By TRINKIE WATSON

A group of concerned citizens met on April 3 to discuss the Big Jack East Project, which is the United States Forest Service (USFS) timber sale that borders the neighborhoods of Ponderosa Palisades, Martiswoods Estates, Ponderosa Ranchos, Sierra Meadows, Schaffer’s Mill, Lahontan, and Martis Camp. At just under 2,100 acres, this is a large forest area that has huge potential fire impact for a wide-spread area. This includes the Sawtooth/06 road enjoyed by thousands of people who love to recreate in the area year-round — cross-country skiing (The Great Ski Race), hiking, walking the dog, and biking. The focus for all of us residents is fire safety, and the fire mitigation project currently proposed would actually increase the risk of fire and present a serious danger to many neighborhoods in Truckee.

The Forest Service’s initial proposal indicated a clearing of approximately 20 feet between trees, allowing for limited shrub growth. Nature has historically had its way of maintaining healthy forests with naturally started, low-level fires that kept trees from becoming crowded, leaving the strong pines and firs able to thrive. Since we have invaded the mountains, we’ve suppressed fires and allowed incredible density that is now problematic for our homes and towns. The 20-foot radius has proven to be effective in modifying wildfire behavior, as was evident on the Angora Fire, but this proposal actually seeks to create far larger open spaces than that. For those who have been in the subject area, you have seen the incredible amount of trees marked in blue for removal — showing the intent to create 75 to 100 feet of space between trees — a 400 to 500 percent increase. This will allow greater open space for shrub fuel to propagate in such quantity that will exacerbate any fire that starts in the area. The original Forest Service proposal has currently been distributed with ‘clarification’ of this increase in space. This is not a minor clarification; it represents a significant change which, by law, requires collaboration with the public. With more sunlight hitting the forest floor, manzanita and snowbrush will flourish and spread, increasing the intensity of a wildfire threatening our community.

The Forest Service bases this plan on a report designed for Sierra mixed-conifer forests. Big Jack East clearly states the project area is an eastside pine forest — a completely different ecosystem. There is no justification or analysis of applying research developed for a mixed conifer forest to the eastside pine forest in Big Jack East. The Truckee Community Wildfire Protection Plan and the Forest Service’s Land Management Plan obligate the Forest Service to bring interested parties together with a plethora of information about fire history, climate, fire suppression resources, attack times and accessibility, etc. to design effective treatment patterns and to collaborate on defense zone distances next to communities. Although there have been public meetings, the Forest Service has not met this obligation. The Forest Service has avoided a public field trip on this project for two years, despite numerous requests.

There are numerous ways to learn about this project and get your voice heard. Tour the site this Tuesday April 17 or Thursday April 19 at 5 p.m. with Kathy Murphy, who recently retired from the Forest Service after 38 years and see with your own eyes what the real issues are regarding the project. For further information, questions, or to schedule a site visit, please contact baciandi@gmail.com. Visit the Facebook page to stay up to date. Corrections can still be made to this project to protect the life and property of our local citizens, and the public comment period ends April 23, so send your letters to comments-pacificsouthwest-tahoe-truckee@fs.fed.us before then. It is important to act now, before the trees are cut.

~ Trinkie Watson, a San Francisco native and resident of the Lake Tahoe area since 1966, has served the real estate business as a Realtor® since the early ‘70s and loves the mountains. She has lived in Truckee for 27 years and is raising her eighth German Shepherd and first girl, Dancer.