Indie Lake gets Messy

Independence Lake Gets Messy

The issue of Independence Lake was before the Board of Supervisors yesterday, as the Friends of Independence Lake sought to have the Board apply to the Attorney General for relief.
According to witnesses, it didn’t go well at all.
The problem is a sticky one, and locals who want to continue historic use of the lake are facing an uphill battle.

Blame Walt Disney
Of the several significant problems to overcome, the most intractable is one of culture.  The Nature Conservancy is not a big sportsman’s group; most likely there are no mooseheads on the office walls, and probably the only hunters there “hunt with a camera” meaning they don’t know how to gut and skin anything.   
Blame Walt Disney, who turned “Bambi*” from a perfectly respectable stripper’s name to a cultural icon for protecting the cuddly.  As people drew farther and farther from the farm, and from living off nature’s bounty (in other words when they stopped knowing how to gut and skin) nature became something fragile, and all of Nature’s children (except us) deserved to be “saved”.   The Nature Conservancy has built quite a few careers on that “Bambi”.
That cultural difference is a huge hurdle for those who want traditional uses at Independence Lake.  If you seriously hunt and fish these days you’re a despoiler.
This means that, in the public eye, in the eye of those who don’t know how to gut and skin, TNC has the moral high ground, and FIL and their ilk are selfish killers of the cuddly.
Even among those who do know how to GnS, there is an increased realization that there are too many people and too few clean lakes.  Catch and release and fly fishermen tend to revere the trout, but as a sport.  They might fish all day and not eat fish that night, and they are good with strong restrictions to preserve their “sport”.  They’d rather brag over their glass of Sancerre how many fish they caught and released than how many fish are in the freezer.  There is a greater willingness to get skunked than among those who spent money on gas to drive into the mountains for fish to eat.
Finally, some of the Friends of Independence Lake are not making things easier by being insensitive to that cultural difference in perception, and as a result, they’ve alienated a lot of people.  Sure, to some of us it’s an outrage that people can’t boat and fish on Independence, but for a lot of people, even local people, that isn’t a given at all.

Blame The Fishes and Clams
The value of Independence Lake as a fishery for the Tahoe or Lahontan Cutthroat Trout is perhaps debatable, but no one is going to debate it.  This is the age of “err on the side of caution” which means, whether “saving” the LCT is a good idea or not, and whether IL is a good location or not, it is going to happen that the trout is going to be given a lot of political energy.  There isn’t much that can be done until the trout is either numerous again or completely gone, and unfortunately those are the two most unlikely outcomes.  
A potent threat is the Quagga, the Quaaaggaaa!  The Quagga and Zebra mussels, and the Asian Clam are very real threats to some waters.  They tend to blend together in the minds of most people, but they are very different.  Asian Clams are already established in Tahoe, and the likelihood that they will eventually become established in Independence is very high.  Zebra and Quagga (the name of an extinct Zebra-like horse) come from deep cold waters in Russia and the Ukraine.  They have done well all over the U.S. and Europe (they threaten the water system of London) and unfortunately will probably do well in Independence, too.
It is almost unbelievable how easy it is to bring these critters into a lake.  They are very tough, and their offspring are almost invisible, they can live for awhile on a wet towel.  Any damp place anywhere on anything that goes from infested waters to IL can bring the critters.  Ropes, waders, pipe axles, anything.
So far, no one has discovered an easy way to get rid of them once infected.  They are far tougher than native species (see “As Nature Intended”) and anything that will kill them will decimate other species of native bivalves, fish and even crustaceans.  
They are considered edible by the University of Wisconson, though individually, they are too small to mess with.  Still, some “green restaurant” might create a market for “organic free range Quagga.”   
Short of developing a drug from the little buggers and declaring them illegal to posses, there doesn’t seem to be any wholesale way of getting rid of them.
The threat of non-native clams and mussels is real, insurmountable, and their final conquest of Independence lake and perhaps all our lakes is probably inevitable unless all humans are kept out, and that works for some, but not for me.

Blame The Nature Conservancy

Among the problems is the lack of cultural awareness on the part of The Nature Conservancy.  
Not gifted with a glib tongue, their IL project manager, Chris Fitchel, has managed to raise some ire locally. In an article in the Reno Gazette Journal (meh, find it here) Fitchel is quoted as saying “As a private landowner the conservancy does have the right to impose rules and restrictions regarding use of the property and what can cross the property.”

It emerged at a Sierra County Board Meeting a few months ago that TNC “owns” the land, it’s “private property”.  A lot of people took issue with that, including SC Supervisor Pat Whitley.  
Let me say, right now, that if you’ll give the Prospect $15 million dollars to buy our own lake, we’ll let you fish on it.  Consider us instead of TNC then next time you feel like giving someone tax money to buy themselves land.

Indeed, I’ll go this far: Organizations like TNC who claim to operate in the public good, and who enjoy public benefit both from tax structure and funding sources, should not be allowed to be said to “own” anything; they maintain these lands through the grace of the public, on behalf of the public.  Otherwise, why should they enjoy the benefit of their status?

However, even a more enlightened view, and even with a project manager more eloquent and diplomatic than Fitchel, the problem of TNC control isn’t going to go away.  Their responsibility isn’t to a few fishermen, it’s to people in general and their funders in particular.  TNC expects more people to use the lake than ever, but they’ll be using it in a modern, “muirish” way.  Fitchel, from the RJR article:   “We acknowledge some people feel something is being taken away from them but this is still an awesome resource available to everybody.”   He’s made similar statements before the SC BOS, and it’s clear when he says “everybody” he means “as we chose”.

TNC uses the very real threat of endangered species to cover for their cultural values.  Worried about Asian Clams?  No body goes in.  They can hide in floatation devices, almost anywhere, certainly in canoes.  Further, how is forcing people to walk in going to keep scary Quaggas out?  

Blame Friends of Independence Lake
By all accounts, the FIL screwed up big time at the Board meeting, and as a result, the Board took the prudent course and sent the issue to die in committee.  Many feel the county has no business is the fray; others think they do, but their plate is full already with real lawsuits.  Until County Council Jim Curtis starts to work for free, all these efforts cost money.
Further, the FIL aren’t good at separating the issues.  They’ve done a lot of homework, and their effort has convinced a lot of local folks, but they can’t expect the Board to enforce DFG laws.  They need to clarify their authorities and not ask the Board to do more than it can.

Here are some proposals:
TNC get the stick out and loosen up a little.  Not everyone is amazed at the photos on your website; indeed as I look at them I now wonder how many indigenous people like us chafe under your beneficence.    
Provide camping like it used to be.  
Allow a franchise for someone to rent, at a modest price, small boats with 4 cycle motors.  They never leave the lake, they hardly pollute.
Finally, allow for some local voice in the use of the lake and don’t give us the lousy excuse of “private property”.  Don’t forget the words of Proudhon, “property is robbery”.  The stated purpose of TNC is to protect the natural world, the “commons” from capitalism and “ownership”.  

FIL: get a grip!  Your case is weak and though there is some law on your side, it is the court of public opinion where you’ll find victories, if you do.  

You can read a good bit about the law in the Board Packet, found here.

*”Bambi” is the name created by S. Salztman, a Hungarian who wrote “Bambi” in 1923.  However, in Italian, “Bambi” means “fools” and “Bambini’ are children.  “Bambi” is slang for “bambina” or “baby”.
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