Lake Tahoe Community College’s Fire Academy and new Forestry program has received two generous grants to benefit students within the pathways.

The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation Forest Future’s Program awarded $100,000 to the college’s Fire Academy for new gear, equipment, and supplemental staff, which will allow more students to participate in the program. The Tahoe Fund, a nonprofit organization that focuses on environmental improvement projects in the region, is gifting $1,000 scholarships to every eligible student in the college’s new forestry pathway. 

Students eligible for the $1,000 forestry scholarship need a minimum of five units of related coursework in the fall, winter, and spring quarters, while also maintaining at least a 2.5 GPA. The scholarship will automatically be distributed to students in three quarterly checks. 

Brad Deeds, Academic Dean of Workforce Development and Instruction at Lake Tahoe Community College (LTCC), oversees the college’s fire and forestry programs. He says the curriculum in these programs is essential, especially within the Tahoe Basin. 

“By offering $1,000 forestry scholarships and equipment and gear for fire and forestry students, we are breaking down barriers for underrepresented populations,” explains Deeds. “And providing more access to people interested in careers focused on preserving Tahoe’s forests and protecting our communities.” 

The Forestry program allows students to earn an Associate of Science degree, along with an Employable Skills Certificate, and a Certificate of Achievement. In as little as two years, students can move forward in a forestry career with local, state, and national resource agencies in entry-level positions as forestry technicians and assistants. 

Moving students through the program will build a strong workforce equipped to handle the growing wildfires throughout the region and state. The efforts will contribute to the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team’s goal of treating an additional 22,000 acres in the wildland-urban interface, where homes and buildings meet undeveloped wildland. 

“There is a critical shortage of skilled forestry and fire personnel in the Lake Tahoe Basin, and in California more broadly,” explains Deeds. 

“In order to provide the wildfire mitigation and forest treatment work needed to combat the growing effects of climate change here in Tahoe and beyond, colleges like LTCC are being called upon to increase the skilled workforce and protect our communities and forests as the risk escalates.” 

In 2021, about 36 miles west of the Tahoe Basin, the destructive Caldor Fire began in Grizzly Flats. Within the next two weeks, the fire destroyed 221,835 acres, 1,003 structures, and caused 50,000 residents to evacuate their homes. When the wildfire crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountain crest and entered the Basin, Deeds says the South Lake Tahoe community was prepared. Every Fire Academy graduate from Lake Tahoe Community College’s 2021 class helped in the fight against the Caldor Fire. 

“The incredible efforts of the huge numbers of firefighters, plus the pre-treated forests surrounding our communities, was the reason South Lake Tahoe was able to avoid any structures or lives lost,” explains Deeds. “The media referred to it as the ‘Christmas Valley Miracle,’ but in reality, it was the hard work of firefighters and forestry personnel that made it happen.” 

Fire Academy graduate Julio Loera was one student who helped in the efforts fighting the devastating Caldor Fire. He says watching his classmates do what they could to protect their community in South Lake Tahoe was inspirational. 

“Everyone thought for a second that we might lose our city or homes … and it was just amazing, to see what [our crew] did, and that kind of inspired me,” explains Loera. “That’s what motivated me.”
Students who complete the Forestry program and Fire Academy can embark on careers with reputable regional employers like CAL FIRE, the USDA Forest Service, the California Tahoe Conservancy, the Tahoe Resource Conservation District and more. 

“The people who visit and live in Tahoe feel a strong connection to the surrounding forests and our incredible natural environment,” explains Deeds. “LTCC’s Fire and Forestry programs provide pathways to sustainable careers working in these environments, and to directly help protect and save them.”

“Our community and college have learned the hard way how to live with wildfire, and how to adjust quickly to rapidly changing circumstances. We know how crucial a strong, skilled fire and forestry workforce is.” 

Learn more about the program and $1,000 scholarship by visiting Lake Tahoe Community College’s Forestry program page.