TNC's Chris Fichtel responds 080410
This is a piece from Mr. Fichtel in response to our questions. We thank Mr. Fichtel very much for his time and thought.
The Nature Conservancy purchased the property around Independence Lake because of the resounding benefits for both people and nature. The lake is a source of fresh drinking water, provides a recreational amenity for local people and visitors to the region, and provides important habitat for fish and wildlife - all are which are essential to our well-being.
Over the course of the last half century, there were very real threats posed by development at Independence Lake. The Conservancy’s purchase saved Independence Lake from resort/estate development and the near total loss of public access and enjoyment of the lake.
The funding for the $15 million dollar purchase came from a variety of private and public sources, which were specifically slated for wildlife, habitat and water quality conservation. This investment of public and private funding was made primarily to safeguard the native fish and lake ecosystem. In addition, one funding source also had a stipulation to provide public access, which we could have met in a variety of ways. However, regardless of the funding requirement for public access, we think this is an amazing and spectacular property that should be enjoyed by the public in a way that is compatible with protection of the lake’s unique natural resources.
The Nature Conservancy and the Truckee Donner Land Trust jointly provide for public access at the lake. Together our organizations spent more than a year closely evaluating management options to establish a balanced approach that would provide a unique and valuable recreational experience while also meeting our conservation objectives to protect native fish, the lake ecosystem and safeguard fresh drinking water.
Independence Lake is one of the most pristine lakes of its size in California and our goal is to keep it that way.
The Independence Lake watershed supports outstanding forest and lake habitats that are home to the federally endangered Lahontan cutthroat trout; 6 other native fish species; mule deer, black bear, osprey, aspen groves, wet meadows, and groves of old-growth red fir forest. The Lahontan cutthroat trout population is one of only two remaining wild and self-sustaining lake populations left in the entire world.
Aquatic invasive species are one of the primary reasons that freshwater ecosystems and native fish are in decline in California and elsewhere in the world. Aquatic invasive species also disrupt recreation by covering beaches with the sharp dead shells or by clogging swimming areas with algae and floating aquatic weeds. They have severe economic impacts as well by clogging pipes, valves, and the infrastructure needed to move water to farms and towns.
In recent years invasive species have spread rapidly through Western states including California and Nevada, which is cause for serious concern. The predicted economic impact of the quagga mussel and zebra mussel if they enter into Lake Tahoe is estimated at over $22 million per year. And there are nearly two dozen other invasive species also posing serious and irreversible damage to Lake Tahoe and Independence Lake.
In the vast majority of cases, aquatic invaders cannot be removed once they become established. Therefore, if we are to enjoy Independence Lake's unspoiled beauty in the future, prevention is our best line of defense.
Today the transport of motorboats and boat trailers from one water body to the next is the primary mechanism of spread for aquatic invasive species in North America, which is the primary reason why we do not permit motorboats and trailers across the property. We came to this conclusion only after a thorough and lengthy scientific assessment on the spread and prevention of aquatic invasive species, which was broadly reviewed and supported by leading scientists studying aquatic invasive species and government agencies responsible for controlling their spread.
We also looked into alternatives that would allow for motors and trailers on the property but found that the equipment, staffing and retrofits were far too costly to provide and didn’t adequately reduce the risk.
Additionally, when we surveyed visitors to Independence Lake over the summer of 2008, we found that 46% of water recreation came from kayaks or canoes, whereas only 17% of water recreation came from motor boats. Non-motorized boating is rapidly growing in popularity with hundreds of thousands of people engaging in paddle-sport recreation in the Western states.
And because there are very few places where you can enjoy non-motorized only boating, Independence Lake has the capacity to draw in visitors from all over who specifically seek out this type of experience, which would be a welcomed boost to the economies of both Sierra and Nevada Counties. These visitors don’t just visit the lake, they stay in local motels, eat at local eateries, purchase local gas and shop at local stores.
Most importantly, the non-motorized access at Independence Lake now greatly reduces the risk of introduction for aquatic invasive species. However, some risk still exists. Certain species such as the New Zealand mud snail and Didymo (“rock snot”) are spread primarily by footwear and fishing equipment. The Nature Conservancy is actively evaluating whether a wash station with a disinfectant, is needed.
The vast majority of lake visitors we encounter – both young and old – are very pleased with our management of the lake. The lake offers tremendous recreational opportunities like hiking, picnicking, swimming, fishing and non-motorized boating in a setting like no other, while still meeting our important conservation objectives. Given the extensive research, time and effort The Conservancy and Truckee Donner Land Trust have invested into the management of Independence Lake, we are confident that we have struck the right balance and are working hard to further improve the experience of our visitors. Additionally, if a visitor is planning a visit and they have special needs or may not be able to access the lake from the parking area, we will try to accommodate them to the best of our ability.
For more information, please visit nature.org/Nevada or call (775) 322-4990.