A Farewell to our Forester

A Farewell to our Forester

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At the end of this year, we will say goodbye to Bill Houdyschell, registered professional forester, as he retires from the Forestry Department after more than 27 years at Tahoe Donner.

Tahoe Donner looked much different nearly three decades ago than it does today. In 1993, there were only about 3,000 homes/ multi-residences out of the current 5,239. Open space was much more prevalent, and only 3,500 acres were owned by the association. The Forestry Department had one full-time position, and Bill Houdyschell had just taken over as the forester.

“Bill went to Humboldt State University and got his degree in forestry while working seasonally for Cal Fire,” mentions Joanne Roubique, retired district ranger for the National Forest. “He then came to work for the Forest Service doing timber sale administration, which is a pretty big job. It takes lots of different skillsets – contracts, forest practices, soils, wildlife, archeology, water
quality and communication with contractors. He did all of that really well.”

Because of this, when Houdyschell joined the Tahoe Donner team, he was able to see the association for not only what it was but what it could be. Annie Rosenfeld, Tahoe Donner Director of Risk Management and Real Property, shares, “Bill was able to look at forest health and fire safety to design a fuel-reduction and modification program that was pretty advanced for his time. It was so forward-thinking to focus on forest health.”

A lot of his efforts early on are already reaping benefits now. We’re far more advanced in forest health and fire mitigation than many other communities in the area. He’s used our forests and applied techniques to mimic how natural low-intensity fire would affect the landscape, so we have a more resilient forest stand and reduce our fire risk to the community.”

A registered professional forester (RPF) is a highly tested license through the State of California to perform forestry-related services and apply forestry principles to the management of the forest. Bill acquired this title, raising his status beyond that of a forester. This helped when communicating with Tahoe Donner’s neighboring National Forests. He also volunteered on the board of directors of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County. Add in his relationship to Cal Fire, and you have a man whose impacts are felt throughout the Tahoe area and beyond.

Fire protection and forest health require work from all homeowners who want to keep their community safe. When the Angora Fire of 2007 raged through South Lake Tahoe, Bill collaborated on a Tahoe Donner defensible space program for homeowners, rolling it out in 2008. No other association in the area had created such a progressive effort. In 2010, Bill was the driving force in achieving the requirements for Tahoe Donner to become the first community in east Nevada County to be a Firewise Community®, which the association has retained annually since then. In 2017, Tahoe Donner was awarded Firewise Community® of the Year. As part of achieving and maintaining the distinction, the Tahoe Donner Homeowner Defensible Space Inspection Program now follows a 6-year cycle of 1,000 inspections per year.

In addition to improving forest health, Bill has maximized the resources for funding, saving the association and the membership money without losing the safety and radical nature of the Forestry Department, such as selling chips from the chipping program to biomass plants.

In addition, Rosenfeld notes, “He’s been really successful in his time here obtaining grants for the association. Some are grants requiring matching funds and some are regular grants for fuel-modification projects. He didn’t have to seek these out because it is a lot of work. Having the wherewithal and initiative to go after that money to the benefit of the association has been amazing.”

Bill would prepare projects so, when grant money was available, they would be able to utilize it immediately. “A 300-foot fire break along the south boundary and a break above the Sunrise Bowl area have been possible because of Bill’s strategic efforts. These two areas not only applied to Tahoe Donner funding but were given a wider scope to ensure the stakes around the association were safe as well. I can’t begin to express their importance,” says Rosenfeld.

Often working seven days a week for weeks on end in the summertime, folks who walk with Bill in the forest always learn something new about the trees, flora and fauna. Every department has benefited from his expertise in land management and planning. Tahoe Donner will value his knowledge in the future as a consultant, but we wish Bill a retirement full of hunting, spending time with his family and playing with his animals.

To learn more about the Forestry Department, visit tahoedonner.com/land-forestry.