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Officials say Tahoe should be first in line

Associated Press

RENO – Two California lawmakers say Lake Tahoe should be one of the first places in the country to receive money from increased federal allocations to thin overgrown forests.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and state Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, are scheduled to host a conference of fire agencies at South Lake Tahoe on Saturday to plan how to increase forest thinning activity there.

“My objective is to be the first one across the line,” Leslie said. “We consider Tahoe to be the most important area of them all.”

The Bush administration hopes to spend about $680 million this year to thin 3.7 million acres of public land deemed particularly vulnerable to wildfire.

The Healthy Forests Restoration Act, signed into law late last year, would increase spending for thinning projects in 2005 to $760 million, if fully funded by Congress.

The administration wants local communities to prepare plans for local thinning projects, which then must be approved by state foresters, the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management, Leslie said.

Leslie said he has received support from Feinstein in beginning the planning process at Tahoe.

The plan is to have a strategy prepared by August for presentation during the annual Lake Tahoe summit, which commemorates then-President Clinton’s 1997 visit to the lake and intensified efforts to preserve the national treasure.

During the 1997 event, Feinstein said she was told about 30 percent of Tahoe’s trees were dead or dying. The senator said she was concerned the fire danger there remains critical.

“The forests around Lake Tahoe are at risk for catastrophic wildfire,” Feinstein said.

Decades of costly efforts to preserve the Tahoe Basin and reverse the continuing loss of the lake’s clarity also could be devastated, Leslie said.

“We’ve spent decades and millions, and one catastrophic fire could ruin everything,” Leslie said. “We just can’t let that happen.”

Two-thirds of the money made available through the Healthy Forests Restoration Act is targeted for logging and controlled burning of forested areas closest to communities – the area of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s No. 1 priority for 2004, according to John Singlaub, the agency’s executive director.

“It fits in exactly with what we’ve been working on,” Singlaub said. “What we’re hoping to do is get a head start on this.”