Big Jack East Hazardous Fuel Project on the Tahoe NF- Before and After Sliders and Some NEPA Stuff

These don’t slide but the ones on the website do.


I’m trying to catch up after being gone for two weeks, so if there’s something you think worthy of discussion, please post under the New Topics tab above.

Awhile back I posted some photos of fuel treatments from Oregon that were strictly not before and after on the same piece of ground.

Thanks to Nick Smith, here’s a link to a National Forest Foundation piece, which is cool because of the before and after photos of the Big Jack East Project south of the town of Truckee on the Tahoe National Forest. The project is 2000 acres.

and the fact that there is a slide feature.

Some interesting features of the decision..

It was an EA. The EA itself was 132 pages.

They have a 78 page response to comments. As far as I can tell (but they might be documented elsewhere), there were no objections.

They also have a specific document in a table that arrays “opposing science”, the name of the reference, and the response. It’s 55 pages.  In this case, the scientific papers cited are very repetitive in their claims, and often referred to places outside the Sierra Nevada.   I think they put an explanation in the wrong column for Opposing view 47 but I still thought it was a pretty good explanation. Perhaps the FS has a general place where folks post cited research and responses so the wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented?


11 thoughts on “Big Jack East Hazardous Fuel Project on the Tahoe NF- Before and After Sliders and Some NEPA Stuff”

  1. The before/after sliders are great. Every thinning/fuels project ought to include such images. Note the two “large” trees marked in the third slider set — large, but not old growth. IMHO, this was a light tough — they could have taken a bit more of the small trees.

    • So explain why getting rid of the largest trees is a good thing for anything other than profit. Wouldn’t these trees have been here regardless of human-altered fire history, and if so they didn’t contribute to “uncharacteristic” fire or to poor forest “health.”

      • Thinning is often guided by basal area targets. If a stand has 120 square feet of basal area per acre and the desired condition is 80 square feet of basal area per acre to promote forest health and resilience, one has to remove — harvest — 40 square feet of basal area per acre. Sometimes that goal can be accomplished by removing only relatively small trees, but sometimes larger trees must be cut. Such decisions may be made without consideration of profit. However, revenue from such harvests often helps pay for the work. And, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s good forestry.

        FWIW, the consequence of NOT harvesting that stand with 120 square feet of basal area per acre may be weakened trees that are susceptible to drought, insects, disease, and perhaps intense wildfire.

        • Basal area targets are not sufficient to achieve either ecological or fuel reduction goals. The size of the trees matters. We shouldn’t keep doing it this way just because we’ve always done it this way to produce timber. I’m still not seeing a situation where “larger trees must be cut” for reasons other than timber production. The closest I can get is that climate has changed the site conditions so that it can’t support as many big trees. That argument should require a lot of evidence before trading off the known benefits those trees provide.

  2. Oh, the spin on this one! The retired Truckee RD fuels management officer was opposed Big Jack East when it was discovered how many larger trees were marked for removal, relative to how many large trees are in the area. The initial mark included bunch of beautiful healthy trees behind their house that in no way represented a fire hazard or a forest health issue.

    I did a site visit out there and it was very clear the initial mark was a giant overreach and not defensible. I believe it was eventually worked it out to some degree, and they got the black paint out and did some cruising to keep quite a few of the bigger trees that had been marked. The primary fuels issues in the area are older plantations that had never been thinned and a lot of shrubs that will keep coming back if frequent fire is not returned to the area (which the community complains about to no end).

    Funny, some of the older unthinned plantations were ignored in the initial proposal, including extremely dense unthinned plantations within a few hundred feed of houses and next to larger trees marked for removal. Ignoring the plantations and marking of the large trees in the WUI defense zone was a glaring demonstration that this was way more about the timber than the fuels.

  3. The before pictures show more diverse vegetation and more animal habitat.
    Improved fire safety for sure but the claim of improved forest health sounds like BS.

    • Many prescriptions include “skips” that leave areas unthinned for precisely that reason. Breaking up large areas of contiguous fuels can be important to restore forest conditions to a more fire-resilient state, but that doesn’t mean everything needs to be thinned the same way across large areas.

    • Woody, I think it depends on how you define “forest health”, or “ecosystem health” or habitat for what kinds of wildlife, or returning the forest to HRV, or whatever. If you are going for HRV plus underburning, how much should best be “left alone”? There are many ways of thinking about that but no one correct answer.. depends on specific values. Plus much will be left alone because funding only goes so far.

      • I agree! But there was no discussion of what “forest health” meant here, merely glib assertions that “This Is What A Healthy Forest Looks Like”. One suspects that they can’t see the forest for the trees.

        • A new open-access study may help shed light on the topic of thinning: “Shaded fuel breaks create wildfire-resilient forest stands: lessons from a long-term study in the Sierra Nevada.”


          In California’s mixed-conifer forests, fuel reduction treatments can successfully reduce fire severity, bolster forest resilience, and make lasting changes in forest structure. However, current understanding of the duration of treatment effectiveness is lacking robust empirical evidence. We leveraged data collected from 20-year-old forest monitoring plots within fuel treatments that captured a range of wildfire occurrence (i.e., not burned, burned once, or burned twice) following initial plot establishment and overstory thinning and prescribed fire treatments.

          Initial treatments reduced live basal area and retained larger-diameter trees; these effects persisted throughout the 20-year study period. Wildfires maintained low surface and ground fuel loads established by treatments. Treatments also reduced the probability of torching immediately post-treatment and 20 years post initial thinning treatments.

          Fuel treatments in conifer-dominated forests can conserve forest structure in the face of wildfire. Additionally, findings support that the effective lifespans of treatments can be extended by wildfire occurrence. Our results suggest that continued application of shaded fuel breaks is not only a sound strategy to ensure forest persistence through wildfire but may also be compatible with restoration objectives aimed at allowing for the use of more ecologically beneficial fire across landscapes.

  4. This response to comments is a good approach, but seems fairly weak in substance. It is framed in terms of the degree of effect – yes these effects would occur but would not be “significant enough” to have the alleged effect. Says who, based on what? Is 60% canopy a research-supported figure? While they acknowledge that the alleged effects may occur, they do not cite to any analysis that addresses the question of degree for these specific circumstances. They just seem to be expressing an unsupported opinion.


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