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Lake Tahoe Restoration Act would improve water clarity, protect against wildfires

Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer joined Nevada's two senators to introduce the proposed Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, which would authorize $415 million over 10 years to improve the lake's water clarity and protect the basin from wildfire. 

The bill, co-sponsored by Democrat Harry Reid and Republican John Ensign of Nevada, proposes funding for a range of projects, including watershed restoration and storm-water management, two key factors in maintaining the lake's renowned water clarity.

In addition, the bill would set aside $136 million for fuels-reduction projects to help protect the Tahoe basin and its landowners from fires, and for removal of invasive species.

The legislation is a follow-up to a 2000 law that provided $453.8 million to maintain the environmental health of the Tahoe basin.

Erosion properties tested on pile burn footprints

Project is the first of its kind in the Tahoe Basin
By Nick Cruit, Sierra Sun, 10/28/08

Drea Traeumer of Em Consulting performs a dye test while Micheal Ukraine, Rachel Arst, and Tim Delaney of Integrated Environmental Restoration Services collect data at a prescribed burn site on Dollar Hill in Tahoe City. The research crew is studying the effects of prescribed burns on erosion and sediment runoff into Lake Tahoe.
Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunA team of scientists meticulously monitored water flowing down a dusty rill Monday as they conducted experiments in the scorched remains of a recently burned pile of brush near Lake Tahoe.

As part of the first-ever in-depth experiments to determine how prescribed forest burning affects soil erosion in the Tahoe Basin, the team from Integrated Environmental Restoration Services and Em Consulting tested charred craters left by last week’s pile burns near Chinquapin Condominiums in Tahoe City.

Though the test spot is no bigger than the rain shadow left by a car, the impact of their data will effect how decisions are made throughout the Tahoe Basin.

Having already monitored baseline conditions before Calfire’s prescribed burn project, Em Consulting Hydrologist Drea Traeumer and Integrated Environmental scientists teamed up to run rain and rill simulators directly on the footprint of the burned piles.

While the effects of fuels reduction programs on soil properties cause tension around Lake Tahoe, Integrated Environmental rain simulators hope to shed light on the potential for erosion problems caused by water flow.

“We are happy to cooperate with the project,” said North Tahoe Fire Protection District Forest Fuels Program Manager Stewart McMorrow, who helped oversee the prescribed pile burns last week. “It’s important to know what the true effects of pile burning are.”

Discussing a slow environmental process like erosion often causes conflict because it is not easily seen. Hoping to provide “facts, not opinions,” the Integrated Environmental project is a step towards educated management level environmental decisions.

“There’s a lot of dialogue from people who think they know what’s going to happen,” said Kevin Drake Monitoring Manager for Integrated Environmental. “We’re coming up with a body of data to have dialogue with concrete information.”

Data taken from the post-burn tests is only the beginning of a complicated process.

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Is the Sierra healing? Humans' work relies on nature's assistance

By Jeff DeLong, Reno Gazette-Journal.  August 3, 2008

A sign in the front yard of Bruce and Marcia Johnson's Verdi-area home reads Serenity Hill.  Fourteen years ago Monday, the place was anything but serene.  That's when the flames of the Crystal Peak Fire rocketed over the Verdi Range, descending through thick timber and into the Johnson's Sunrise Creek neighborhood. Two homes just down the road were swallowed by fire. The Johnson home, built just a few months before, was ringed by flame but spared.

"It burned a complete circle around us," Marcia Johnson recalled. "But our house stood." The forest didn't. Most of what she described as an extremely thick stand of timber that existed around her home was lost to the fire. Bruce Johnson recalls a conversation with a neighbor when he learned his home had survived the fire. "They said the good news is your home survived," he said. "The bad news is we can see each other now." The Crystal Peak Fire was one of more than a dozen major blazes that have roared along the Sierra's eastern face over the past 25 years. Each posed its own dangers, caused its own destruction and left its own scar on a forested landscape.  Slowly, the land recovers. Much of it is up to nature, with surviving trees dropping seeds that take root, becoming saplings that replace trees lost to fire.

Humans take part as well. The government reseeds burned areas with grasses and brush, with an early priority to prevent mudslides and erosion. It plants new trees, as do homeowners.  Three local fires -- Crystal Peak in 1994, the Martis Fire in 2001 and the Waterfall Fire in 2004 -- are different examples of the land's recovery in progress. And the recovery of the land bodes well for more recent fires, including the Angora Fire, which burned 3,100 acres and destroyed 254 homes at South Lake Tahoe last summer.  Genny Wilson, a Forest Service official in the area for 20 years and the new chief of the Carson Ranger District, was involved in each. She was a member of or led teams of experts that were established after each fire to pursue the most immediate restoration efforts.

"The long-term goal is to bring it back to something representative of that site," Wilson said. "If it's a forest, you want to try to re-establish that forest."

Six Steps to Creating an Effective Defensible Space

Six Steps to Creating an Effective Defensible Space
By: Nancy Upham, Inyo National Forest, July 31, 2008

Do you have defensible space? Here are 6 steps you can take:

Step One

Determine the size of an effective defensible space:

The size of the defensible space is usually expressed as a distance extending outward from the house in all directions. The recommended distance is not the same for every home. It varies depending on the dominant vegetation surrounding the home and steepness of slope. If the Defensible Space Zone exceeds your property boundaries, seek permission from adjacent landowners before doing work on their property. It is important to note that the effectiveness of the Defensible Space Zone improves when entire neighborhoods implement defensible space practices.

