What’s All That Tree Thinning Going On?

Mountain biking at Tahoe XC

Improving Forest Health at Dollar Creek

Over the last 2 years, lots of folks hiking, biking, or skiing from Tahoe Cross Country have been curious about the major tree thinning project happening around Green and Blue trails. Some have assumed this project was spearheaded by Tahoe XC. It was not. Landowner California Tahoe Conservancy (CTC) has initiated this project in an effort to improve forest health and reduce fire danger.

When you ski, bike, or run up the Yellow Trail at Tahoe XC and turn onto Green Trail, you quickly leave Tahoe City Public Utility District (TCPUD) land and traverse across a parcel owned by the California Tahoe Conservancy, a 990-acre parcel known as the Dollar Creek Property. In 2019, the Dollar Creek Forest Health and Biomass thinning project began, covering 151 acres. Last summer, the second phase included the 260-acre Dollar Creek Forest Restoration Project.

Phase 1 Used Heavy Machinery

The first phase used extensive mechanical thinning to reduce the area’s high tree densities. “The forest thinning is addressing high loading of forest fuels to protect adjacent neighborhoods by reducing the risk of severe wildfire and improve the resiliency of the forest to disturbances,” said Chris Carney, Communications Director for the California Tahoe Conservancy.

The 151-acre parcel is considered a less environmentally sensitive location, so the mechanical thinning method could be used. Carney says that while it appears to have had a major impact on this portion of the forest, “If you visit similar properties where we have used this thinning method 4 or 5 years ago it’s a totally different story of how the forest looks, and we have removed the fuel to spark out-of-control fires.”

Logging work at Tahoe XC

Multi-Agency Effort Reducing Fire Threat

The project is part of a basin-wide effort by many agencies to reduce the threat of a catastrophic fire like those devastating much of California. In Burton Creek State Park, this effort has included thinning and several controlled burns in recent years. The Forest Service is also involved in thinning projects throughout the Tahoe region, including a major one in Ward Canyon.

In 2020, the Tahoe Conservancy began its 260-acre project, which heads east and north from Dollar Creek to the edge of the Old County Road neighborhood (and across the Blue Trail and the Dollar Creek bike trail). Since this area is considered more sensitive than the area treated in 2019, Carney says, “Crews will manually thin the overly dense understory trees and shrubs and then conduct pile burning. These actions improve forest health and habitat while decreasing the potential for catastrophic fire that destroys entire stands of trees.”

Hand Thinning Starts July 15, 2021

This year, hand thinning with no big machinery is scheduled to start on July 15, 2021. Pile burning will begin in the fall of 2021.

What has been the impact of the logging operations on the Tahoe XC skiing, biking, and hiking experience? It might depend on who you talk to. Many people like that the thinning created a more open forest with better views of the mountains and even a few glimpses of Lake Tahoe that couldn’t be seen before. Others prefer the dense and deep forest that was there before.

To bring our minds back to winter, there are two conflicting impacts of the thinned forest on our Nordic ski and snowshoe experience:

  1. More snow reaches the trails that otherwise would have ended up in the trees.
  2. The recently thinned areas are also more exposed to sunshine, which might make the trails melt out faster. Perhaps a young snow scientist could tell us how these two factors balance out.
Dollar Creek Southwest Fuels Reduction project map

Remember, Tahoe XC trails cross land owned by 3 different agencies: Tahoe City Public Utility District (TCPUD), California State Parks, and California Tahoe Conservancy. Learn more about how the California Tahoe Conservancy is Improving Forest Health at Dollar Creek.