Response to TNCs Chris F

Chris Fichtel, The Nature Conservancy’s project manager for Independence Lake was kind enough to address some questions from the Prospect.

We put forth these propositions:
1. The Nature Conservancy did not purchase the land itself, a great deal of public money went into the purchase; it isn’t appropriate for TNC to consider IL corporate private property.  TNC boasts that they are encouraging public access, but there is actually less public access in some ways. Some local and historical users of the lake are losing benefits they enjoyed under private ownership of the land around the lake.
2. While there is justification for keeping motorboats out of the lake, the very same justification works to keep all boats, waders, life jackets, swim rings, kayaks and canoes out of the lake. Likewise not allowing traffic near the lake or over-night camping.
3. The decision seems to short users who have a resource utilization perspective in favor of those who have an idealized view of nature.  Not allowing people to drive to the lake doesn’t appear to do more than meet that desire to have an experience in nature “unspoiled” by the sight of cousins camping on the lake. It appears that culture, and not science, are the prime motivators for the decision to ban motorboats and camping.

Below that is our analysis of Mr. Fichtel’s response, which you can read in its entirety HERE.  We’ve put Mr. Fichtel’s response on a separate page to keep this article from getting too lengthy or going into sequential pages.  Please open it in a separate window and refer to it so our remarks are not out of context.
Incidentally, the Prospect has, thanks to a great gift of dyslexia among our staff, consistently mis-spelled Mr. Fichtel’s name.  It is Fichtel, pronounced “Ficktel”.  As an interesting aside, the name seems to mean “one who dwells near pines.”   So, there’s that.

We’d like to examine some of Mr. Fichtel’s assumptions and assertions in regards to our questions.

1.  Loss of use/public ownership.
“The Conservancy’s purchase saved Independence Lake from resort/estate development and the near total loss of public access and enjoyment of the lake.”
It might be true that TNC rescued the lake from development, but, not for a decade or two most likely, and in the mean time, people were using the lake as they historically had.  TNC didn’t give these people anything, and took away everything.  
That reality has hardly made a dent in the TNC media hype.  If you trouble yourself to “” the transaction, you’ll find media with words like “saved” and “preserved” and so on, regardless of the fact that the private owners have, through the years, been good stewards and allowed more access than TNC.
Also couched in the media hype are two facts: first, IL is water for residents of Nevada, and second, some imagine the lake to be unspoiled.  More on the latter later.
Mr. Fichtel indicated that in the summer of 2008 they surveyed users of the lake.  

“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.”
A few questions, Mr. Fichtel: How many people were surveyed?  Who did the survey and what methodology did they use?  Did the survey crew approach all users as they entered the lake, or did they approach users they personally felt comfortable with?  How many people declined the survey, and what use did they eventually put to the lake?
Without that information at least, the numbers simply don’t mean squat.
Finally, when TNC buys a hunk of the Amazon, do they end up telling Native peoples, “sorry, but we took a survey, and there are more farmers and gold miners, so you guys lose out”?

Mr. Fichtel indicated that the funding “came from a variety of public and private sources”.  He did not make a strong “private property” claim, but did indicate that TNC was mandated by the “variety” of sources to protect the lake.  
In fact, TNC considers these partners:
Bella Vista Foundation
California Department of Fish and Game
California Resources Agency
California Trout
California Wildlife Conservation Board
NV Energy
David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Sierra Business Council
Sierra Nevada Conservancy
Trout Unlimited
Truckee Donner Land Trust
Truckee Meadows Water Authority
Truckee River Watershed Council
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation \
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Forest Service
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Senator Harry Reid
And more!  From HERE
(You’ll notice from this that TNC thinks IL is in Nevada.  That’s because Harry Reid helped them buy the lake to protect Reno water).  

We’ll suggest that all those “partners” (two have financial interest in the transaction and several others are mandated participants, like USGS and DFG) make the lake even less private property and even more public concern.

2. The Motorboat Fear: Aquatic Invasive Species.
Mr. Fichtel tells it like it is with invasive critters:
“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… 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.”

However, we’ll submit that keeping motorboats out isn’t enough.  Keep out all boats and all floatation devices, anything that could possibly transport bivalve larvae or weed seeds.  

3. Traditional vs. “Muirish” uses.  
We maintain that traditional and historic users are being shorted because of a cultural bias.  Here, Mr. Fichtel was very obliging.

“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…”
“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…”
“Non-motorized boating is rapidly growing in popularity with hundreds of thousands of people engaging in paddle-sport recreation in the Western states…”
“Independence Lake is one of the most pristine lakes of its size in California and our goal is to keep it that way” (Bold original!  Please see HERE for your pristine Sierra Lake Experience)

As we analyze these phrases (taken out of context, please see the original work) we see a distinct Muirish bias.  Why should these people get to decide what constitutes a “unique” experience?  Didn’t you say in your quagga scare section that “visitors from all over” are the problem?  What makes it a great idea to have hundreds of thousands of Muirish folks kayaking at IL?  They might spend money in Truckee, but probably not in Sierra County.
No, Mr. Fichtel, we think you’ve demonstrated a pretty terrible bias in favor of hundreds of thousands of urbanite Muirishers who want to come to Sierra County, displace traditional users, and have their Pristine Sierra Lake experience.  In short, we say Didymo, “rock snot”.

Here’s what we propose, a suggestion which will make no one happy, but which will actually protect the lake and treat everyone fairly.

NO ONE brings any thing that’s been in another lake to IL.  TNC and T-DLT run a concession to rent equipment, INCLUDING MOTORIZED BOATS.  Further, in order to be completely fair, urbanites should subsidize this change by way of a fee waiver for people who can’t afford the rentals, but could have afforded their own boat.
That way, local and traditional users can continue to use the lake, partly funded by urbanite Muirish who can probably afford it.

That does away with quagga fear, does away with Muirish oppression of rural users, and provides for a broad use of the lake.

Camping on the lake is still an issue, and we didn’t find anything specific to that in Mr. Fichtel’s response other than the cultural bias which wants to create a kind of “ecodisneyland” where you don’t have to see someone’s sagging station wagon with laundry drying on the roof.  Culture, pal, nothing but culture.

Is The Nature Conservancy good with that?

There is one other criticism which came not from Mr. Fichtel, but from a local turncoat catch-and-releaser who shall remain nameless.  He said, “there are plenty of other lakes where you can troll.  Go use one of those.”  
To which we respond: There are plenty of other lakes, and a lot of them are south of here.  Go “pristine” one of those!


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