Tahoe became the popular tourist destination that it is because of the proximity to endless and varied outdoor recreation opportunities. Whether you are a full time resident, second home owner or one of the 20 million tourists that visit each year, there is one thing we all have in common: we love to recreate. So, as recreators, what impact do we have on the landscape and what is our responsibility in terms of restoration? This was the discussion in a recent Forest Futures Salon. We heard from four community leaders from diverse recreation organizations: Danielle Bradfield of Feather River Forestry; Greg Garrison of Tahoe Backcountry Alliance; Jerusha Hall of Northstar California; and John Svahn of Truckee Donner Land Trust.
With 2020’s public health crisis encouraging more people to move here full time and seek exercise and space outside, the need to find solutions to protect our land has been front-of-mind to many of us. If we want to continue to reap the benefits of this environment, we must put sustainable recreation and ecological protection on equal ground. While we cannot deny that there are some negative impacts on forest health caused by recreation, we can agree that the benefits outweigh the risks.
Examples of positive impacts of recreation on restoration discussed:
- Recreation fosters appreciation for the land, thus promoting land conservation
- Trails could help slow or control wildfires by creating fuel breaks
- Tree thinning can improve conditions for activities such as golf, disc golf or tree skiing while concurrently creating a healthier forest. Solar exposure from thinning also promotes biodiversity and growth from native seedstock that has been shaded out
- A restored forest returns water into stream forces which benefits fishing and hunting
- Snowmaking at ski resorts serves as a tool for wildfire suppression
- A lot of restoration funding comes from state bonds that communities vote on, therefore awareness and connection to the land is key to protecting it
When people are receiving a recreational benefit from the land, they are more likely to get involved in restoration efforts; therefore communication and collaboration between foresters and the public is critical. A local example discussed was the multi-year, Big Jack East project to treat 2,000 acres of the Tahoe National Forest just south of Truckee. In partnership with the National Forest Foundation, TTCF provided grant funding for a short video to inform the community about the project and highlight its benefits. This video was released along with an interactive map to ensure that the community was made aware of the impacts from noise, increased traffic and closures and could plan accordingly. While the community can initially be adverse to see change, especially trees getting cut down, this communication helped showcase the bigger picture of a healthy forest resulting in a healthier community for us all.
Another project that came up was the East Zone Connectivity Project that allows the use of Class 1 E-Bikes (no throttle, pedal-assisted only and maximum assisted speed of 20 mph) on non-motorized trails. Truckee, being the urbanized National Forest that it is, is always responding to changes in user activities that require adaptations. With e-bikes becoming increasingly popular in our area, this is an opportunity to open up the forest to more diverse recreation and user groups. This project opened up 35 miles of existing non-motorized trails in addition to the construction of 70 new miles of motorcycle single track. We are the first district, not just Forest, to authorize non-motorized US Forest Service trails for this use which is a historic win for our region.
Tips for being a responsible recreator:
- Know and use proper trail etiquette
- Pack it in, pack it out
- Be vocal when you support restoration projects, our society tends to only voice opposition
- Minimize your carbon footprint, carpool to trailheads when possible
- Tread lightly on trail surfaces and avoid using trails during muddy or wet periods
- Take the headphones out, be present with nature
- Say hi to your fellow trail mates, especially when you are approaching from behind
- Yield to uphill traffic
- Pick up after your dog
- Connect with a local trail building group
- Adhere to closures and trail signs
- Know the fire risk or avalanche danger
All in all, it is our duty as recreators to get engaged in these restoration efforts and become a part of the solution. Share the knowledge that you have with others and know where to go when you have questions. If you have anything to spare, please consider donating to help us continue to find solutions to protect the Tahoe Truckee community. Donate to our Forest Futures Fund.
About Forest Futures
The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s Forest Futures work focuses on a Venture Lab model to fuel innovation, cultivate sustainable economies for our region and create new jobs with the ultimate goal of preventing forest fires. We host several events a year as part of the Forest Futures Salon Series to engage in productive conversations with scientists, investors, policymakers, artists and entrepreneurs to work towards a healthier forest.