At Lake Tahoe, controversy remains on fighting wildfires
Dianne Feinstein, the 86-year-old United States senator, didn’t tell the youngsters to get off Valhalla’s Grand Lawn. But she threatened to have them removed.
Feinstein’s clash with members of the Sunshine Movement brought some drama to the 23rd Lake Tahoe Summit on Tuesday. The heated exchange was about fires. The Sunrise Movement advocates the Green New Deal and is made up of “an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority across American,” its website states.
Speeches were delivered by Feinstein, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and California U.S. Reps. John Garamendi and Tom McClintock.
It was heartening for residents and visitors who want to protect Lake Tahoe to hear the concerns from the top government officials who gave updates on the $415 million, 10-year extension to the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act passed in 2016. Reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfire is a major part of the legislation, which also is designed to improve the lake’s clarity and prevent further invasive species.
Feinstein told the good news that since 2008, there has been 87,000 boats inspected and contaminants were discovered on 37,500 of them. However, no new invasive species – namely quagga mussels – have been introduced into Lake Tahoe. She also said the state-funded “Cal Fire will have the largest aerial fleet for fighting fires in the world.”
“The future is ours to protect … this great lake,” she said.
Nevada Sen. Masto noted that Valhalla Tahoe where the summed was held was just 5 miles from the Angora fire, which destroyed 254 homes in 2008. She said 23,000 California homes were burned in 2018, and the Martin fire near Winnemucca, Nevada, was the largest in U.S. history.
“At one point it was 57 miles long and 30 miles wide – it could seen from space,” she said. “We have to do more. We must focus on prevention, suppression and restoration.”
McClintock, the Republican congressman who represents Lake Tahoe’ s California side, lamented the forest management costs $2 for every $1 it takes in.
Nevada Gov. Sisolak touted the Spooner Landscape Resilience Project, in which 5,000 “green” trees were removed. The timber went to a mill in Quincy, California, and the branches we’re chipped and delivered to the Sierra County town of Loyalton.
After the politicians spoke, Barnie Gyant, the deputy regional forester with the USDA Forest Service, provided an update on the Lake Tahoe Environmental Program. Since the first Lake Tahoe Summit in 1997, the EIP has received $730 million in federal funding, $868 million from California, $182 million from Nevada, $144 million from local governments and $370 million from private donations.
The event concluded with students receiving awards for the Shane McConkey Foundation’s EcoChallenge. There was a 16 percent decrease in energy usage at the North Tahoe High School and Middle School campus.
But just as Feinstein was about to introduce Gyant, a man wearing a Sunshine Movement T-shirt shouted toward the stage. He said he and his group were from Butte County and victims of the Camp fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise, California.
Feinstein was having none of it. “Will you let us finish?” she said.
“We just have one question for the governor,” the man answered.
“We will have you removed,” Feinstein said.
Newsom pointed to the man and said he would meet with them after the speeches ended.
Some of the 800 who attended left disappointed.
Megan Shumway of Sacramento said Feinstein “definitely has disrespect for the Sunrise Movement. That’s why she shut them down right away. She feels anyone who is younger than her doesn’t know anything. But they are the ones who will be left with this mess.”
“I am not happy with most of what I heard,” said Christina Sherr of Grass Valley. An outreach coordinator with The John Muir Project, she came to study the speakers’ rhetoric. Sherr advocates defensible space and making houses more fire safe. She opposes forest-thinning projects such as the one at Spooner Lake.
“The Camp, King and Rim fires burned the hottest and those were the areas where most logging was done,” Sherr said. “They burn hotter and faster. Dense forests burn least intensively.”
In an email to Tahoe Onstage, South Lake Tahoe resident Frangelica Agius wrote, “My very serious concerns are us not being able to properly evacuate because there are just too many people in neighborhoods now and too few roads.
“I spoke to some road officials at one of the booths also to ask questions about whether there has been any discussion of increasing roads and of course there has been none because of the cost. Yet our city and county officials continue to invite hordes of people that they know they cannot keep safe should a major fire hit this basin.”
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.
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