Aerial view of the 1987 Complex Fire Salvage

I took this shot while flying with a Forest Service buddy in 1989.


I am pretty sure that this is Forest Service land, near the Groveland Ranger District office. When I worked there in 1990, the Timber Management Officer was still angry at the less-than-aggressive post-fire salvage efforts that allowed so many “brain dead” trees to die and add to the fuel loading. I’m sure that all those dead trees had some green needles on them as salvage logging was proceeding. As you can clearly see in the photo, there are PLENTY of snags left in this HUGE wildfire zone. This isn’t even where the fire burned hot. The subsequent bark beetle bloom spread northward, chewing up forests more than 100 miles away. On the Eldorado, our Ranger District harvested 300 million board feet, between 1989 and 1992, of dead and dying timber from the severe bark beetle infestation. We were lucky, able to slide our EIS into place before the litigators could gather their case together. The Tahoe National Forest was too slow, and lost 2 years worth of salvage logging opportunities, turning merchantable dead trees into future wildfire fuels.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit was also hard hit, and slow to react. Here is a 1990 view of the north end of the Lake Tahoe Basin. My first two summers in the Forest Service were spent at the top of that mountain as the Martis Peak fire lookout. Of course, there are a LOT more dying trees up there than just the brown trees. So many of those trees became unmerchantable before they could be salvaged, as the public and eco-groups hoped that “nature” would take care of the problem. Since fire suppression in the Tahoe Basin is ensured, most of those dead trees are now horizontal, and perfectly preserved as fuels for the next big, destructive, erosion-causing, lake-polluting disaster.


11 thoughts on “Aerial view of the 1987 Complex Fire Salvage”

  1. What’s “wrong” with the forest in the 2nd picture? Sounds like the picture was taken in 1990. Sure would be interesting to see what the forest looks like 23 years later. Do you happen to have a modern day photo Larry?

    Also, I must be missing the connection between the 1st picture, which Larry is pretty sure is Forest Service land, with the 2nd picture. Sharon says these pictures are “worth a thousand words,” but I guess I’m having a hard time figuring out what they are trying to say.

    • The message is that the percentage of gray/brown trees is extremely (excessively?) high, which increases the risk for a future large-scale fire. But, even if a fire were not to occur, I believe that such a condition is not desirable in many people’s minds. I grant that some people will say, “what’s wrong with it?”…but many others would have the same comment as Larry. In this case, it’s not a matter of who’s right, but being responsive to public desires. After all, if it is indeed national forest land, then following public desire would be appropriate.

      • Tony

        Re: “it’s not a matter of who’s right, but being responsive to public desires. After all, if it is indeed national forest land, then following public desire would be appropriate.”
        –> Is there any situation where established fact (as opposed to theory) and professional experience ever overrule desire?

        Re: “I believe that such a condition is not desirable in many people’s minds. I grant that some people will say, “what’s wrong with it?””
        –> How is the USFS supposed to work effectively if they have to poll the public every time they have a decision to make?
        –> What good would polling the public do if some environmental group makes a mountain out of a mole hill and exercises its veto power by suing the USFS?
        –> As Larry mentioned elsewhere why should the USFS have to get sneaky and take appropriate action before the environmental groups find out what they are doing?

        Sounds like a pretty impossible task for the USFS and it certainly appears to me to be counter to healthy forests and counter to dealing with global change. As someone once said ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’. There are consequences to ignorance and our children will certainly see our foolishness.

    • The main problems are that this forest is within the WUI, with homes just outside of the picture (maybe some hidden in the trees), and that erosive runoff, from a catastrophic wildfire, would end up in Lake Tahoe. Much of the soils there are highly erosive decomposed granite. So, Matt, do you think that “whatever happens” in the Tahoe Basin is “just fine”?!? Like I said, most of those trees are now laying down, out of sight but still piled up, waiting for that inevitable spark, from a thunderstorm, or a careless human.

      I’m about 98% sure that the first photo was Forest Service land, due to the HUGE amount of snags left standing. I looked on Google Maps and didn’t find the exact location and ownership but, private salvage logging usually takes ALL the trees that were damaged. The connection between the two pictures (which I thought I made clear in the original post), is that bark beetles streamed out of the Stanislaus, northward, into the Eldorado, the Tahoe and the Tahoe Basin. Yet another example of “whatever happens”, when you “let nature take its course”. With all those snags, you would think that the BBW population would have exploded, with millions of snags at their disposal.

      • Hello Larry, Do you happen to have GPS coordinates for the 2nd picture? If not, can you at least describe it’s general location, perhaps in relation to the Martis Peak fire lookout? Thanks for any additional information to help us understand the location and what the forest may look like in the 23 years after you took the picture.

        • I centered Google Maps on where I shot the picture. Now, zoom out and see how many homes are in the area.


          Also, be reminded that the levels of mortality were pretty uniform throughout the entire Tahoe Basin. Yes, I do have more pictures of other areas, in the form of Kodachrome slides. There was some helicopter logging, in the patches that were steep, where the decay wasn’t prohibitive. Generally, helicopter logging requires at least 800 board feet per “turn”. Many times, only the butt logs had any value, and the worthless tree tops were left out in the woods. Tractor logging was less widespread, due to the influence of the local Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, which had powers to control or squelch any and all projects at Tahoe, during that era, in the name of “water clarity”. Yes, I know I am providing information that you hope to use to debunk my message, as you always seek to do. It is my contention that most of the forest surrounding Lake Tahoe should be considered WUI, and I reject any arbitrary distance that seeks to allow “free range wildfires” in most parts of the entire Tahoe Basin. Also, there are plenty of private timberlands outside of the Tahoe Basin, north of Brockway Summit, that appear to have been recently managed.

          Just because those forests are still green, up there, they are far, far away from being “natural” and “pristine”. Here is an example of the Angora Fire, where nature was allowed to “take its course”.


          Be sure to zoom in on that view, to see all the fuels, perfectly preserved, that will fuel another inevitable re-burn. Yes, this is a very lightning prone area, and I know this from being a Lake Tahoe fire lookout for two summers, with 4 acres being the biggest fire that happened while I was on duty.

          • Larry

            You ought to pair your before and after photos with explanations and post them all somewhere (Bob / Sharon) so that they can be used by others to show the fallacies of the environmentalist scat to congress. This is the sort of stuff that the SAF could use if they’d ever get off of their duff and directly confront and challenge the fallacies as their core language item #2 says that they are going to do. SAF Core Language Item #2 is “”We CHALLENGE (my emphasis) land owners, decision makers and society at large to make choices about our forests based on professional knowledge, leading-edge thinking and a century of practical experience””

            The 2013 imagery of the Angora Fire shows a moonscape. How long ago was that fire?

            • The Angora Fire burned in 2007, and destroyed 254 residences and 67 commercial structures, and damaged 35 other homes. Since there were no local mills, only wood chips were “harvested”, after a lawsuit to protect black-backed woodpeckers failed. The fire was enhanced by unharvested trees killed by bark beetles, and thick brush on Angora Ridge.

  2. Additionally, it is very hard for people to continue to describe Tahoe as “pristine” (Yes, they STILL do!), with all those dead trees, everywhere! *smirk* I saw an old picture of the Incline Village area, during the Comstock Lode times, where the forest was clearcut, all the way to the lake’s edge.

    The Angora Fire is an example of what these forests might look like, in the near future.

    • Larry: You need to start scanning those old pictures when you see them, then begin comparing them to your new pictures. There is a whole discipline named Repeat Photography that can change anecdotal information, such as this, into scientific data. This would be a perfect example — your old photo (scanned) compared with a current photo.


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