The e-mails are flying and the Facebook posts are multiplying.
The Sierra Club is predicting environmental disaster for the Tahoe Basin if the California Assembly ratifies SB 630, recently approved by the California Senate 39-0. The bill preserves the bi-state regulation of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding lands through the Tahoe Regional Planning Authority.
TRPA, or Ter-pa as it is referred to by the locals, was created in 1969 when Congress ratified the compact between Nevada and California.
It has been a rocky relationship between the two states over the last few years over the degree of regulation, specifically the impact on the region’s economy. Nevada threatened to pull out of TRPA over policies it perceived as detrimental to the economic health of the region.
Allow me to digress a little.
I count myself as an ardent proponent of protecting the lake and its surroundings. It is my second home and I have spent increasingly long stays in my abode on Nevada’s North Shore. I served as CFO of Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, NV for a year, returning to Los Angeles this past April.
The college has an impressive environmental resume and is home to the Tahoe Center for Environmental Studies. The center is located in a Leed Certified Platinum building on the campus. I was proud of our partnership with UC Davis, who shares the facility with SNC and conducts environmental studies of the lake.
Outdoor activities are important to the faculty, staff and students. Many organized events were developed around responsible use of the natural splendor we lived in 24/7.
Although surrounded by one of God’s and nature’s finest creations, we were also acutely aware of the fragility of the environment.
If the Sierra Club fears Nevada will favor economic development to the detriment of the environment, the concern is exaggerated.
If anything, Nevada has been a better steward of its 29 miles of shoreline than California has of its 41. The worst damage ever inflicted on the Lake was the development of the Tahoe Keyes Marina in the city of South Lake Tahoe. It destroyed irreplaceable wetlands that filtered tons of sediment and nutrients. By contrast, about one-third of Nevada’s shoreline is encompassed by a large state park that effectively blocks any development over a large portion of the eastern basin.
Incline Village and Crystal Bay on Nevada’s share of the North Shore are as developed as they will ever be. Both towns are managed with environmental sensitivity by the Incline Village General Improvement District. IVGID managed the restoration of the Incline Creek and Third Creek watershed, the largest source of sediment on that part of the lake.
If the Sierra Club were truly committed to protecting the Tahoe Basin, it would support the thinning of the surrounding forest.
To the naked eye, the pine-covered landscape appears healthy. It is a carpet of green.
Upon closer inspection, the effects of the bark beetle are evident. Swaths of trees are showing signs of infestation – their needles are turning brown. Death is certain and the dying trees will become fuel for fires.
The forest is too thick. Besides being conducive to the rapid spread of wildfires, growth beneficial to wildlife has been crowded out.
The single greatest threat to Lake Tahoe is a massive wildfire. It would reverse decades of improvement to the renowned clarity of the water. Local fire districts have done excellent work creating halos of defensible space around the population centers, but thinning of the forest is the only defense against a massive, catastrophic blaze.
Yet the Sierra Club has stubbornly fought this strategy.
Yes, there would be damage to the environment. You can’t cut and remove trees without causing harm, but the damage would be temporary. What’s more, it would have to be done over a long period of time; therefore, the visual and physical impact would be mitigated. I would gladly deal with the damage from thinning over the widespread destruction caused by a fire.
The Tahoe Basin bounced back from the massive clear cutting done during the silver mining boom of the Comstock Era in the 19th Century. However, the new forest was not diverse and was too dense. It will recover from thinning….but in a healthy way.
The Sierra Club should be more concerned with real natural dangers to Tahoe than fear Nevada’s legitimate concern for the region’s economy. What’s more, the vast majority of Californians and Nevadans who live in this special place today, including local businesses, appreciate the importance of preserving the lake. They will not allow any government or special interest to abuse it.