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Collective impact can save our forests

Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
Published on July 23, 2021


What does it take to keep our forests healthy? After a century of fire suppression, Tahoe forests are immensely overgrown. The 800,000 piles of biomass (dead trees and dry brush) on the forest floor surrounding our community are a growing problem, but restoration projects are costly and the Forest Service only has so much bandwidth to execute. Last year was the worst fire season on record and, unfortunately, we are in worse shape this year with our fire season beginning 60 days earlier due to drought conditions. However, with increased awareness, new commitments and greater funding from the federal and state level to protect our forests, there is momentum for positive change.

The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s Forest Futures program brings together scientists, investors, policymakers, community members and entrepreneurs to fuel innovation, cultivate sustainable economies for our region and create new jobs with the ultimate goal of preventing forest fires. Over the past 10 years, the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation has awarded more than $1 million in grants to support local projects that help our forests and watersheds. Two examples focused around community engagement and market-based solutions are the Big Jack East restoration project and the FOREST⇌FIRE art exhibit.

Recently, the National Forest Foundation and US Forest Service partnered to treat 2,000 acres of Tahoe National Forest south of downtown Truckee. The project, Big Jack East, required five years of planning and fundraising from private, public and philanthropic partners before it could begin. A grant provided by TTCF funded communication materials to educate the community on the importance of treating the forests in order to make the land more resilient to drought, disease and climate change. Naturally, residents are protective of the land they recreate on and do not want to see trees getting cut down or fires taking place. As daunting as it is, fire is a natural part of the Sierra ecosystem and plants and animals need it to thrive. With the project being implemented over two years, and continual treatments in the future, it was important that the community was aware and could stay informed on trail closures or other impacts to recreation.

I think this project in particular gives us an opportunity to start having these conversations with the community. What I hope is that Big Jack East will be our first understanding of what this should look and feel like.

-Stacy Caldwell, CEO of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation.

Similarly, the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation awarded a grant to support the partnership of the Nevada County Arts Council, Truckee Donner Recreation & Park District and UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station for the FOREST⇌FIRE exhibit. Local artist Michael Llewellyn collaborated with scientists who have been studying the forest and the local Washoe tribe to develop an installation that demonstrates the role that fire has played in the region across centuries. The purpose is to engage the Tahoe Truckee community and help them better understand the environment they live in, its relationship with fire and their role within that relationship. The installation, which is scheduled to open in October 2021, offers a science-based solution to catastrophic fire and offers an economically hopeful future for our community.

So often, philanthropy is mobilized with a sense of urgency after it is too late. While it is so important to respond to crises with resources that we can share, it would be significantly less money if we could get on the front end of this stuff. And that’s what we’re trying to do.

-Stacy Caldwell, CEO of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation.

What else can be done locally to help mitigate fire risk? In 2016, the Truckee Fire Protection District developed a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) to assess wildfire hazards and the risks for the community. The plan outlines short-term and long-term strategies to reduce the risk of wildfire and improve emergency preparedness. In order to address the needs of the Protection Plan, an additional funding source is required. Measure T will be on the Aug. 31 ballot and if approved by two-thirds of residents, the measure would cost property owners $179 per parcel, per year for eight years. This stable funding source would remove biomass from the forests, improve evacuation routes, add firebreaks to help slow the spread of fires, improve early fire detection and emergency warning systems, support defensible space around homes and provide homeowners with easy and inexpensive disposal options for green waste.

At the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, it is our mission to connect people and opportunities, generating resources to build a more caring, creative, and effective community. Our forests are an integral part of our community and so are the passionate people who came here because of their admiration for this incredible place. It will take private, public, and philanthropic funding to act quickly enough to protect our forests and watersheds. Join us on our land stewardship journey; invest in the future of our environment through our Forest Futures program.