Aug 17 2007
It’s great to be back again. And I want to thank my good friend, Senator Dick Bryan, for that kind introduction.
Dick was my partner in getting the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act approved. He’s a good friend, and his presence is really missed in the United States Senate, and I want you to know that.
I also would like to thank my leader in the Senate, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, for hosting this summit, along with John Ensign of Nevada, and for both of them being major supporters of restoration efforts.
They both passed a bill which has made funding from land sales around Las Vegas available to help restore this basin, and they’re willing to share it with California, as well. So this deserves a big round of applause from all of you.
Finally, I want to recognize the man in the red shirt and the gray hair and the spectacles, because 10 years ago, President Bill Clinton issued a clarion call for action. Thank you, Mr. President.
Ten years ago, under your leadership, a public-private partnership was forged with a simple goal – keep Lake Tahoe Blue.
And over this decade, this partnership has flourished. Much has been accomplished.
Over a billion dollars has been spent on the Environmental Improvement Program. This includes $293 million from the federal government. This includes $446 million from the State of California. About $213 million of California’s total is Caltrans retrofitting state highways to capture runoff, a major source of pollution. $82 million is from the State of Nevada. $53.4 from local governments
And $216 million from the great private sector all around this lake.
There have been 270 capital projects and about 130 science projects that have been completed as part of the Environmental Improvement Program.
These include the acquisition of over 3,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land; 739 acres of stream environment zones restored; 21,000 acres treated for ecosystem restoration; 55 miles of forest roads restored;
127 miles of new trails; treated storm water runoff, and on and on and on.
Much has been accomplished, but there is still a very long way to go. And success – I must be candid with you – is not assured.
Today there is a danger which threatens all that we have tried to do here. And that is the risk of catastrophic fire.
It is very clear to me that not enough has been done to reduce that threat. Despite the intense attention of the seven fire districts, and the intense attention of the National Forest Service.
I arrived in Tahoe at the beginning of this week.
I’ve walked the trails. I visited the Angora fire. I’ve met with the Forest Service, all of the lake’s fire chiefs, and California’s fire marshal.
The undersecretary of agriculture – Mark Rey, who is sitting here – has participated in our discussions.
There is danger all around: In the dense forests with thick fuel ladders. In the trees killed by drought and bark beetle. In the fuels that have been accumulated, but not yet removed.
The risk of another major conflagration is real, ladies and gentlemen, and it is immediate.
And the risk of fire is compounded by global warming.
Just this week, scientists at the University of California at Davis published a report that found that global warming is indeed hitting Lake Tahoe hard.
The lake’s air and water are warming because of the atmospheric buildup of greenhouse gases.
The report found -- and I think it’s interesting -- that since 1911, there have been 27 fewer days this last year with average temperatures below freezing – dropping from 79 to 52 days. There is 4 degrees higher night time temperatures. The surface water is 5 degrees warmer in July.
And here is the most striking finding in my book: A diminishing percentage of precipitation that falls as snow. It has dropped from 52 to 34 percent. That’s 18 percent less snow from precipitation since 1911.
It’s remarkable, and it signals a major change in Tahoe’s weather patterns. And we need to accept this challenge and take hold of it. Global warning is only expected to get worse.
So what does it actually mean?
It means longer, dryer summers – leading to stress and drought in the forests.
More trees will die off. More hazardous fuels. And catastrophic fire becomes more likely.
So what should be done?
I call upon the Forest Service to work with the state of California to develop a comprehensive restoration plan of the Angora fire area – before the rainy season begins.
Second, we must fund and implement community wildfire protections plans. In 2004, I called on the seven fire districts in a meeting here to develop community wildfire protection plans. These plans are now complete. They’ve been approved by California and Nevada. And I want to thank the fire chiefs for all their hard work.
I particularly want to (thank) Duane Whitelaw of North Tahoe Fire District…John Pang, chief of Meeks Bay… Chris Sauer of Fallen Leaf Lake; Jeff Michael, Lake Valley; Lorenzo Giliotti, South Lake Tahoe; Guy Lefever, Tahoe-Douglas; Mike Brown, North Lake Tahoe-Incline.
These seven chiefs have put together community fire protection plans for all of these areas. They identify about 12,000 acres closest to the communities that need to be treated on federal, state, local and private land. Now that these plans are completed and approved, they need to get funded and implemented.
I urge the Forest Service to give these community plans their highest priority.
Today, Senator Reid, Senator Ensign, Secretary Kempthorne and I met in the Glenbrook area, up in a hazardous fuels mitigation area, and discussed this. There was supposed to be $5 million – there was yesterday available for the plans – today we learned that it’s $2 million. And I know, and I’m grateful, to both Senator Reid and Senator Ensign as we work together and try to increase this funding so these community fire plans can move most rapidly.
Thirdly, the Forest Service has $10 million of unspent funding for hazardous fuels. Spend these dollars in our communities, Mr. Rey. There is no time to waste.
Fourth, in my view the Forest Service and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency should renegotiate a memorandum of understanding to streamline the process for clearing fuels.
In particular, I believe that the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency needs to provide its comments during the existing environmental review process for brush-clearing projects – before the Forest Service has issued what’s called its ‘record of decision.’ Neither TRPA or any other regulatory agency should require a second environmental review process after the first one has already ended.
This is not the time for bureaucratic red tape. So I hope that this MOU can be completed as soon as possible.
And finally, all those who care about Tahoe must renew their commitment and redouble their effort. If we don’t, we will lose what we treasure most. So residents must do their part in using fire-resistant building materials, in creating defensible space around our homes.
Mr. President, some 13,000 acres have been cleared of hazardous fuels over the past decade. Now that’s a good step forward, but it is far short of the goal of 3,000 acres a year that you, Mr. President, set for us 10 years ago. So we have so much more to do over the next 10 years, so that we can reduce fuels on another 37,000 acres.
Now, there’s no question that this great lake faces serious challenges. There also is no question that if we work together – Nevada and California – that we are equal to the task. We can get out the dead, dying, down (trees), we can manage our forests, we can create the defensible fire spaces and we can protect this great lake for our children and our grandchildren. That is our challenge, and we must take hold of it. Thank you.