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Tahoe Is Burning - An Editorial

By Mark Crocker

As most of you know I use to live at Lake Tahoe on the south shore. In fact I use to live very close to the high school and the area currently on fire.

The thing about living at Tahoe is that there are a number of groups of people.

    One group is those that live at Lake Tahoe all year.
    Another group is those that have summer homes and come up only on weekends and only in the summer.
    Then there is the group that lives at Tahoe only in the winter so that they can ski. Then there is the group that has winter homes that come up only on weekends and then only when the weather is good.
    Each group thinks that it is better then the other groups.

Having been one that lived there year round though summer, winter, spring, rain, avalanche and anything else that Mother Nature could throw at me, I count myself truly blessed. And like most of the locals, I worried about the danger of fire and I would often get very upset when I would see some out of Towner or summer resident do something stupid with fire.

I remember once being out hiking just off the normal bike path, coming across a couple that had just made a camp fire without a stone ring or anything to stop the fire from spreading. Thankfully they were very understanding and quickly put out their camp fire.

Often on these hikes of mine I would go deeper into the forest and away from people and civilization. And by doing so I would get to see nature up close. Often times just a few miles away from town I would see deer and bear. Also I got to see what years of not letting nature do what she does best resulted in. The mounds of dead underbrush, pine needles, pine cones, and other dead bury left by years and years of not being able to burn.

To understand what is happening currently we must take a trip back in time and in history:

Just the other side of Lake Tahoe and the mountains is Carson City and the Carson valley and just east of that is Virginia City , gold hill and silver hill. A great mining area with deep mines that the pit supports came from one place and only one place. And in huge amounts.

The surrounding area was pretty much clear cut and used up. Even now the hills and mountains bear witness to what we will do so that we can get at gold and silver and other useful metals. Once the area around the mines were clear cut the next target was the trees of Lake Tahoe. By the turn of the 19th century the Tahoe area had been clear cut except for a few areas defended by far seeing people.

What grew back was trees that, while native to the area, were not the dominate trees that were drought resistant and resistant to the bark beetle. These trees were, and are, fast growing. They took over from the pine trees that had been there for thousands of years. Such trees as the sugar pine had for thousands of years grown and died in the Tahoe area.

There had always been fir trees and lesser pine trees but these had always been in small numbers and only grown where there had been natural fire to clear an area for them to grow. But with the clear cutting for the mines they had a chance to spread like never before, and in less time than nature can blink an eye, they had spread to replace the trees that had been cut down for the mines.

Few remembered what Tahoe looked like before the mines of Virginia City, gold hill, and silver hill, took all the trees that were useful to them. Only the Washoe remembered as the stories of what Tahoe used to look like have been passed down over the years.

Now just after World War II, things took a nasty turn, and today we are seeing the results. Natural fires were put out faster than you can say “Jack Robinson” and pine needles and pine cones were left to rot into the soil. The underbrush was left to build up to the point where in some cases it was, and still is, over the head of even a tall man.

Then in the late 90’s, to add insult to injury, the governors of California and Nevada, with the help of the US government, got together and held a conference to talk about restoring Tahoe to its natural state. They talked about it taking 50 to 80 years, not knowing - and if they did, they lied about it, that it would take hundreds of years for it to be restored to what it had looked like before the mines of Virginia City, gold hill, and silver hill, took all the trees.

Then to make matters worse, there is a local agency called the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, that can tell you what you can and cannot do around the Tahoe basin.

While a normal healthy forest will have from 5 to 8 trees an acre (and areas that have burnt in the past would be meadows), most current homes have anywhere from 5 to 10 trees on their property. That adds up to anywhere from 15 to 20 trees an acre. All fir trees, and all way too close to homes.

The TRPA Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will not let anyone cut down a tree.

This morning on the news (Tuesday, June 26, 2007) a member of the TRPA stated that they have for years allowed people to cut down trees. This is only a half truth. The trees that are allowed to be cut are no bigger that a circle formed by both hands thumb to thumb index finger to index finger. Even then to get a permit you have to get a county permit, a city permit, and finally a permit from the TRPA. Even then you have to wait for the TRPA to come out and for them to say whether you can or cannot cut down the tree. And that may take months, and in some cases years, for them to come out.

Yet heaven help you if you go ahead and cut down a tree, even having all three permits.

And now what everyone has dreaded for years is happening.

Tahoe is burning because of us.

The sad thing is that each group that I mentioned at the start of the web blog will blame each other, when in fact, we are all to blame.

This commentary was originally published at the author's web blog at
and is copyrighted to his name.

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


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