Letter: Forest thinning brings tears


To the community,

I wanted to thank Liana Zambresky for her eloquent article in the August Tahoe Mountain News about healthy forests (thank you Carla Ennis, too, for your letter-to-the editor). I lack the scientific expertise to back Ms. Zambresky up, but I share her sentiments.

I have just come back from walking through the latest destruction zone that I used to call the sacred land of Fallen Leaf. I shed many tears, got sick to my stomach, shed some more tears and came home. I am cried out for the moment, but my heart is heavy and hurting. I sorrow for the friends that I will never see again and exchange the joy of being alive with, the once stately grove of trees. I sorrow for all the countless birds and animals that were nourished and sheltered by those trees. I feel sorry for my own loss, the shade, the peace, the sense of secret paths though you were close to a road. I sorrow deeply for the earth that misses her children and has had Her land savagely destroyed.

I have heard this called fuel reduction with the idea that it will save it from a future fire and improve its health. I walked through the Angora area after the fire, I live across from Seneca Pond on the other side of North Upper Truckee and my parents lost their home on Mule Deer. I understand the deep pain that fire cost our Tahoe residents and I mourned the forest then, too. But I sure don’t understand getting rid of a whole forest because you want to prevent it from burning in the future or think you are making it healthier by doing that.

I have heard there are good reasons for this practice, but I can’t seem to wrap my mind around them in the face of the visual evidence of what is left behind.

I am a minister at Unity at the Lake and it is very important to me to be a bridge builder and see/hear someone else’s point of view. When I can’t see the other side, then I know I have work to do … to remember that there are people behind the point-of-view and that those people have dreams, fears and people they care about … just like me. So I’m trying here. And yet my heart still cries and asks who will speak for the trees, the birds, the animals when they can’t.

I know that when people are on opposite sides of an issue it often is hard to find common ground; everybody just feels they are so “right”. And I certainly feel that way now but that doesn’t help the situation or our community.

Ms. Zambresky wrote that we are two years into an eight-year cycle of these kinds of projects. What I would love to do is take a walk with everyone in the Forest Service who believes in this plan (and still says it was carried out properly) and walk though the few remaining of my favorite walks and then walk through the newly created “healthy” forest. I believe we could get beyond words, agendas, computer models and plans and perhaps the sacred heart of the forest, although It beats in fewer places now, would talk to us … be the bridge between us. Perhaps you would light up from the inside in a way you’d never experienced before. We could share something special, and then I could listen to your concerns. And together we might be able to work at a solution, probably not totally to my satisfaction, probably not totally to yours. But maybe, just maybe we could come away knowing we worked on something together, perhaps a way that is less extreme and that doesn’t leave a divided community and a dead (OK my opinion, so, at the very least uninviting) forest.

Hillary Bittman, South Lake Tahoe


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Comments (18)
  1. John says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Hillary, go take a drive down Blackwood Canyon, same forest thinning, same equipment…all done five years ago.

    The problem we have in this society is we are all about now. Well some things take a couple years. Blackwood took about 3 years.

    Finally, please name the species of wildlife that eats a conifer.

  2. Steve says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    It appears that at least a third, maybe up to a half in some areas, of the standing trees between Pope Marsh and Camp Richardson have been spray-painted with blue marking circles, presumably for removal. Countless clearly healthy trees included.

    At the other end of town, the numerous tinder-dry slash piles throughout Van Sickle Park are unquestionably a fire hazard.

    Let’s hope the Forest Service knows what it’s doing. Its track record creates doubts.

  3. Tahoe gal says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Hillary – where to even begin. I agree with John – your article was all about “I” and “now”. You state – “I feel sorry for my own loss”. So you admit, this is all about you and everyone should revise their plans, not based on scientific evidence, but what “you” think is right. What you imagine the chipmunk would prefer.
    You state – “But I sure don’t understand getting rid of a whole forest” – really – we are getting rid of the whole forest. Did I miss the area of town that we clear cut, bulldozed and built a parking lot instead?
    I would suggest that you take John’s advice – go to Blackwood Canyon and then, take another walk through your parent’s back yard where the fire burned. Which is healthier forest?
    Please try to talk with a human about the health and future of the forest. I’m not sure you are properly interpreting what the squirrel is telling you

  4. dumbfounded says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Well-intentioned drivel, IMHO.

