Oct 07, 2015

Fire First

HR 3382 Mark-Up

House Committee on Natural Resources

October 7, 2015


Mr. Chairman:

I want to thank the committee for taking up HR 3382, the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act Amendment of 2015 that Congressman Amodei and I have introduced.

Lake Tahoe’s value to the entire nation is obvious to anyone who visits it.  But today, the lake is imminently menaced by the threat of catastrophic wildfire. 

The alarms are ringing all around us:

  • The number of acres burned by wildfire in the Lake Tahoe Basin has increased each decade since 1973, including a ten-fold increase over the last decade. 
  • Eighty percent of the Tahoe Basin forests are now densely and dangerously overgrown. 
  • At lower elevations, there is now four times the number of trees per acre than when the forests were properly managed.  
  • Modeling by the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit of the U.S. Forest Service warns that in two thirds of the forest, conditions now exist for flame size and intensity that are explosive.

Ever since the last Tahoe Restoration Act expired, a successor bill focusing hundreds of millions of dollars of lake clarity has been introduced in every congressional session since 2009.  Not one has moved off the floor of either house, during both Democratic and Republican majorities, in large measure due to excessive cost. 

The good news is that lake clarity has improved on its own, with visibility increasing from an average of 64 feet in 2010 to 78 feet this year.  The bad news is that forest fuel loads have continued to increase perilously in the same period.

This measure is specifically designed – after extensive input from fire districts throughout the Tahoe region -- to reduce excess fuel loads in the Tahoe Basin before they burn.

It provides for the categorical exclusion of collaborative fuel reduction projects consistent with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit land and resource management plan; it provides for binding arbitration to expeditiously settle disputes, and it calls for funds generated by timber sales and other fee-based revenues to stay in the Tahoe Basin to provide for further fuels management and other improvements.  It also authorizes $4 million annually on top of existing funding to accomplish this goal, with priority given to those jurisdictions that have already adopted defensible space plans.

It also addresses several key land management issues.  Currently, the Tahoe Basin has 3,500 urban lots under its management, and the poor condition of these parcels is a source of constant complaints.  Further, hundreds of non-federal land holdings dot the National Forest, which greatly complicates land management.  This bill allows the sale of urban lots with the revenues dedicated to acquisition of these checker-board parcels entirely surrounded by the National Forest.

The second most pressing environmental threat to the lake is from invasive species, most particularly quagga mussels, which have devastated other lakes in the West.  This measure supplements and expands the current inspection regimen of boats launched into the Lake, it allows for local and state inspection and decontamination stations; it provides that fees pay for these inspections and it authorizes $800,000 annually for additional invasive species management.

In addition, this measure will seek to more fully involve local governments in land acquisition decisions that directly impact their communities and to promote tourism in the region by prioritizing public access.

I will be offering an amendment to address concerns raised by the administration and also a provision to provide for eradication of two non-native invasive plants that are now infesting the Tahoe Keys at the southern end of the lake before it spreads further.

But most importantly, this bill is carefully crafted to fit within the budget parameters already set by Congress, which vastly improves the prospect of it actually being enacted. 

I want to thank my colleague Congressman Amodei, whose District includes the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, for his assistance and we look forward to seeing this bill enacted as soon as possible to protect the long term future of Lake Tahoe.

Tom McClintock
Tom`s Blog