Plans: Thin Washoe Valley trees for fire threat
October 19, 2004
The U.S. Forest Service intends to log 2,500 acres of overstocked stands of trees beginning next summer to try to reduce wildfire threats in a large block of forested land between Reno and Carson City.
The thinning project is planned within a 5,600-acre area on the edge of the Washoe Valley west of Washoe Lake, agency officials announced Monday. It’s about 10 miles north of where the Waterfall fire burned about 8,000 acres and destroyed 17 homes near Carson City in July.
The forest west and north of Davis Creek Park and Bowers Mansion is one of the largest pieces of forest in the Eastern Sierra that has not had a major fire in recent years, District Ranger Gary Schiff said.
“What is the legacy we want to leave?” Schiff asked. “Do we want to leave a lot of brush fields and snags or protect the forest that we have?
“We want to leave the trees on the hill,” Schiff said.
Environmentalists say they are generally supportive of the plans, but have some concerns about the size of some trees targeted for removal. They say the biggest fire threats come from small-diameter trees and they’d like to see any trees larger than two-feet thick remain in place.
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Schiff said the forest has too many trees of the same age growing too close together. Conditions leave the drought-stressed forest particularly prone to beetle attack and wildfire, according to a report released Monday by the Forest Service.
The plan is to create islands of treated forest that would act as “speed bumps” to slow a fire’s spread and allow firefighters some time to battle a fire, Schiff said. When burning through the treated area, officials hope a fire would keep to the ground rather than grow into a dangerous “crown fire” in which flames jump from treetop to treetop, Schiff said.
“This treatment would protect the area until you get resources to it,” Schiff said.
The area was selected largely due to its proximity to residential neighborhoods, which would be put in jeopardy in the event of a big fire.
“It’s going to greatly reduce the size of any fire that might come in from that direction,” said Jim Underwood, who is helping to organize fire reduction efforts in Galena Forest Estates, north of the project area.
Marge Sill of the Toiyabe chapter of the Sierra Club said her organization supports the project with “some reservations.”
In addition to protecting any trees larger than 24 inches in diameter at chest height, she wants to ensure the project removes brush and the smallest trees that act as “ladder fuels” to spread fire to larger trees.
“In so many logging operations they don’t remove the trees that might be the biggest fire danger,” Sill said.
And after the project is done, Sill said all logging roads accessing the area should be closed so increased public use doesn’t increase fire danger.
Schiff said removal of ladder fuels is a top priority of the project and that roads will be closed to the public after logging.
As the project proceeds, Schiff said he plans to tour treated areas with environmentalists and other interested parties to ensure everyone is satisfied. “We want to work through the project in a way that’s supported by everyone concerned,” he said.