  5. Janice Eastburn says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Hillary, I hear you speaking out from your heart on this very important issue. I appreciate your open invitation for dialog. We, as a community, live in a sacred and awe-inspiring place. Surely there is a compromise here somewhere that will allow us to increase our fire safety AND preserve the nature presence (including trees and wildlife) that makes Tahoe so very special. Both are important. I hear you calling for that dialog and compromise. Please, everyone, it is okay to disagree but sarcasm does nothing to help us reach a peaceful place of compromise; it only hurts and divides. Let us speak with each other with respect. I make that committment to use this forum in this way. Will you please join me? Peace to all.

  6. dumbfounded says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    I imagine that Michaelangelo’s workshop looked like a mess when he was only part way done with the David…
    Some things take time and may not be what they appear to be at certain points in time.

  7. Greenandproud says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    If people would just LEAVE, the forest would take care of itself. Humans are the scourge of the environment. Those who don’t understand take for their own this planet which DOES NOT BELONG TO THEM. Climate change is killing us. I wish every day that people would never come to our beautiful nirvana and bring their pollution spewing cars, their plastic loving appetites, and their water polluting ways. Nature is so delicate that even the smallest twig broken in a forest can upset the balance and have catastrophic effects. The forest service and their slash and burn mentality should be ashamed at what they are doing to my home. GO AWAY.

  8. Biggerpicture says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Greenandptoud, are you going to set an example for us and be the first to leave? Or is it your attitude that is okay for you to be here but no one else?

  9. GoHugeATree says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Sounds like your preaching your whiny soft a$$ opinion. Far from fact and what this town needs. It’s people like this that are going to force us to live in the PC world. Don’t hurt the trees feeling! Meanwhile half the town burns up in the next fire. Go after the rich d!cks killing bears because they are on the property getting into the trash they leave out to be spread in your woods. Have some value to your fight. I didnt see compassion in you letter. Only excessive whining. All it would take is one cigarette from a dumb valley out at a place like fallen leaf then you won’t have a forest to go and cry in.

  10. dumbfounded says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Unfortunately, if the forest is left to take care of itself, you end up with an Angora Fire event. The environmental situation changes significantly with the introduction of humans. I, for one, do not want the Lake Tahoe Basin to end up reserved only for government-approved environmentalists while the taxpayers pay for their private retreat.

  11. hikerchick says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Thank you to Hilary Bittman for her heartfelt piece about the forest thinning. People who responded harshly to her letter perhaps have not been out in the woods (Fallen Leaf in particular) both before and after the thinning or maybe they are involved in the project. After reading the Mountain News, I walked through some thinned areas and wondered how closely the Forest Service is following the prescription of tree size with regard to cutting trees over 30″ in diameter and leaving smaller trees. Seems we have been told by foresters that a forest of same size trees is unhealthy but it looks like that in a lot of what I walked through. Both Hilary and Liana Zambresky speak of the spiritual nature of the woods. This concept is dismissed by many but is an important value held by many people throughout the centuries. It is largely because people who have a spiritual connection to the land that we have National Parks, wilderness areas and parks of other kinds. Hilary is correct in her thinking that there could easily be a compromise between the harsh prescription and the more moderate approach favored by many in our community. I encourage her and other like-minded people to walk with one of the vegetation planners from the Forest Service to seek this common ground. Remember, no one is opposed to thinning our forests of the heavy fuel loads but it doesn’t have to look like a scorched earth operation. This is the beginning of a huge project that will touch every corner of the basin. We need to think about how we want the basin to look and what type of habitat the forests will provide. Now is the time to make modifications that will benefit the forests, wildlife, locals and tourists alike. If enough of us speak out, maybe the Forest Service planners will sit down and make some reasonable changes. After all, the Forest Service regulates the land but it is all of us who share stewardship.

