TAHOE NATIONAL FOREST — Part of a multi-billion dollar clean-up of forests is underway in Tahoe National Forest.
Officials say the thinning work is making a difference and will lessen wildfire dangers by the end of the year.
"We're trying to reduce the threat of large-scale wildfires by reducing the number of trees across the national forests in the Western U.S.," said Eli Ilano, a supervisor with the Tahoe National Forest.
The focus is clearing out dry vegetation and dead trees, which is a huge job.
"I think this work is incredibly urgent. I think the forests as we know them in California and across the West, they're dying. They're being destroyed through fire," Ilano said. "They're dying from drought, disease and insects — and like I said, they're dying at a pace that we're having trouble keeping up with."
Work was delayed in the forest last year, so crews have thousands of acres to clear. The work is important but it's also drawing criticism from some environmentalists and locals, saying they're cutting down too many trees.
"This is an important area to us and we don't want to see it," said Steve Evans with CalWild. "We don't want to see it burn up and we don't want to see it logged over."
Steve Evans is CalWild's wild river director. He's calling for balance.
"We're asking the Forest Service to make their treatments lighter, to focus on smaller trees and shrubs, leave the larger trees and ensure that the scenery that and recreation opportunities that people enjoy along the North Yuba River are protected," he said.
That said, forest officials say people should expect change — a change that is good and long overdue.
"People will have to get used to seeing a less dense forest because that's a healthy forest," said Matt Millar, the program manager with the National Forest Foundation. "But right now, they're pretty dense and pretty crowded, and I think that's mistakenly thought of as being normal."
Officials say this work will lessen wildfire dangers by the end of the year in more than 200 communities across ten states.
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