Dry Sierra Winter

I recently drove over California’s Carson Pass and spent a day in the Lake Tahoe Basin. The weather was good, so I decided to save some money and camp out (!) for two nights (and spending $42 for a night in Reno).

My day at Tahoe began encased in ice, as moist and cold air flowed down the canyon I was camping in. I quickly gathered my frozen gear and stuffed it into the car, making my way to Truckee, and precious morning coffee. From there, I drove down Highway 89, which was very familiar to me, as I used to bicycle, hitch hike and drive it, many times a week, when I lived there, in the 80’s. I continued along the west shore of Lake Tahoe, to reach my first planned stop at Eagle Rock. I had last climbed it in the mid 80’s, and I didn’t know there were now two trails to the top. It was still a bit icy on top but the amazing views sure hadn’t changed. Eagle Rock is a post-glacial volcanic plug, where Blackwood Canyon meets Lake Tahoe.

It appears that the bark beetles haven’t yet arrived in Tahoe yet but, they sure are knocking on the door. I did see bug patches in the southern part of the Eldorado. I heard about one landowner who had 42 bug trees on their property.


I later visited the famous Emerald Bay, and you will see pictures of that in another post.

Along Highway 88, on the Eldorado National Forest, they have this interesting project being worked on, during the winter. I’m guessing that units have to find other ways to spend their timber bucks since litigation has returned diameter limits to the old unreasonable sizes imposed in 2000. It looks like this project is a highway strip, intended to be a quasi-fuelbreak. It does appear that some trees up to 9″ dbh were taken out, for spacing. There are going to be a ton of tiny piles to burn, and the California Air Resources Board has not been kind to the Forest Service in granting waivers on No-Burn days. And, yes, the piles are covered with burnable material that will keep the pile dry, so ignition will be easy.


Can we start calling these things “Big Thin Lies”? It is what people see, and they think all forests look like these cleanly thinned and piled forests.

10 thoughts on “Dry Sierra Winter”

  1. Thinning looks OK to me. Maybe could be a little more variable spacing and pruned up some more, but it’s good to retain canopy to help maintain cool, moist microclimate and suppress growth of ladder fuels.

    • Well, it is something to do with their timber dollars, rather than just turning it back to the Treasury, eh? BTW, such forests are only “moist and cool”, during the winter, when there isn’t a major drought. Sierra Nevada forests are usually bone-dry in mid-July through September.

  2. Why do they have to burn the slash, i mean why not mulch it and allow the micro-organisms feeding back to the trees ? Just curious

    • And, just HOW MUCH would such a policy cost, across so very many acres? And just how will that affect the ability of that land to resist wildfires? The real purpose behind having a fuelbreak is to reduce fuels. Mulching isn’t a good fuels reduction technique. I guess we could mulch everything but end up installing less than 25% of the fuelbreaks where we need them. Of course, we could also do nothing and pretend that “Whatever Happens” is just “fine and dandy”, eh?

      • I apologize for causing you upset, I was only curious. Again, I only asked a question as I love to use mulch to use in my landscape and some restoration techniques years ago. But again, sorry I upset you.

        • I’m also sorry for causing you to write an apology. It wasn’t necessary or expected. Actually, the Forest Service sometimes requires slash from roadside hazard tree projects to be chipped and scattered. Your question was, indeed, a valid one, from the general public’s point of view. All work done on a project has to be assessed for costs and put into the bidding package. Projects have to make a profit for the contractor, at least on paper, at a bare minimum, reflected by the bidding. With no products to offset the costs, this becomes a “Service Contract”, where the Forest Service pays for the work to be done, according to project specs. Sometimes there is a timber sale component embedded with such projects, making products out of the harvested trees, as saw logs, or as biomass.

  3. Hopefully there is snow and wet weather to come. I always think thinning projects should produce some resource for wood products. Maybe this one did. Of course I alway thought that the biggest and best dead or dangerous trees in a project area should go to town.
    Nice photos!

  4. Those piles appear to have been hand-piled, a terribly expensive proposition. To mulch would only add to the expense. Better to use that money for more productive purposes.

    I heard a national forest supervisor speak the other day. He was quite proud of the work his forest is doing as they work toward converting plantations from 50-60 years ago into late successional reserves and that his forest still has another 20 years of work to do. The thinning to accomplish this is producing some wood though he said the wood currently being produced is 1% of what the forest could sustainably produce. He seemed pretty vague about what the forest will do after those 20 years have passed.

    He is not being sued (a good thing) and that seemed to be his measure of success. Afterwards, several of us felt this measure of “success” seemed to meet a rather low standard.


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