Step Two

Remove dead vegetation:

For the most part, dead vegetation should be removed from the Defensible Space Zone. Dead vegetation includes dead and dying standing trees or recently fallen trees; dead native and ornamental shrubs; dead branches; dried grass, weeds and flowers. Fallen trees embedded into the ground and located more than 30 feet from the house can be left in place, with exposed branches removed.
 

Step Three

Create a separation between trees and shrubs:

Within the Defensible Space Zone, native trees and shrubs, such as Jeffrey pine, white fir, and manzanita, should not occur in a dense stand. Dense stands of trees and shrubs pose a significant wildfire threat. Thin dense tree and shrub stands to create more space between them.

Step Four

Remove ladder fuels:

Vegetation that can carry a fire burning in low growing plants to taller plants is called "ladder fuel." Lower tree branches should be removed to a height of at least 10 feet. Shrubs and trees growing under the drip line should also be removed. Irrigated, well-maintained lawn and flower beds, as well as low-growing native ground covers can be present under the tree's drip line as long as they would not allow a fire to ignite the tree. Removal of tree branches should not exceed one third of the total tree height.

Step Five

Create a Lean, Clean and Green Area extending 5 feet to 30 feet from the house:

There are two goals for the Lean, Clean and Green Area. The first goal is to eliminate easily ignitable fuels, or "kindling," near the house. This will help prevent embers from starting a fire in your yard. The second goal is to keep fire intensity low if it does ignite near the house. By proper management of the vegetation and other fuels near the house, a fire would not be able to generate enough heat to ignite the home. For most homeowners, the Lean, Clean and Green Area is also the residential landscape. This area often has irrigation, is planted with ornamental vegetation,and is regularly maintained.

Step Six

Create a Noncombustible Area at least 5 feet wide around the base of the house:  The area immediately adjacent to a house is of critical importance to house survival during a wildfire. It should consist of noncombustible landscape materials and ignition-resistant, low volume plants.

For further information contact Debra Hein, Fire Mitigation and Education for the Bishop Field Office of the BLM at (760) 872-5057.

USDA/USFS Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Imagery Support

The BAER Imagery Support program is a cooperative effort between the USDA Forest Service Remote Sensing Applications Center and the US Geological Survey Center for Earth Resources Observation and Science. The Centers have teamed up to provide rapid delivery of satellite imagery, Burned Area Reflectance Classifications (BARC), and other geospatial data to Forest Service and DOI BAER teams.

For contact information and further direction, please visit website.

Climate Change: Forests, wildlife, fire danger all expected to be affected by warming Sierra

By Greyson Howard, Sierra Sun

Many doomsday predictions of climate change focus on rising oceans, flooding coastlines and submerged cities, but some scientists are watching the Sierra to gauge other significant impacts.

Looking into the future it isn’t hard for researchers to picture the many different Sierra ecosystems — wrapped like bands around different elevations — retreating rapidly upward, squeezing each other and eventually running out of elevation to climb.

As future temperatures rise, predictions are for snow to melt faster and streams to swell earlier, out of sync with the breading cycles of aquatic species like fish and frogs. Dry summers would leave entire forests more susceptible to fire and pests than ever before.

And, many experts agree, the changes become amplified as they move up the food chain, throwing the Sierra Nevada’s entire ecosystem, meticulously established over millennia, out of balance in a matter of decades. The bottom line, some scientists conclude, is the extinction of vulnerable mountain species and increased fire risk for the Sierra’s human inhabitants.

“Our concern is with the rapidity of change — most species can evolve over time and the planet has always been in flux — but it’s the rate of change, which is really unlike anything we’ve been able to study,” said Josh Viers, assistant research ecologist at UC Davis.

The Sierra Nevada has been characterized as the “canary in the coal mine,” according to the U.S. Forest Service, an early alarm for the deleterious effects of rising temperatures. But all parts of the Sierra won’t be treated equal. Despite Truckee-Tahoe’s more northern latitude, the area will likely be hit harder than the taller mountains to the south.

“The area around Tahoe and Donner Summit, for example, would be more affected then Kings Canyon,” Viers said.
And so Tahoe National Forest has been picked as an open-air laboratory for climate change — a focal point in a global issue — with researchers from academic bodies, conservation groups and the U.S. Forest Service gleaning whatever they can learn from the surrounding woods.

“When I started I was a naysayer, ready to poke holes in global warming,” said Carol Kennedy, the watershed project manager for Tahoe National Forest. “I don’t poke holes anymore.”

Retreating trees
Perhaps easiest to predict and already in progress in some cases is the steady retreat of vegetation away from rising low-elevation temperatures and towards ever-shrinking snow melt, said UC Davis’ Viers.
...
The water problem
While rising temperatures will directly affect many species, indirect affects through changing water availability may be even more drastic.

“Between 7,000 and 9,000 feet the rain/snow mix line will be most severely affected,” Josh Viers said.
This means the timing and flow of streams and river could change, possibly three to seven weeks earlier, he said.

“Everything from what’s in the streams — frogs breeding to vegetation along the side of the streams — a whole series of affects, will come from just the timing,” Viers said. The breeding cycles of both the mountain red- and yellow-legged frogs of the Sierra may no longer match with stream flows he said.

Trout require cold water, no more than 20 to 21 degrees Celsius, meaning many streams could become too warm, Viers said. Flowering plants may bloom with high flows before pollinators like bees and mosquitoes emerge.

Aspen trees, already diminishing in the West, are at risk because of drying stream habitat, Nechadom said.

And moisture could be dropping on the order of 40 to 60 percent by the year 2100, Kennedy said.

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