The Legislature on Saturday, May 22, 2021.
Photo: David Calvert / The Nevada Independent
Lawmakers were told Friday that climate change is driving environmental changes in the Tahoe Basin, including a significant increase in wildfires.
‘We don’t really have a fire season anymore,” said Julie Reagan of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, adding it’s year round now.
Nevada Division of Forestry director Casey KC said wildfires are increasing in “quantity, frequency and intensity.” She said that includes, “a huge increase in human-caused fires.”
Erick Walker of the U.S. Forest Service’s Tahoe Management Unit said the Caldor Fire that started in the middle of August last year burned nearly 222,000 acres, more than 10,000 acres in the Tahoe Basin. He said that includes the loss of some 40 recreational houses in the basin.
He said they are looking at initial fire restrictions beginning with the July 4 weekend including banning open fires except in developed camp and recreational sites.
He said his experts are now examining those burn sites to see what chemical and other pollutants may be in the runoff headed for the lake.
Devin Middlebrook, sustainability manager for the TRPA, said the impacts of climate change are happening today.
“We’re seeing more rain and less snow,” he said. “By the end of the century we’re expecting our winter season to be cut in half.”
Middlebrook said wildfires threaten $26.9 billion in property values and that annual road damage could exceed $75 million in the basin. He pointed to the huge boulder that recently closed Highway 50 at Cave Rock.
And Sudeep Chandra of the Tahoe Science Advisory Council said they are still studying the impact of Caldor on Lake Tahoe’s clarity from nutrients and particle matter flushed into the lake after the fire.
The comments came during presentations to the legislative interim committee on Lake Tahoe and Marlette Lake.
The committee is scheduled to meet again July 15.