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Protecting Communities

Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
Published on May 19, 2022

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Protecting Communities – Part 1 of 3 stories

Written By: Tim Hauserman 

The forests and communities of the Sierra have a big problem. We live in an ecosystem that once thrived on periodic ground fires which left a landscape of dispersed mature trees. But for the last 100 years fires were quickly suppressed, the amount of logging conducted in the forests declined, and much of the forest products industry in the area disappeared. The result is millions of acres of dense, unhealthy forest that is vulnerable to the mega-fires caused by dry conditions and climate change. Last year’s Dixie Fire, Emigrant Fire and Caldor Fire all were a terrible wake up call to how vulnerable Sierra communities are to catastrophic forest fire. 

The solutions to the problem are known: the forest must be extensively thinned and small scale fires must be returned to the ecosystem. While the solutions might be straightforward, making it happen is complicated and expensive, and we don’t have any time to waste if we are to reduce the impact of the next conflagration. 

Since we have a lot of work to do and little time, the first priority is to protect our communities by thinning the forests in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). The WUI is the area where the forest meets our homes, and it is a vulnerable spot for both our built up communities and the wildland that surrounds us. Fires starting in residential areas can devastate the nearby forest, and forest fires can quickly move into residential areas. 

The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, through its Forest Futures program, is committed to getting solutions on the ground that will protect the wildland-urban interface, and has recently granted the first $1 million, of what is targeted to be $30 million, to the effort. The majority of this money is focused on one of the three main tenets of the Forest Futures program: Protecting Communities. 

TTCF has flexibility and the ability to move quickly to provide funding where needed, which is more of a challenge for less agile government agencies laden down with bureaucratic and funding limitations. The foundation can be the important push to get projects off the ground that would otherwise be delayed, or be the gap between almost there and over the top when it comes to funding.  

Our planned budgets can’t predict unanticipated costs, such as skyrocketing gas prices that are leaving projects underfunded by 10 to 20%. That’s why it can be a huge asset to have a community partner like TTCF and Forest Futures to fill the gaps between federal appropriations and true project costs.

-Eli Ilano, Forest Supervisor for the Tahoe National Forest

Here are three of the 11 projects in this current funding cycle showing how TTCF money is being leveraged to get prompt, meaningful results: 

TTCF has granted to the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to treat 853 acres of land a few miles north of Truckee within the Sagehen and Prosser Creek watersheds. It will create a firebreak and protect infrastructure including a powerline. 

The Five Creeks project, also under the NFF, will mark trees and prepare for fuel reduction along both sides of Highway 89 between Olympic Valley and Truckee. This area is both a critical evacuation point and an overly dense forest. 

The Truckee Donner Land Trust was given a grant to complete the planning documents needed to begin fuel reduction work on the overstocked Creekside Woods and Billy Mack Canyon area creating a fuel break for Tahoe Donner and the west end of Donner Lake. 

In addition to the efforts to help protect our communities, TTCF is also working on a program to Build Forest Economies. This includes training for future employees in the forest industry, long-term housing, and the concept of biomass disposal to reduce the cost of thinning operations. Read more about what TTCF is doing in this regard in my next post.