Tired of TNC

Tired of TNC  082410
Remarks by the Fringe Editor

I look back with longing at the days when I was among the throng who felt The Nature Conservancy was almost above reproach (neglecting some recent past events where directors sold choice pieces of TNC land to each other).  Throughout the world TNC has shown skill and good sense dealing with owners and users of land in a cooperative fashion to preserve what is special in nature.  TNC has preserved more than 120 million acres around the world, often bringing diverse and even adversarial groups together in the interest of everyone.

So, why can’t they do it in Sierra County?  Why does a small but dedicated group of traditional users continue to try without any success or meaningful response to restore the uses they cherish at the lake?

Driving up the bone jarring boulder pile that passes for Sierra County Road 350, to what used to be Independence Lake boat ramp and campground, one easily understands who belongs on this lake.  It’s traditional users, those who were willing bump in with their campers and fishing boats and enjoy the lake.  Good Old Boys, they used to be fondly called.

But Good Old Boy has come to mean something else today, and the Friends of Independence Lake are trying to move a multinational monster like TNC.

That’s the sad part.  The part that makes me mad enough to punch a nun* is the duplicitous and arbitrary way Chris Fichtel, and one supposes by extension, TNC Nevada deals with the local Good Old and Young Boys.  

You’ll note “TNC Nevada” is what I said; because the water from IL belongs to down river users in Nevada, and because Nevada Senator Harry Reid squeezed much of the money for TNC to buy the lake, TNC thinks IL is in Nevada.  IL is in the “Nevada” portion of their website.  Even the pitpots now at IL come from Nevada.  Which explains, probably, why Chris Fichtel acts like he doesn’t know where he is most of the time.

Pitpot from Nevada: there are no pitpot rentals in Northern California, except in nearby Nevada County, and indeed, several other counties around.  It’s possible Fichtel thinks Nevada County is Nevada.  

While that ignorance might explain the arbitrary way Fichtel continues to deal with traditional fishing boys, it doesn’t explain the duplicitous way TNC has been portraying their participation at IL.

First and foremost is the obvious lie that there is greater public access at IL under TNC than under private ownership.  The whole point of local dissatisfaction is that there is significantly LESS access now.  It further puts a face on the lie that Sierra Pacific Power and precursors were bad stewards of the land.  The Lake, as Fichtel tells all and sundry, is about as pristine as a lake in California can be.  If they were such poor stewards, why is that?

NVEnergy is not Sierra Pacific Power, regardless who believes so, but even NV Energy managed enough benign neglect that GOBs of all ages and genders could use the Lake.

But TNC in the person of it’s representative Chris Fichtel has provided only the most cursory attempt to answer the objections and concerns of traditional users of the lake.  TNC has a dog and pony show complete with a SCIENTIST to explain in vague and mush-mouthed terms how they plan to “reduce” the risk of aquatic invasive species by banning motorboats, but allowing an acceptable risk by encouraging canoes and kayaks.

No one denies motorboats and their trailers can transport invasive species, but no one denies that blow formed, hollow watercraft like canoes and kayaks can also transmit invasive species.  Indeed, many water bodies throughout the areas stricken by Quagga and Zebra mussels don’t allow any watercraft at all to be brought in.  TNC insists (with justification) that once you have an AIS, you’re stuck with it.  So, why allow any outside floatation devices?  Why not show the abundance of caution and prevent all watercraft?  Many, many locations around the state and indeed the world, have boats for rent, boats that never leave the lake.  TNC and its partner organization locally could easily find a vendor who would provide a range of watercraft, even safe motorboats for trolling.  That would impact all users equally, and would provide the greatest protection to the lake.
But, that alternative is beyond the organizational skills present locally in TNC.

Alternatively, TNC could “permit” boats, such that the boat is moored at the lake and never leaves; if it leaves (except for the season) it loses it’s mooring spot, and has to be inspected before it’s allowed to the lake to resume its residence.  It’s an extreme measure, but one many anglers would accept.

Alternatively TNC could provide a true inspection and dis-infection station with appropriate fee, as Lake Tahoe employs.
All of these ideas, which should have been part of a thorough business plan for the lake, are beyond even a meaningful response from TNC Fichtel.

Further, the “scientific” explanation provided by TNC hints at, but does not explain, a process of risk determination which affixes risk values to craft and finds what the likelihood for invasion is for various boat types.  If that were a quantitative value, one might then factor in that TNC is encouraging “paddle sport” users from outside the area. If ten or even twenty kayaks equal grandpa’s old putt putt boat and trailer, is it still an acceptable risk?  We can’t know, because TNC doesn’t know.

