The forests of the Lake Tahoe Basin are historically adapted to frequent low- and moderate-severity fires, with some small patches of high-severity fire. Fire once played an important role in maintaining ecosystem processes and functions like forest thinning. For the past 100 years or more, fire has mostly been excluded from the dry forests of the Lake Tahoe Basin, resulting in dense and water-stressed vegetation with large fuel accumulations. These conditions create a high fire hazard, where wildfires burn at much higher severity than they did historically, as demonstrated by recent and ongoing fires in the state of California. Climate change projections suggest that fires will become more frequent in the Lake Tahoe Basin in the coming decades.
Prescribed burning is a cost-effective complement to thinning to reduce wildfire risk and to achieve ecological benefits of restoring landscapes. It also provides substantial ecological benefits because Sierra Nevada forests are evolutionarily adapted to fire. Prescribed fire following thinning treatments can improve the longevity and effectiveness of fuels reduction while enhancing plant and wildlife diversity. Prescribed fire can be used as a primary tool in areas with less hazardous fuel conditions such as some meadows and aspen stands. Prescribed burning in meadow restoration efforts offers particularly important benefits, including promoting native fire-adapted plants and improving meadow soils through incorporation of charcoal.
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