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Foresters, Forest Historians Debate Over Tahoe Forest Thinning

TitleForesters, Forest Historians Debate Over Tahoe Forest Thinning
Author/CreatorCobourn, John; Purdy, Shelly; Segale, Heather M.
Related item(s)Press Release available at
Date Original2005-01-18
Summary/DescriptionLake Tahoe Report Segment #100 - "Forest Thinning" (Air Date: January 18, 2005). Thomas Bonnicksen, Ph. D., Professor Emeritus of Forest Science, Texas A & M University, discusses his views on the merits of forest thinning versus controlled logging in order to prevent catastrophic wildfire.
SubjectForest thinning -- Tahoe, Lake, Region (Calif. and Nev.)
LocationLake Tahoe (Calif. and Nev.)
Tahoe, Lake (Calif. and Nev.)
CollectionThe Lake Tahoe Report
Original PublisherLake Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition (
Electronic PublisherUniversity of Nevada, Reno - Department of Teaching and Learning Technologies
Ordering and Permissions InformationFor more information, contact the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, or 775-832-4138.
Date Digital2005-03-14
RelationRequires Windows Media Player
Resource TypeMoving Image
Contributing InstitutionUniversity of Nevada, Reno
TranscriptionSegment A100: Fire Historian Air Date: January 18, 2005 Anchor Intro: Some experts believe the Tahoe Basin is at risk for a catastrophic wildfire. At least one forestry expert says not enough is being done to prevent that from happening. In tonight's Lake Tahoe Report, Shelly Purdy talks to Dr Thomas Bonnicksen about the issue. Take PKG ((track 1)) Now that the snow has fallen, it is safe to burn the slash piles that dot the forests around Lake Tahoe. These piles are what's left over when hand crews go into an area and thin the small trees in the forest. It's often too costly and difficult to remove the slash, so the piles sit until conditions are right to burn them. There are other methods like a machine called a masticator that cuts trees and reduces them to chips. But overall, this method of clearing and pile burning is the standard the forest service is currently using to thin sections of overstocked forest in the Tahoe Basin. And that is troubling to forest historian Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen. ((sot @ 1:59 Thomas Bonnicksen, Ph. D., Professor Emeritus of Forest Science, Texas A & M University)) "We just have too many trees. Historically in the Sierra Nevada we had about 60 trees per acre, Now we have 460 of all sizes. The forest can't support that." ((Track 2)) Bonnicksen believes the forest service is wasting its time and money on thinning and pile burning projects. And, he says these small-scale projects aren't enough to protect the forest. ((sot @ 4:50ish)) "For example, they're planning a thinning project in the Tahoe Basin that they say will take $100 million to do on 24, 000 acres. There are 200, 000 acres of forest up there that area ready to burn. And the reason they're going to the taxpayers is because they don't want to cut any of the trees that might be valuable and might help pay the cost. They only want to cut the little trees with no value." ((track 3)) Bonnicksen believes the forests should be opened up to tightly controlled logging. Foresters would go into a tract of land and select a variety of trees for cutting based on science. The trees left would be of varying sizes and species. And the forest would look more like it did historically. Under his plan, foresters would pay to log the trees, saving taxpayers money. But, there are some significant challenges to Bonnicksen's plan. Logging could mean damage to sensitive habitat, erosion issues and extensive road building. Another factor is the political feasibility of logging. Convincing the public to open up Tahoe's forests to logging would be tough enough. But also asking them to allow new backcountry roads to be built could be next to impossible. But Bonnicksen isn't deterred. He believes his plan is the right one. ((sot @ 5:50)) "People use the word logging. It's kind of a pejorative term. I am a forest historian. I think of cutting trees as a creative process. It's not the process of removing something. It's the process of recreating a healthy, fire resistant forest that's natural." ((track 4)) With the Lake Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition, I'm Shelly Purdy for KOLO NC8. Anchor Tag: Forest service officials say Bonnicksen's estimate of 200-thousand acres at Tahoe being ready to burn is a gross exaggeration. They say only 55-thousand acres are currently at risk for catastrophic wildfire and more than half of that has already been thinned. Dr. Bonnicksen will present his ideas to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency on January 26th.

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