The “dis-infection station” at the lake is a joke, or maybe a prop, and one that many “paddle boaters” walk right by.  There’s a hose and an empty pail with a couple of brushes.  Problem is, critters come in, not on the outside of blow molded canoes and kayaks, but on the inside, where they enter through tiny cracks here and there, and where they stay warm and moist inside.  They can live for up to a month in damp rope; what about life vests and nylon webbing and how about hollow paddles?  Shouldn’t more care be taken to contain a genie that can’t be put back?

I was on the excursion that went to Independence Lake and I saw two kayaks at the water’s edge, which, according to hearsay, might have been in waters in Florida and the East Coast.  I saw two large, party-sized boats, which are the personal yachts of “scientists” but I saw no evidence at all of a boat cleaning station.  It is reported that the boats do leave the lake.

It isn’t that I’m against science at all.  I’m actually thrilled that groups like The U.S.G.S. and the California Department of Fish and Game CONTINUE to study the lake, and I don’t begrudge them either accommodations or the tools they need.

I do resent, though, when science is used to cover for what amounts to a cultural decision.  Fichtel’s explanation might provide justification for true believers, but it won’t convince a smart 5th grader who knows how to fish the Lake.  

If one wants to understand the real problem between TNC and traditional users, one should watch the KCRA video in which an enraptured reporter and an absolutely bubbling Chris Fictel stand were you are no longer allowed to stand (because it’s now “staff only”) and enjoy the lake.  Fichtel is so ecstatic he practically spits on the camera.  What’s he so happy about?  How pristine and tranquil the lake is.  What’s he want?  He wants you (not you; someone in Reno who kayaks) to come to the lake, and “paddle” around it.

The truth about Fichtel’s plan for IL is that it excludes most Ma and Pa users.  You have to walk your boat a couple of hundred yards down to the lake, and a couple of hundred (and it seems like more) back up.  Do it packing a boat.  It’s fine for the kind of users Fichtel wants: young, in shape, hip to the paddle.  Probably, the more expensive your kayak is, the lighter it is.

What about people with kids, and all the crap they need for the day?  What about older people?  What about people with arthritis or Congestive Heart Failure?  They simply don’t fit in Fichtel’s gushing commercial narrative.

I’ll suggest that Fichtel doesn’t know the lake, and he doesn’t know his rapidly growing pool of detractors.  Independence Lake is a pristine Muirish paradise a few dozen days of the year.  It can just as easily become its true self: an alpine lake, cold and rocky, which faces the canyon in such a way that violent winds can spring up literally all at once.  Simply looking at the lake one can see the scoured mountain at one end, and the funneling canyon, in the midst of which is the perfect flatness of the lake, running long down the canyon; perfect to focus winds of tremendous force.  One can imagine the tragic, and yet still cheerfully colored, scene where kayaks and canoes struggle for life against a wind that can shear the tops off the whitecaps.

The People of Lake Independence… rather, the Friends of Lake Independence, understand the nature of the Lake, and love it for that.  They aren’t Muirish, they’re smart and experienced, some of them have literally life-long experience with the Lake.
If Fichtel could be honest, he’d admit he and his pals don’t care for boats with motors or guys who drink beer and drag spinners.  
The best Fichtel has been able to offer is “we’ll have to see.”  Like an authoritarian parent talking to a child, intending to say “no” but not wanting the argument, Fichtel can only say, “we’ll see.”  

In the meantime, the current caretaker enjoys the lake with his friends, and the old campground is marked “for staff and research blah blah only”.  

I’m tired of The Nature Conservancy.   I’m tired of what must be either intractability, or lack of administrative control.  Somewhere in the $6 billion dollar behemoth of The Nature Conservancy there must be someone with the wit and authority to resolve the problems of boating equality and truly public access.  Or, perhaps not.  Perhaps every TNC project is nothing more than Independence Lake appears to be: mostly just publicity, smoke and mirrors about how TNC “saved” something.  

I’m further extremely tired of hearing TNC representatives talk about their “ownership” of the land.  It was public money, meant to obtain and preserve valuable watersheds and hld them for the common good, and never intended as a gift to a handful of elitists.  TNC doesn’t “own” the land, it holds it in stewardship, and Fictel’s use of IL for his “staff” while keeping traditional users off stinks.  

I’m tired of The Nature Conservancy.  Please, save something in the Amazon.  

If you’ve missed past Prospect articles on Independence Lake, go to the sitemap and search “Independence Lake”.

*The author could never actually punch a nun, or even be rude to one.
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