Fire, bark beetle infestation among forest concerns
Stepping into the job of Tahoe National Forest supervisor, Eli Ilano takes on a role of guiding the U.S. Forest Service’s presence over an expanse of 871,495 acres carpeting the Sierra in all or part of six counties.
That forest acreage is interspersed with blocks of privately held land totaling 400,000 acres. It’s dotted with the blue of creeks, lakes and reservoirs. And above those reservoirs, it holds much of the watershed flowing through Placer County.
Ilano was promoted to Forest Supervisor after five years as deputy. The Journal asked him to expand on some of the key issues facing the forest:
1. Fire. It’s a growing concern. What will be happening this summer and spring?
The Tahoe National Forest is continuing work to greatly expand the Western Nevada County Community Defense Project. The project involves thinning overgrown forested areas in the wildland urban interface along the border of the forest near Scotts Flat Lake and Highway 20.
In Foresthill, we are working with local partners and private landowners on a coordinated approach to address beetle-killed trees. Proposed projects there focus on fuels reduction and community protection. Also, our fire staff continue to actively conduct prescribed burns during the wet season.
2. What’s behind the strategy with the bark beetle in Foresthill and other areas in the Tahoe National Forest?
The strategy is to identify through the use of aerial surveys and ground observations those forested areas most at risk of large-scale insect damage. We have identified an area near Foresthill that is at risk and plan to thin about 3,000 acres. Thinning the forest will help to improve the health of remaining trees. Healthy trees are better able to resist insect attacks, disease, and drought.
3. How healthy is the Tahoe National Forest these days? What are some of the challenges?
Like many forests in the Sierra Nevada, the Tahoe is healthy and functioning well ecologically in some places.
In many areas, the forest is more dense than we would consider healthy. Overly dense stands in some areas create a greater risk of large fire and reduce the health of the trees.
Across the Tahoe National Forest, there are many small pockets of beetle-killed trees. We don’t have the large swaths of dead trees that have been seen in other parts of the state and country. But forest conditions could continue to worsen.
The abundant rain and snow that we’ve seen this winter have been helpful, but it will need to continue to blunt the effects of the drought.
4. What are some of the new recreational programs the Tahoe National Forest is now involved in?
The Tahoe National Forest is resuming management of campgrounds along the Yuba River corridor, Highway 89 north and in the Lakes Basin area. These campgrounds have been run by third-party concessioners since the 1980s. The change means Forest Service staff will be running Forest Service campgrounds and the priority is providing visitors and campers a high-quality experience at a reasonable price.
Last year, the Forest Service resumed management of campgrounds and recreation sites in the Foresthill area, Interstate 80 corridor and on the Truckee Ranger District. So far we’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback praising the change.
We hope to add more services for visitors in the future, such as campfire programs, ranger talks and more.
We’ve also recently finished a complete remodel of the Sardine Lookout, a historic fire lookout outside Sierraville. The lookout is now available to the public as an overnight rental. This is the second lookout available for rent on the Tahoe National Forest – the other being Calpine Lookout, also near Sierraville. Work is underway to add the Grouse Ridge Lookout to this list in the future. These camping experiences offer an amazing view of the forest and one-of-a-kind experiences.
The Tahoe National Forest is also participating in President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park initiative. The program strives to get every American child out to enjoy federal public lands by the time they finish fourth grade. Any fourth grader can go online and get a pass that will get them and their family free admission to federal public lands.
5. Public participation has been an effective bridge between communities and the forest. What are some of the ways that the public is helping out?
The Tahoe National Forest has a large volunteer program in the area of trail maintenance – examples include the Pacific Crest Trail and Trails along Highway 20 and in the Grouse Ridge area.
We also work closely with valuable partners, such as the South Yuba River Citizens League, Western States Trail Foundation, Truckee River Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited, the National Forest Foundation and countless other local volunteer organizations. Plus we engage volunteers in other forest restoration work, such as Truckee River Days.
There is so much happening on the Tahoe National Forest and people interested in getting involved can learn more by visiting www.fs.usda.gov/tahoe or calling their local ranger district. We have offices in Foresthill, Truckee, Sierraville, Camptonville, and Nevada City.
Go HERE to read the original article in the Auburn Journal newspaper.http://www.auburnjournal.com/article/2/23/16/qa-five-questions-new-tahoe-national-forest-chief-eli-ilano