  12. Bill Casey says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Many of you in this topic-thread hold deep emotional opinions about the forest-thinning issue, just like many (and some of you) hold the same in the earlier discussion about Who do you believe is protecting Lake Tahoe? I can see that some of you are bringing your ideas to the table on how to keep from happening what has happened before, such as the Angora fire that devastated the homes and lives of so many, including the forest itself. Believe it or not, what you are doing here is a good thing – we all need to be able to express our views and opinions, no matter how emotionally charged they may be. I must ask each of you the same question: Is there one thing all of you can agree on? I think the answer to that question is a resounding, “YES, the potential for another catastrophic wildfire must be removed from the equation.” Okay, that said, what is the solution? Doing nothing, as has been already pointed out, is not the solution. Clear-cutting the entire forest also is not the solution. Though clear-cutting and the slash and burn approach will most definitely end the potential for such a fire for good, doing so only opens up another set of problems, such as erosion from rain, and dirt and dust from winds. And who wants to live in a burned out, dirty, dusty, forest-less environment? Nobody, not humans nor animals. It seems that the only reasonable answer is to be found in selective harvesting methods that keep the forest intact for all of us, including the wildlife. Selective harvesting takes more time, and doing that is more expensive than the less costly method of wiping the forest out completely. Selective harvesting of the trees and the reduction of the fire fuel on the forest floor will result in a healthier forest and living environment for all concerned, and taking those measures will most definitely reduce the potential for another catastrophic wildfire. I don’t believe quick fixes, such as removing the forest completely, is the answer. Nor do I believe that doing nothing at all is the answer. I also don’t believe that compromising our ideals is the answer. But I do believe that all arguments, be they pro or con, need to be brought to the table for discussion. So I am inviting each of you to stop attacking others who hold different viewpoints and opinions than your own, and place your collective energies and passions on a more solutions-oriented approach. Yes, your opinions matter, no matter how divergent or emotionally-charged they may be. I can assure you that your holding on tightly to your personal positions about this will not help this situation, because each of your viewpoints has some validity to them, but not all viewpoints provide any solutions. If you can learn to accept and respect that principle, and can work together regardless your individual objectives, with the goal of discovering the common ground that all of you possess, the solution will emerge. The answer to this problem is there, waiting for us to discover. I do not think there is any more time to be wasted here. We need to have a collective, shared vision for what is possible here, and a clear vision on how best to create the results that all of us can be proud of. Personally, I am a solutions-based, results-driven individual who believes that if all of us can just put aside our personal desires for just a little while and listen, truly listen, to the ideas of others, we can reach that common ground of understanding that is required in order for us to move forward. Can you all do that? Can any of you do that?

  13. Biggerpicture says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Perception seems to be the issue here. What one person perceives as clearcutting another percieves as healthy thinning. What one person sees today and believes that is the condition the forest will stay in for the long term, another sees as the groundwork for healthy growth of forest floor level foliage.

  14. hikerchick says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    As I said, believe that almost all residents agree that some fuels reduction is good and necessary. I think the only sticking point is the severity of the thinning prescription and even on this point, a moderate compromise on the part of the Forest Service would resolve many of the objections. The question is whether or not the Forest Service is willing to come to the table in any way over this.

    It might be good to send the Mountain News articles of the past two or three months along with these postings to newspapers around the lake. Many basin residents may only have heard vague discussions about this project but soon it will be in their laps as it is in ours now. Either we like the way the forest will be after this prescription is applied basin wide or we don”t. Some people are saying that this prescription was very controversial even among forest Service personnel who worked on the plan.

    How many people around the lake who will soon be seeing this in their backyards are concerned and would like to modify what is happening? And, big question, is the Forest Service willing to meet with people who agree on the concept of fuels reduction but would like to make modest changes? Maybe Bill Casey, Hilary Bittman and others will guide all of us to the negotiating table. Its not too late.

  15. Bill Casey says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Might I add that hikerchick continue to participate in that guidance as well? Thank you. Would someone please send copies of those respective Mountain News articles to me, to P.O. Box 3725 Incline Village NV 89450.

  16. Bill Casey says - Posted: August 20, 2013

    Thank you, tahoeadvocate. And thank you, all of you.

  17. cosa pescado says - Posted: August 26, 2013

    Neither author seems to have any practical experience in forestry. Fire Ecology is a bit more complicated.
    The author of the first article mentions an incomplete dataset. And fails to mention that 20 million trees have been mapped using remote sensing. Species, DBH, crown characteristics.

    If you want to really see the forest, go off trail. Wander through the areas south of Homewood and tell me how healthy that forest is. You can’t walk 20ft without tripping on debris or taking a dead fir branch to the eye.
    I’ve been to almost every patch of old growth in the Basin. Has either author been to one?
    I will keep listening to the Fire Ecologists. I suggest you do too.