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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lake Tahoe Air Quality Changes Hinder Prescribed Burns

 Lake Tahoe fire chiefs express concerns over prescribed burns

LAKE TAHOE — The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency's Governing Board on Thursday shot down a suggestion Lake Tahoe Basin fire chiefs feared could hinder forest fuel reduction work.

As part of several suggestions this week, California Governing Board members Mara Bresnick and Byron Sher asked the board to discuss a prohibition on permitting new construction that would increase air pollution until a continuous air quality monitoring network was developed in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The suggestions were made as part of discussions surrounding TRPA's Regional Plan Update. Sher and Bresnick also suggested the tightening of language throughout the RPU, using the TRPA's air quality rules as an example.

Several representatives from basin fire agencies said they feared the suggested changes could hinder or eliminate prescribed fire in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Each said they supported the RPU as currently written.

Prescribed burning is an important part of eliminating excessive growth in basin forests that have been become choked with small trees since the area was settled and naturally occurring fire was suppressed, according to the firefighters.

“We need prescribed fire as a critical tool,” said the U.S. Forest Service's Kathy Murphy.

The Governing Board ultimately declined to incorporate the air quality monitoring suggestion into the RPU.

South Lake Tahoe Mayor and Governing Board member Claire Fortier was critical of the suggestions and wondered why Sher and Bresnick were bringing back significant changes to the RPU at the “11th hour” following a lengthy public process.

She said a prohibition on new construction would act as a “de facto moratorium.”

It was unfair to classify the suggestions as 11th hour, Sher said, adding there should still be time to suggest changes to such an important document.

Jennifer Quashnick, with the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, said monitoring air quality is a “no-brainer” because of its public health implications. The Sierra Club worked with Sher and Bresnick on the suggestions. Quashnick said the air quality component was not intended to impact fuel reduction work.

TRPA Executive Director Joanne Marchetta defended the existing air quality monitoring system already in place at Lake Tahoe, noting the area has more monitoring per capita than nearby places like Sacramento.

The Governing Board is expected to vote on the wide-ranging RPU next month.

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****REMINDER**** Every fire has the ability to be catastrophic. The wildland fire management environment has profoundly changed. Growing numbers of communities, across the nation, are experiencing longer fire seasons; more frequent, bigger, and more severe, fires are a real threat. Be careful with all campfires and equipment.
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