Reduction and Wildfire Prevention
Eastern Nevada Landscape Restoration Act
Lake Tahoe Restoration Act Projects

Other provisions in the SNPLMA direct certain land sale and acquisition procedures, direct the BLM to convey title of land in the McCarran Airport noise zone to Clark County, and provide for the sale of land for affordable housing.

Here are a couple of other links on this project:

Massive South Shore fuels reduction project approved

January, 13 2012
Staff Report
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit has approved a more than 10,000 acre project to reduce wildfire risk to communities at Lake Tahoe’s South Shore and restore the health of the area’s forests, according to a Friday statement.

The South Shore Fuel Reduction and Healthy Forest Restoration Project will thin trees and brush on national forest system land from Cascade Lake to the Nevada stateline. The project will take approximately eight years.

The project is designed to provide defensible space, reduce the risk of high intensity fire and create forests better able to resist drought, insects and disease, while restoring stream environment zones, meadows and aspen stands, according to the statement.

Thinning by crews with chain saws, removing trees using tracked and rubber-tired equipment and prescribed fire are included in the project.

The Forest Service plans to move forward with hand thinning as soon as conditions allow. Mechanical thinning will undergo permitting through the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board before starting.

“The fuel reduction efforts outlined in the South Shore project are critical to protecting our communities from wildfire,” said LTBMU Forest Supervisor Nancy Gibson in the statement. “We will continue to work closely with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, and our goal is to begin implementing the project this summer.”

The Forest Service has coordinated with other public land management agencies and local fire protection districts to ensure the fuels reduction work will complement local Community Wildfire Protection Plans, according to the statement.

Detailed project information is available online at: www.fs.usda.gov/goto/ltbmu/SouthShoreFuelReduction.

and Extensive Fuels Reduction Project faces challenges.

9 thoughts on “A Tale of Three Projects – South Shore Fuel Reduction”

  1. This is just another example of “environmentalists” who now want logging to come back and save them. Logging in the pristine environment of Lake Tahoe would be like logging in a national park. Many years ago, the Clinton administration spearheaded initiatives to reduce sediment delivery to protect the lakes famous “water clarity.” You had to “get a permit”, that was seldom granted, to cut any trees on your own property. The USFS seldom, if ever, logged in the basin. And then came the Angora Fire. Now every federal, state and local agency has declared that “the biggest threat to water clarity” is wildfire induced erosion. Wildfire has driven an astounding 180 degree change in attitude, similar to the attitude change seen through out the rest of the West.

    As Sharon noted, It will cost $40 million dollars to “treat” 10,000 acres(half is not mechanical). $4000 dollars/acre.(It is hoped that $10 million dollars will be recouped from the sale of timber-if anyone wants to buy it.)This project has been “appealed”(objected) and will likely be litigated (unlike other enviro enclaves like Santa Fe and Colorado). It couldn’t be a dumber public relations move by the radical enviros.Imagine if you will,the public’s hostile reaction if a wildfire would burn through the areas that were tied up in litigtion. It’s similar to the Alliance for Wild Rockies litigating a timber sale in Bozeman Montana’s municipal watershed. What could they possiblely gain.Or is it just a sign of the extent of their paranoia that these projects are just an excuse for “big Timber” to log more? Bizzaro-land.

    • derek says,

      “It couldn’t be a dumber public relations move by the radical enviros. Imagine if you will,the public’s hostile reaction if a wildfire would burn through the areas that were tied up in litigation. It’s similar to the Alliance for Wild Rockies litigating a timber sale in Bozeman Montana’s municipal watershed. What could they possibly gain.”

      Le’ts see, what could be gained from, say, an Alliance for Wild Rockies lawsuit? Maybe that the Forest Service might be compelled to comply with NEPA? Maybe, if ever a FACA lawsuit were brought, that the Forest Service might be compelled to comply with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA)Wikipedia link. (Note to self: Need to search out previous FACA lawsuits and current law to see what “comply with FACA” means today.) Maybe that the media and the general public might want to get better informed as to what is “in play” w/r/t “collaboratives” and not be too eager think them, in their current form, a panacea.

      • Dave, you know and I know that this is not really about “complying with NEPA”. The groups either don’t want the project at all, or want it changed. That’s OK for them to have those feelings. But I don’t believe that however more pages of analysis with the same decision at the end of the day is going to do the trick to get them on board. Maybe I’m wrong in this case.

        No one ever said that collaborative work is a panacea. It is a potential way out of our stalemates, through discussion among people with different views.

        If many groups (self-appointed) get together and work on something, and the FS takes public comment, hears from everyone, and mostly agrees with the group, is that a FACA violation? I’ve even seen line officers not do exactly what a FACA committee recommended.

        I know there is a substantial literature on the efficacy of collaborative groups, so hoping someone can provide some links on or off line.(if off line, I can post, send them to terraveritas@gmail.com).

        • Sharon, please don’t assume that you know what know. Most of the time I’m not even sure what I “know”:

          “Dave, you know and I know that this is not really about “complying with NEPA”.

          Public lands lawsuits are not always about complaining about some project. Often they are filed at the project level, since that is the only venue available for redress of grievances that are disallowed in higher-order venues. The old “it’s not ripe for consideration” routine.

