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Tahoe Keys a center for recreation — and controversy

Adam Jensen, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Few construction projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin highlight the often-conflicting interests of development and environmental protection quite like the Tahoe Keys. Built in the late 1950s and early ’60s, the 740-acre development at the mouth of the Upper Truckee River has alternately been seen as an appealing place to live and an environmental disaster.

An estimated 5 million cubic yards of material were dredged from the marsh at the mouth of the river to create the fingers of land interlaced with 11 miles of backyard waterways that make up the Keys. The effort destroyed much of the river’s marsh and removed a major filtration system from Lake Tahoe’s largest tributary, identified by the Lahontan Water Board as a major source of fine sediment that reduces the clarity of the lake.

The draw of the development is undeniable, and marketing for the neighborhood has changed little over the past four decades.

“Most of the 1,539 members who own homes, townhouses or vacant lots have a private boat dock and are located on numerous lagoons, canals or the Tahoe Keys Marina with its boat-launching ramps,” according to the Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association. “Waterfront living provides direct access to Lake Tahoe and its many watersports. At Tahoe Keys, we enjoy breathtaking views of the lake and mountains, and enjoy amenities like tennis, indoor and outdoor pools, spa and more.”

While the attraction of living in the Keys has remained the same, the development more recently has faced a new set of environmental issues, including the fight against the introduction of aquatic invasive species into Lake Tahoe.

Eurasian watermilfoil was discovered in the Keys in the 1980s and, despite efforts to remove it, has spread to numerous locations around the lake. Researchers also have indicated the Keys area is the likely introduction point for a growing population of warmwater fish species around the lake.

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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.

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