Lake Tahoe’s woes discussed at summit

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The dangers that drought has created at one of America’s cherished treasures were explored by scientists, firefighters and politicians from both California and Nevada at this year’s 18th Annual Lake Tahoe Summit.

Lawmakers, land managers, scientists, and a large public crowd gathered Tuesday at the Tallac Historic Site at Valhalla for the summit which was hosted by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Other politicians who spoke were U.S. Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and the keynote speaker, California Gov. Jerry Brown.

The meeting brought unusual bipartisan consensus among federal lawmakers on at least one aspect of the threats to the Tahoe basin — that more logging should play a role in reducing the wildfire danger.

Those in attendance said decades of suppressing wildfires, no matter how remote, has left many forests too thick with trees, leading to disease and stoking high-intensity wildfires.

Feinstein and the other California and Nevada senators are pushing legislation that would provide an additional $415 million in federal money to fight invasive species, address the fire danger and reduce erosion, which clouds a lake famed for its clarity.

Meanwhile, federal and state officials from both states and both political parties signed a proclamation at the summit supporting timber reduction and wildfire prevention efforts near Lake Tahoe.

“As these drought conditions continue, we know there will be more stressed and dying trees that elevate the risk of catastrophic fire,” Sandoval said. “I want to thank the firefighters that are here today that put their lives on the line to preserve (Lake Tahoe) and to preserve the health and safety for all of us.”

The proclamation was signed by Feinstein, Reid, Heller, Reps. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., and Mark Amodei, R-Nev., and both governors.

Geoff Sebladow, director of the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, also spoke at the summit. He and his team released the state of the lake report last week which lays out the scientific conditions that underlie the health of Lake Tahoe, which straddles the Nevada-California border.

“The critical challenge for science is to understand how all these drivers interact,” Sebladow said. “The critical challenge for managers is to find new ways to sustain the research which really has to be part of the restoration effort.”

President Bill Clinton visited Tahoe City and held the first Tahoe Summit on Commons Beach in 1997. This set the stage for the passage of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act which Reid and Feinstein drafted together. The bill brought together federal funds from California and Nevada as well as funds from the private sector to help preserve and restore the lake.

Since the first summit a total of $1.74 billion has been invested in the Lake Tahoe environmental improvement program. California has allocated $655 million in federal money and Nevada $113 million. The rest has come from the private sector.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Capital Bureau reporter Whip Villarreal at wvillarreal@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Find him on Twitter: @WhipVillarreal.