          If many groups (self-appointed) get together and work on something, and the FS takes public comment, hears from everyone, and mostly agrees with the group, is that a FACA violation?

          I suspect that what you suggest would not be considered a FACA violation. But if the Forest Service has a bunch of folks on the committee, and much power in the workings of the committee, e.g. e.g. Southwestern Crown Collaborative (working as FS employees, on government time) that makes the matter something else entirely, I suspect. Of course, one would have to look closely at what FACA law requires of any such committee that might be alleged to be a FACA committtee, and whether said committee might be considered an “outlaw” committee.

          • You’re right, Dave, of course.. We are a stronger community when we are not afraid to correct each other and voice our opinions- so thank you..

            What I meant by that kind of “knowing” is a gut instinct built on experience, about the situation. And it is wrong to attribute motives to others. Ah…the old “ladder of inference.” Easy to learn, hard to do.

            It just is a difficult situation to build trust in.
            If we were in mediation on this, both sides would have to lay out what they want, and live by what they say will resolve the conflict. somehow our current litigation framework, I think, fosters distrust.

            I apologize to those folks I might have offended.

  2. Well, they can’t do prescribed burns, because the fall and winter times have temperature inversions, making it a no-burn day. The thought about burning during the summer but, they saw escaped fires and decided a billion in liability wasn’t a good “gamble”, even in Nevada. Also worth remembering is that some parts of Lake Tahoe was clearcut, right to the water’s edge. So much for “pristine”, eh? Much of the fuels from the big die-off in the early 90’s are still there, waiting for the next inevitable lightning strike, or careless cigarette butt. Either ignition source could be considered “natural”. Another thing about the Tahoe Basin, where I lived for 7 years, is that much of it is decomposed granite, and highly erodible. The west shore is more of a mixed conifer stand, and subject to higher fuels, and higher fire intensities.

  3. I’m all for the project “Foto”. My evil twin would love to see the schelacking the radicals would get in the ring of public opinion if this place burned while litigation delayed treatment.On the other hand, the real gold comes when the public gets to see the surviving “green island” of treated forest amidst a sea of black-especially when it saves homees. The public doesn’t give a crap about following NEPA. They don’t give a crap about the science. It’s all about aesthetics. The USFS is doing a lot of these WUI treatments. It is inevitable that in a future of more wildfires, the public is going to see these “green islands” around their towns, then turn their gaze to all the black outside the city limits, and inevitably ask, “why didn’t they do this in the rest of the forest.” And thierin is the reason we can feel optimistic about the future of forestry.

    Now,I don’t know much about the Sierra’s.So I looked at the “USDA 2009 softwood sawmill profile” and noticed the nearest mill is a “Sierra Pacific Ind. mill at Lincoln”.(In fact, just about every mill in California seems to be Sierra Pacific). That mill is what, 70 miles away from Tahoe-which is a lot closer than the 250 miles that the WUI treatements get to haul their wood in Colorado. Frankly, It blows me away that Cali has so much “sawmilling” capacity.

    • There is a small log mill in Camino but, I believe they have mothballed that SPI mill until business and court conditions improve. The Lincoln mill is for big logs, as well as the Loyalton mill, which also is closed or dismantled. The Quincy small log mill also might be closed, due to Chad Hanson’s “victories” in court. The mill capacity is more of a function of their own vast land acreage. Due to the long hauls, SPI won’t be buying any small timber from the Tahoe Basin.

      I still predict that SPI will abandon the Forest Service timber sale program, due to the fact that they already have as many small trees as they want, on their own lands. It is more about having a sustainable amount of those 20-30″ dbh trees, to keep their big log mills running at a sustainable level. Also, the one mill in SoCal can be expected to close forever, soon. I doubt that Sierra Forest Products mill can be saved, at this time. They will dismantle and liquidate.

      Also, since there hasn’t been any news from the 2004 Amendment lawsuit so, we should assume that no compromise is coming, and the Forest Service will have to, somehow, carry on, without the timber industry, until they can re-amend the fatally-flawed Clinton boondoggle.

  4. At this point – and almost 8 years after the inception of the South Shore Project I’m finding myself somewhat fed-up with the fact this project isn’t well under way. The USFS supposedly had $30 million to do the project and has already wasted $10 MILLION DOLLARS or 1/3 of that figure on eir/eis , studies, NEPA, and CEQA permitting. The USFS took too long to complete the NEPA requirements, then the bickering began between the USFS and Lahotan permitting staff. There was purposeful permit language writing disputes and authoritative battling between these two agencies behind the scenes which further stalled this project for years ! All along – homeowners have unnecessarily been subjected to more years of the danger of another Angora fire or much much worse. Tree huggers and environmentalists have thrown their wrenches in along the way and stalled this even further. To those who dislike the USFS and believe they should leave the forest be – my answer is your point is mute ! When it burns again ( and it will ) it can easily be 20 times the devastation of Angora and with lives lost. I barely survived the Angora fire but the excessively neglected fuels loading is right off the end of the street. I’ve done my defensible space – now it their liability if they continue neglect of their jobs as US forest managers.


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