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SPEECH
USDA Forest Service
Washington, D.C.

Environmental Achievements at Lake Tahoe
Forest Service Associate Chief Sally Collins
Lake Tahoe Restoration Forum
Lake Tahoe, CA—August 10, 2006

Good morning to all. Thanks, Governor Guinn … Senator Reid … Senator Ensign … Congressman Gibbons … Congressman Doolittle … Secretary Kempthorne … Administrator Johnson … Secretary Chrisman … and other distinguished guests. It’s a privilege to join you here today.

As a natural resources professional for more than 35 years, I am reminded by this spectacular setting how blessed I am to do this work for a living. And listening to all the speakers here this morning reminds me how fortunate we are to have these public servants working on our behalf—across political and jurisdictional boundaries—to protect this special place.

I’ve been asked to speak today about the accomplishments in the Lake Tahoe Basin—how collectively we’ve taken the financial support and the national and regional authorities given to us by many of those on the podium today and used them to affect the quality of the environment in the Basin.

Partnerships
Let me just say that, while the Forest Service manages 80 percent of the land in the Basin, work is being done through some of the most amazing and extensive sets of partnerships in the country. Government at all levels, tribes, businesses, and nonprofits—all here today—are working together with the very focused goal of protecting and preserving the environment in the Basin.

All of us know how difficult it can be to build and sustain trust. We also know that working with lots of different entities takes more time, can cost more money, and can make for some klunky procedures at times as we try to mesh all of our organizational requirements. Despite these difficulties, our relationships have grown through hard work and tenacious leaderships, and these relationships are perhaps our most important accomplishment. Without them, the rest can’t happen.

Through partnerships, some great programs have emerged. First and foremost, there’s the Environmental Improvement Plan, or EID. The partnership’s commitment to the lake’s conservation is manifested in the suite of projects in the EIP. As of 2006, $1.2 billion has been invested by all parties in the partnership. Accomplishments in the past 9 years under the EIP are too numerous to mention, but here are a few highlights:

  • the construction of eight facilities to increase transit ridership to improve air quality;

  • acquisition and restoration of thousands of acres of sensitive land to protect watersheds;

  • construction and rehabilitation of more than a hundred miles of trails for recreation and public access; and

  • treating more than a thousand acres to reduce stormwater runoff.

Other great programs in the Basin include the research work conducted by the Lake Tahoe Consortium, which is essential to the science underpinning our need to know whether these efforts are on track.

There’s also the Backyard Conservation Program, under which landowners get technical assistance targeting urban stormwater runoff and the sediment and nutrients entering the lake. It is also the largest EIP project, both in scope and in total cost. It is motivating private landowners to do their part in improving the water quality of Lake Tahoe.

There are so many more projects, large and small, that I can’t mention all of them in my time here today. But perhaps at next year’s 10-year anniversary of the partnership, we can celebrate all of them.

Fire Management
I want to end my comments on accomplishments with a word about fire. It’s on my mind, because large fires are burning all over the West right now.

One of the areas that has greatly benefited from increased funding is hazardous fuels reduction and wildfire protection planning for communities and the forestlands nearby. As others have said and I want to reiterate, avoiding unnatural, catastrophic wildfire is one of the highest priorities in the Basin. A great example of the progress being made and the cooperation of many agencies and jurisdictions is the completion of all seven community wildfire protection plans.

The Gondola Fire of 2002 at Heavenly and the Waterfall Fire of 2004 over the hill in Carson City emphasized the need for communities to join with government agencies in creating defensible space and taking personal responsibility for the protection of homes and properties. All the fire protection districts in the Basin—both in Nevada and in California—formed neighborhood Fire Safe Council chapters and are now chartered under the Nevada Fire Safe Council. The Forest Service, together with local fire departments, the TRPA, and the Nevada Fire Safe Council, as well as our state and other partners, is completing its Stewardship Fireshed Assessment of the national forest lands in the Basin that will result in a 10-year fuels reduction plan.

Over 9,000 acres of fuels treatments were completed over the past 3 years. About 6,000 of those acres were completed by mechanical and hand thinning and about 3,000 were treated by prescribed burns and chipping. We will continue to explore creative ways to reduce the costs of fuels work. We’re committed to using some of the new tools given to us by Congress. Through tools such as stewardship contracting and the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, we should be able to significantly reduce costs and in turn treat more acres. We are also hopeful that our work with our partners in finding new and creative treatment methods on current and future projects will result in additional savings, which will allow us to treat more acres and reduce the threat of catastrophic fires.

Since 1987, we’ve treated half of the highest risk areas for hazardous fuels, but 42,000 acres still require initial treatments. With new authorities (such as the Healthy Forests Restoration Act) and new funding (through the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act), plus a commitment to carefully manage costs, we can continue to aggressively treat more acres per year. We’ve got to continue to focus on landscapes and effective treatments and remind ourselves daily that the alternative—a large catastrophic fire—will have devastating long-term effects on the water quality in Lake Tahoe. We can’t allow ourselves to fall into the trap of rearranging the deck chairs while the ship goes down. We have to be bold and assertive on this, and our collective leadership in guiding people through this is crucial. We only need to look at New Orleans to know we don’t want to live with regrets.

Working Together
We should resist the urge to become complacent and return to the bureaucratic tendency to insist on doing things our way. We must all be vigilant and continue working together: federal, state, local, tribal, and private partners. By doing so as true partners, we will continue to improve the environment, the clarity of the waters, and the safety of our citizens by reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires in the Basin. We will leave this lake spectacular—a true national treasure—in better condition for future generations.

Once again, it has been my privilege to join you today in this magnificent setting and to share with you some of the successes and achievements of the Federal Interagency Partnership. I appreciate the opportunity. Once again, thank you for the invitation.

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