A big forest-thinning project is underway on private land
Forest thinning is pretty much what it sounds like: You cut down trees in order to help others grow, reduce fire risk and foster a cleaner watershed. Dry conditions have apparently made the practice all the more urgent in Northern Nevada, and a variety of government agencies and NGOs are working in tandem to get the job done.
“All along the Sierra Front, it’s all hands on deck,” says Nature Conservancy project director Duane Petite.
At the moment, the second phase of an especially large thinning project is wrapping up on private land in Carson City. (Dubbed “Phase 1” for reasons too wonky to get into here, it’s not really the first round of work.) The site encompasses roughly 800 acres in the Clear Creek watershed, and apart from a handful of grants, the effort is funded by developer Jim Taylor, whose vision for the Clear Creek Tahoe property includes a golf course surrounded by a planned community. The project, which entails a large degree of water monitoring, is in the hands of the nonprofit Nature Conservancy and around 15 government agencies, including the U.S. Geological Survey and the Nevada Division of Forestry.
“It’s entirely voluntary,” Petite said, when asked if the work could be likened to eminent domain, or if Taylor had to oblige. “Absolutely not.”
Actually, Taylor gave up various development rights back in 2008 to create a conservation easement, and originally considered public access for mountain biking and the sort of “forest health project” that’s currently under way, Petite said.
The Carson River District worksite is adjacent to a U.S. Forest Service thinning project, and another belonging to the Washo Tribe. The lumber, valued at around $400,000, will become mulch, firewood, construction fodder and wood chips to fuel an electricity generating plant.
“If you think of the trees, there are just too many straws trying to sip out of an almost empty glass of water,” Petite explained. “By thinning, we’re reducing competition, so we’re training the remaining trees to grow healthier and stronger and more resilient to the drought. When you have a forest that’s overcrowded like this one, it’s going to get thinned one way or another. We can either wait for insects and disease or wildfire to do the thinning, or we can do it in a thoughtful and controlled manner.”
But what of all the creatures that call the place home? It’s hard to imagine a displaced bird or mountain lion caring much about forest health.
“We’re resetting the clock, if you will, trying to get past human actions like the Comstock-era logging and the fire suppression to take it to a more natural state,” Petite said. “Then the animals … are going to find a home that’s more to their liking—more like what would have been there in the past.”
In any case, the work is ongoing and widespread, especially on public lands.
“It is actively happening all over the place,” said NDS program coordinator Ryan Shane. “There’s a lot of acreage planned in the next 10 years for implementation.”