A California assemblyman and a U.S. senator are expected to join a March 13 meeting with Tahoe officials to discuss ways to receive a chunk of $700 million of federal money under President Bush's Healthy Forest Restoration Act.
The Lake Tahoe Community College forum will be the first major step toward obtaining significant money to make the Lake Tahoe Basin fire-safe.
"If we had a holocaust fire in the basin, all that stuff would go into the lake, and that would be a tragedy, along with the loss of life and the loss of property," said Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, who is scheduled to participate in the forum.
The act, signed into law by Bush in December 2003, reduces the threat of wildfires through project planning, prescribed burning and forest thinning.
"I can't think of a better place to demonstrate what a healthy forest should look like than the natural treasure we know as Lake Tahoe," Leslie said.
The forum will include representatives from the basin's environmental agencies, fire districts and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein is expected to join, but has yet to confirm.
The first phase of the fire-management action plan is due Aug. 1. The plan, financed by a $660,000 grant from the Bureau of Reclamation, will assess the basin's fire risks. The only assessments in the works are for South Lake Tahoe and Incline Village.
The second phase, due in March 2005, involves education and the construction of fire-safe homes.
"As far as planning for the Healthy Forest Initiative, we're already on that road," said Carl Hasty, TRPA's deputy director. "We can celebrate the fact that Tahoe is already on its way."
Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, views the March forum as a means to partner money with fire prevention.
"Significant funding will really boost the effort," she said. "Right now there is funding coming in for fuels reduction and ecosystem restoration, but more is needed, and this new funding will certainly help move us in the right direction."
Participants will break up into six groups representing the six fire districts for discussion on the first phase at Lake Tahoe's environmental summit. Around that time, the head foresters in Nevada and California would be charged with accepting the plan. If approved, it would go to the U.S. Forest Service for funding, Leslie said.
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